Arjen Stolk

Academic Appointments

Assistant Professor
Mutual Understanding Laboratory

We might think that humans understand one another because they share the same set of communicative signals such as words, gestures, and facial expressions. However, that intuition neglects the extreme flexibility with which we employ our utterances in everyday social interaction. For instance, we can readily use the word "bank" to refer to money, a basketball shot, or a place to fish. Our conversational partner can usually grasp our intended meaning at its first occurrence, thanks to its context of use in an ongoing interaction. Humans thus seem to be endowed with a remarkable ability to rapidly find relevant context for selecting and interpreting communicative signals. My lab aims to understand what counts as context and how that context determines the meaning of an utterance. To this end, we combine controlled studies of live communicative interaction with state-of-the-art neuroimaging and electrophysiology (dual-fMRI, dual-EEG, intracranial EEG). The overarching goal is to characterize a fundamental and evolutionarily unique ability of our species, opening the way for understanding and treating disorders of human social interaction such as seen in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Psychological and Brain Sciences
PhD, Donders Institute, The Netherlands
Postdoc, University of California, Berkeley

Selected Publications

Wheatley T, Boncz A, Toni I, Stolk A (2019). Beyond the isolated brain: The promise and challenge of interacting mindsNeuron 103 (2), 186-188

Wadge H, Brewer R, Bird G, Toni I, Stolk A (2019). Communicative misalignment in Autism Spectrum DisorderCortex 115, 15-26

Stolk A, Verhagen L, Toni I (2016). Conceptual alignment: How brains achieve mutual understandingTrends in Cognitive Sciences 20 (3), 180-191

Stolk A, D'Imperio D, di Pellegrino G, Toni I (2015). Altered communicative decisions following ventromedial prefrontal lesionsCurrent Biology 25 (11), 1469-1474

Stolk A, Noordzij ML, Verhagen L, Volman I, Schoffelen J-M, Oostenveld R, Hagoort P, Toni I (2014). Cerebral coherence between communicators marks the emergence of meaningProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (51), 18183-18188

Stolk A (2014). In sync: Metaphor, mechanism or marker of mutual understandingJournal of Neuroscience 34 (16), 5397-5398

Stolk A, Noordzij ML, Volman I, Verhagen L, Overeem S, van Elswijk G, Bloem B, Hagoort P, Toni I (2014). Understanding communicative actions: A repetitive TMS studyCortex 51, 25-34

Stolk A, Verhagen L, Schoffelen J-M, Oostenveld R, Blokpoel M, Hagoort P, van Rooij I, Toni I (2013). Neural mechanisms of communicative innovationProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (36), 14574-14579

Stolk A, Hunnius S, Bekkering H, Toni I (2013). Early social experience predicts referential communicative adjustments in five-year-old childrenPLoS One 8 (8), e72667

Communicative interaction in the lab