Directors of the School: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Directors of the Course: Uri Hasson and Thalia Wheatley
Three hypotheses concerning the development of sophisticated forms of communication in humans
One of the hallmarks of our species is that we develop sophisticated forms of communication. However, there is growing evidence that we exhibit important limitations when we are asked to perform tasks that require communicative sophistication. I will illustrate some of this evidence, which comes in part from research on the emergence of novel communication systems in the laboratory and in part from research on the use of natural language. Then I will focus on the question of how individuals who have limited communicative skills manage to develop sophisticated forms of communication.
I propose three non-mutually exclusive hypotheses to address the question. The first hypothesis is that communicative sophistication does not originate from sophisticated individuals but emerges in the public arena, as the result of a cultural ratchet effect. The second is that there may be great variability in communicative skills within the human population and that the development of sophisticated forms of communication may be driven by a minority of exceptional communicators. The third hypothesis turns the question on its head, suggesting that real-life communication in the human world may often be less sophisticated than we think.
I will then present a series of studies providing evidence in support of the third hypotheses and argue that this hypothesis can help us reduce the conceptual gap between the study of human communication and the study of other forms of coordination in humans and animals.