Language, Interaction and Frontotemporal Dementia Reverse Engineering the Social Mind

In the past before improving technologies allowed for the direct observation of brain activity, brain damaged patients were a prime avenue for understanding language structure and inferring back to brain function. Now with the rapid developments in neuroscience, what we do know about the brain can inform us about language allowing us to build hypotheses about the role particular brain regions perform in language use. Brain damaged patients thus become populations which serve as test cases. In this volume, the researchers focus on the interactions of frontotemporal dementia patients. These patients have right hemisphere, frontal and temporal pole atrophy which leaves their cognitive abilities intact, but their social interactions impaired and their personalities changed.

The volume opens with a discussion of the frontal lobes and their expected contributions to language as a tool for social interaction. Then a conversation analytic approach is applied to analyze what changes in the structure of interaction lead to a sense that the interactions are impaired or inappropriate. Finally, the volume ends with a look forward to what FTD contributes to our understanding of human sociality and what has been gained in our understanding of the brain and language.

Andrea W. Mates (UCLA, Applied Linguistics) primary research interest lies in the neurobiology of language use and language learning. In addition to research in frontotemporal dementia, she co-authored The Interactional Instinct along with Namhee Lee, John Schumann, Anna Dina L. Joaquin, and Lisa Mikesell. She is currently working on a project examining the ecological validity of cognitive tests for schizophrenics.

Lisa Mikesell (UCLA, Applied Linguistics) uses conversation analysis and ethnographic methods to study neurological disorders and difficulties in communication. She currently works on two research projects examining the ordinary lives and practices of frontotemporal dementia and schizophrenia patients. She is the editor of Issues in Applied Linguistics, the journal of the Department of Applied Linguistics at UCLA and was selected as a recipient of a dissertation fellowship by the American Association for University Women (AAUW) for 2008-2009 to continue her work on frontotemporal dementia.

Michael Sean Smith (UCLA, Applied Linguistics) focuses his work on Talk-in-Interaction and applying it with neurologically-impaired populations. His prior work centered on the interactions between individuals with frontotemporal dementia and their caregivers, treating clinicians, and friends, in both institutional and social contexts. By applying rigorous observational methods to populations, who's primary dysfunction is in social behavior, he hopes to develop a behavioral classification of these populations, and contribute to our understanding of the deep subjective and inter-subjective structures that are underlie social interaction.

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