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Creating Understanding

How Communicating Aligns Minds

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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 Nine: Contributions and Future Directions

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CHAPTER NINE

Contributions and Future Directions



This chapter summarizes the key arguments made in the book, and the contributions and limitations of the framework that we have proposed. We also outline future directions for research suggested by our model, and offer concluding thoughts addressing the practical implications of the perspective we have presented.

At the outset of this book, we argued for the importance of studying understanding; we also argued that the discipline of communication lacks a clear theoretical conceptualization of understanding and a scientific framework that addresses how people achieve it. In the preceding chapters, we have attempted some initial steps toward addressing this gap, articulating a functional definition of understanding, outlining a model of how people create understanding, and discussing how contextual features can influence the processes we outlined. We also briefly addressed theoretical connections to related processes and concepts, including “codes” and codification in communication, deception, expectations, and uncertainty.

Summarized briefly, we have proposed that understanding can be conceptualized as entrainment of communicators’ situation models (i.e. multidimensional representations of a communicative episode), to the extent required for communicators’ present purposes. We have also proposed that entraining situation models is essentially a process of iterative testing of situation models’ predictions against ←153 | 154→the meme states activated by sensory input, and adjusting and updating situation models to minimize discrepancies.

More specifically, we have proposed that communication can be modeled as a process in which communicators present...

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