An exploration of the neural correlates of turn-taking in spontaneous conversation
Abstract: This project added to the sparse body of research on the neural underpinnings of turn-taking with an electroencephalography (EEG) investigation of spontaneous conversation. Eighteen participants (3 male, 15 female, mean age 29.79), recruited and participating in pairs, underwent EEG hyperscanning as they conversed on a freely chosen topic for 45 minutes. In line with previous research, it was predicted that a time-frequency analysis of the EEG might reveal either increased power at around 10 Hz (the location of one of two components of the mu rhythm, an oscillation possibly involved in motor preparation for speech), or reduced alpha (8-12 Hz) power (reflecting non-motor aspects of turn preparation) prior to taking one’s turn. Increased power between 8-12 Hz was observed around 1.5 and 1 second preceding turn-taking, but similar power increases also occurred prior to turn-yielding and the conversation partner continuing after a pause, and a reduction in alpha power was found in turn-taking relative to listening to the other speaker continue after a pause. It is unclear whether this activity reflected motor or non-motor aspects of turn preparation, but the spontaneous conversation paradigm proved feasible for investigating brain activity coupled to turn-taking despite the methodological obstacles.
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