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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 Seven: Codification




This chapter focuses on the role of codified communication systems (historically, “codes”) in creating understanding. We briefly discuss the limitations of current approaches to the topic in the discipline of communication, and then offer an alternative perspective. Specifically, we propose that it is more useful to focus on codification as a descriptive continuum and as a process, rather than “codes” as discrete categories and products. We outline key properties of codification, offer a set of examples illustrating how these properties manifest in different communication systems, and then address correlates of codification relevant to creating understanding. We then discuss how codified communicative systems develop, arguing that they emerge as a result of the three premises we have outlined: human beings’ fundamental social orientation, predisposition toward efficiency, and engagement in predictive inference-making. Finally, we address the role of codified communication systems in creating understanding.

The concept of a “codes” is regularly invoked in contemporary communication research and teaching: language is often referred to as “code”, as are different domains of nonverbal behavior (e.g. “kinesic code”, “proxemic code”, etc.). In Chapter 5, we proposed a process model for how people create understanding in social interaction that included no references to codes. Thus, it is evidently possible to theorize about communication processes without codes. However, it is clear from everyday experience that people frequently do use sets of conventions that have code-like properties (e.g. language) to communicate, and to ←111 | 112→create understanding....

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