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Creating Understanding

How Communicating Aligns Minds


Jessica Gasiorek and R. Kelly Aune

What, exactly, is understanding? And how do people create, maintain, and manipulate states of understanding via communication? This book addresses these questions, drawing on interdisciplinary scholarship in cognitive science, communication, psychology, and pragmatics. Rejecting classic descriptions of communication as "sending and receiving messages," this book proposes a novel perspective that depicts communication as a process in which interactants construct, test, and refine mental modes of a joint experience on the basis of the meme states (mental representations) activated by stimuli in social interactions. It explains how this process, when successful, results in interactants' mental models aligning, or becoming entrained—in other words, in creating a state of understanding. This framework is grounded in a set of foundational observations about evolved human cognition that highlight people's intrinsic social orientation, predisposition toward efficiency, and use of predictive interference-making. These principles are also used to explain how codified systems ("codes") emerge in extended or repeated interactions in which people endeavor to create understanding. Integrating and synthesizing research across disciplines, this book offers communication scholars and students a theoretical framework that will transform the way they see understanding, communication, and social connection.

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Chapter Four: Components of Communicating



Components of Communicating

This chapter outlines key components of human communication. We first describe how people initiate ostensive communicative interactions. Next, we argue that once an interaction is initiated, people implicitly treat the process of communicating as a cooperative endeavor. We then articulate the interactional consequences of communicative cooperation. Finally, we address how the stimuli that people present in interaction activate specific meme states in their interlocutors’ minds, proposing a process in which communicators generate and test predictions about what will occur next in interaction. These components of communicating—initiating interaction, cooperating communicatively, and activating meme states—will serve as building blocks for our model of creating understanding, which we present in the next chapter.

In the previous two chapters, we laid a foundation for theorizing about how people create understanding. First, we conceptualized understanding as a state in which people experience entrainment of their mental states as a result of (ostensive) use of social stimuli—that is, of communicating. We then presented a set of observations about the fundamental nature of humans’ brains and behavior that we contend underlie and guide social interaction. With this foundation laid, we now turn our attention to the process of communicating itself. In this chapter, we build on the premises we have established, in conjunction with extant models of ostensive-inferential communication (e.g. Sperber & Wilson, 1995) to describe key components of communicating, with a focus on their mechanics. ←57 | 58→Ostensive-inferential models propose...

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