Otto Hahn Group Neural Bases of Intonation in Speech and Music
Language comprehension is more than just to understand the meaning of words in sentences. Via prosody, i.e. speech melody, a speaker often reveals – consciously or not – much more about her beliefs, desires and intentions than she literally says. Melodic expressiveness, as usually only attributed to music, influences our social interactions every day. Misinterpretation can entail serious misunderstandings. Communication without words – via melody and vocal tone in speech and music – is research focus of the Otto Hahn Group.
By means of modern neuroscientific methods such as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magneto- and electroencephalography (MEG/EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), we investigate how the brain lets us produce and interpret subtle changes in voice tone. Which brain areas and which pathways between these areas enable us to decode the speech melody and its social contents? Which factors determine interindividual differences in our sensitivity for the meaning of voice tone? Are there sex differences? Can we better tune into the speech melody of speakers who speak our native language and with the same accent as we do? Do musicians, actors or singers have advantages in comprehension? Does our brain make a difference between prosodic cues and music at all? How does a musician lend herself and her piece artistic expression?
With the answers to these questions, we hope to enrich the research of the past decades, which traditionally studied (language) comprehension as decoding of combined word meanings, and want to shed light on the social function of intonation in speech and music.