Dirk WildgruberDirk Wildgruber

Cerebral integration of verbal and nonverbal social cues: Physiological mechanisms and changes in psychiatric disorders

Dirk Wildgruber, Department of Psychiatry, University of Tübingen, Germany

Verbal and nonverbal social cues provide access to our fellow human beings’ intentions and feelings. The correct understanding of these cues is highly relevant for a successful social interaction. In everyday life, nonverbal vocal signals are often accompanied by verbal information or visual cues (e.g. facial expression). Instead of focusing on cues derived from a single channel of communication, successful social interaction appears to rely on the combination or integration of verbal, vocal and visual emotional signals. Combining multiple sources of information may, on the one hand, facilitate emotion judgements. However, on the other hand, information gathered from one channel of communication may also modulate or alter the interpretation of emotional cues conveyed by another. While, for instance, the sentence “Oh, I am so happy for you!” might generally be considered a signal of positive feelings towards the addressee, speaking it in an angry tone of voice will probably evoke a very different “reading” of the statement.

Several studies that have aimed at defining the cerebral mechanisms that contribute to combining verbal, vocal and visual affective information will be presented in the talk. Building on the presented evidence, a cerebral network model will be introduced that proposes a differential contribution of various cortical and subcortical brain structures to the processing of emotional voice signals both in isolation and in context of accompanying (facial and verbal) emotional cues. Moreover, specific changes in psychiatric disorders will be addressed.