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Max Planck Research Group "Neural mechanisms of Human Communication"

Group Leader

Human Communication

Although it seems easy, communicating with another person is an extremely difficult and complex task. In a conversation between two people, there is a continuous stream of dynamic information from several sensory modalities. Embedded into this continuous stream there is information which is important for successful interaction with others; this stream contains not only information about what is said, but also about the identity, character, social status or emotion of the speaker. The task of communication is made even more complex by the need to produce and recognize signals and their underlying meaning online, i.e., without much delay. It is fascinating that our brain can do all this given the sheer speed of communication e.g. the rapidly changing face movements and associated speech sounds. Currently it is impossible to build devices that can communicate as we do. The best computer programs developed to recognize speech or identify people are still far away from the capabilities of our brains.

Neural Mechanisms

The question is: How does the brain accomplish fast and robust communication? One way of finding out is to observe the brain and infer what neural mechanisms are used. To do this we perform experiments involving several methods of systems neuroscience (fMRI, sMRI, EEG, MEG, TMS) and different subject groups, i.e. healthy controls, as well as people with selective developmental or acquired deficits (phonagnosia, prosopagnosia, specific language impairment, asperger syndrome). In addition we have recently started to use the experimental findings on neural mechanisms to motivate computational models of human communication. This is done in collaboration with the ‘Modelling of dynamic perception and action’ research group led by Dr. Stefan Kiebel.

Current Projects

Currently, our work focuses on three aspects of auditory and face-to-face communication:
i. Speech recognition: How do we understand what somebody is saying?
ii. Person recognition: How do we recognize and identify others?
iii. How does information from different sensory modalities interact during face-to-face communication?

Selected Publications:

Speech Recognition

Díaz B, Hintz F, Kiebel SJ, von Kriegstein K: Dysfunction of the auditory thalamus in developmental dyslexia. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012, 109(34):13841-6.
von Kriegstein K, Smith DRR, Patterson RD, Kiebel SJ, Griffiths TD: How the human brain recognises speech in the context of changing speakers. J Neurosci 2010, 30: 629-38. pdf
Yildiz B, von Kriegstein K, Kiebel SJ: From birdsong to human speech recognition: Bayesian inference on a hierarchy of nonlinear dynamical systems. PLoS Computational Biology 2013, 9: e1003219. pdf

Person Recognition

von Kriegstein K, Smith DRR, Patterson RD, Ives DT, Griffiths TD: Neural representation of auditory size in the human voice and in sounds from other resonant sources. Curr Biol 2007, 17: 1123-1128. pdf
von Kriegstein K, Kleinschmidt A, Giraud AL: Voice recognition and cross-modal responses to familiar speakers' voices in prosopagnosia. Cereb Cortex 2006, 16: 1314-1322. pdf
von Kriegstein K, Giraud AL: Distinct functional substrates along the right superior temporal sulcus for the processing of voices. Neuroimage 2004, 22: 948-955. pdf

Face-to-face Communication

Blank H, Anwander A, von Kriegstein K: Direct structural connections between voice- and face-recognition areas. J Neurosci 2011, 31: 12906-12915. pdf
von Kriegstein K, Dogan O, Gruter M, Giraud AL, Kell CA, Gruter T et al.: Simulation of talking faces in the human brain improves auditory speech recognition. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2008, 105: 6747-6752. pdf
von Kriegstein K, Giraud AL: Implicit multisensory associations influence voice recognition. PLoS Biol 2006, 4: e326. pdf

Group Members

Associated Researchers


Stefan Kiebel MPI-CBS, Leipzig, Germany
Tim Griffiths Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, London, UK
Roy Patterson University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Etienne Gaudrain MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK
Martina and Thomas Grüter
Lauren Stewart University of London/Goldsmiths, London, UK
Anne-Lise Giraud Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France

Former Group Members

Begoña Diaz now at University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain with a Marie Curie Grant
Helen Blank now at MRC-CBU, Cambridge, UK
Jens Kreitewolf now at Department of Neuropsychology, MPI-CBS, Leipzig, Germany
Sam Mathias now at Yale School of Medicine/Olin Neuropsychiatric Research Center, USA

Association with PhD-Schools

Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Neuroscience of Communication: Function, Structure, and Plasticity, Leipzig, Germany


Last update: Sep 24, 2014 2.18.59 pm
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