Yesterday we discovered how the brain uses the mental lexicon to determine the literal meaning of the communication that is being presented to it. Today we will finish the segment by talking about how the brain fits that information into its own world to determine the interpersonal meaning of that communication to the listener. This begins with referencing against the categorical information stored in the brain.
As we stated previously, the lexical activation is dependent on all of the prosodic, syntactic, contextual and phonetic information/components we spoke about above. Once a literal meaning has been placed on the word/s and sentence/s the brain will “categorize” this information based on the existing reference memories/information in the brain.
Categorization is simply to process of referencing the meaning that has been assigned with the past experiences and knowledge that the listener holds to form abstract representations of what the speaker is conveying. These are basically summaries… or more specifically personal summaries of the communication.
There are several models that have been proposed for categorization in the brain. Suffice it to say that categorization is the grouping of “structurally/contextually/subjectively similar items” in the brain for further referencing in the future. Categorization is an evolved process that allows humans to quickly and efficiently “size up” a place or scenario for quick action.
For instance brain-imaging studies have shown that neurologically, language is organized by “semantic categories” and not according to just by individual words. For example, let’s say in an experiment participants are asked to name a number of animals, tools or people, specifically. When they do so, certain areas of the temporal cortex will light up as different examples of each one are named. This is a great example of categorization…
By referencing the literal meaning that has been established through the previous process against the existing categories in the brain of the listener, they are able to effectively make “sense” out of the communication. This “sense” that has been made will interact with the left and right hemispheres of the brain to develop a personally meaningful abstract representation and begin to develop their own personally meaning from the communication. This brings us to the complex equivalence…
The complex equivalence of the words and phrases to the recipient:
The term complex equivalence refers to your own personal attachment and meaning that is placed on abstract concepts. For instance, what does “protection” or “anger” mean to YOU. Your definition and conceptual activation of these words will be different than someone else’s who grew up in a war torn country (assuming that you the reader did not).
Once all of the above has taken place and actual words have been translated, it is the left hemisphere that interacts with the Wernicke’s area and the mental lexicon to determine the rational, pragmatic meaning to the listener of each word, phrase and sentence. It is the right hemisphere that determines the emotional connotation attached to each word, phrase and sentence. At this point, the communication that is coming in has been turned into abstract representation in your mind and both hemispheres of your brain can begin to assign your own personal meanings to the communication you are receiving.
This is where your belief systems, value systems, core drives, working memory and other cognitive functions come into play. You are now able to respond and act accordingly based on the information that you are receiving.
I know that took quite a bit out of you, but you are now officially an expert on how the brain “listens” to communication. To learn more about the neurology of listening, categorization, complex equivalence and other information pertaining to effective communication, please visit my site The Communication Expert. Or if I am online, please feel free to connect with me via Skype.