Prof. dr. Jos van Berkum

Prof. dr. Jos van Berkum

Emeritus
Language and communication
j.vanberkum@uu.nl

I've left academia to explore new horizons, so the below reflects my former self. I hope you can find what you are looking for. If not, drop me a line at j.vanberkum@uu.nl with REQUEST in the subject line (and be very patient, as I will only seldomly check that account...). Or, if there are any co-authors, try contacting them.

Good luck!

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I am a cognitive neuroscientist interested in linguistic communication. My research focuses on how language comprehension unfolds in real time, and how the many processes involved make contact with emotions and feelings. Because emotional responding can be fully unconscious, at least initially, I usually rely on cognitive neuroscience tools to keep track of them, such as EEG, or the recording of facial muscle activity. My goal is to develop a richer theory of language comprehension, one that does not just heed the – already well-charted – cognitive side of things, but that also explains how people can be moved by words and the various other communicative signs that these words interleave with (e.g., an emoji, or one's tone of voice). A first attempt at such a theory can be found here and here.

 

When teaching, one of my goals is to help students in linguistics and communication science realize that, because humans are social animals with lots of concerns (e.g., autonomy, affiliation, respect), language processing is inevitably much more than just a dispassionate code-cracking activity. Another goal is to help Humanities students in such diverse Ba-programs like philosophy, history, art, media science, language and culture, and communication science understand what the field of cognitive neuroscience is about, so that they are in a better position to evaluate, comment on, and engage with brain research that is relevant to their field. Both of these goals are illustrated by the interdisciplinary minor Brains & Bodies: Cognition and emotion in the Humanities that I have set up in collaboration with colleagues from the Utrecht University department of Media and Culture Studies.

 

My science angle: The issues I explore in my research and teaching are relatively fundamental, in that they revolve around basic communication-relevant mechanisms in brain and mind, and are largely guided by scientific curiosity. Virtually all my research occurs in the lab, where participants typically read or listen to carefully designed linguistic material, while their processing of that material is tracked with cognitive neuroscience tools. Such research does not easily fix concrete problems in society. However, curiosity-driven research – and teaching –  is critical to the development of deep understanding, and should as such also 'pay off' in time. I am very, very convinced that "you can't play 20 Questions with Nature and win" (Allen Newell), and that "there is nothing as practical as a good theory" (Kurt Lewin).

 

In the media: In spite of the relatively fundamental nature of my research, the media sometimes take an interest. A brief (Dutch) clip about our research on how frowning muscle activity can be used to track emotions as people read morally loaded stories, and on why we do this type of research, can be found here. Our work on the processing of swearwords has also been covered, e.g. here. So, if you are a journalist looking for a fundamental science angle on some phenomenon at the interface of language and emotion, you can always email me (j.vanberkum@uu.nl) to see if I have something sensible to say.

 

(For native speakers of Dutch: een korte Nederlandstalige impressie van mijn onderzoek vind je in mijn oratie)


Wervingsposter voor de interdisciplinaire minor Brains & Bodies
Leeropdracht
Communicatie, Cognitie en Emotie (emeritus)
Oratiedatum
30-09-2011