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The Communicative Mind: Investigating the Interplay between Language and Social Cognition


Admission requirements

An introductory course in language acquisition or psycholinguistics at a university. Some exposure to statistics is desired, but not required.


The film Amadeus, a fictionalised account of the 18th century composers Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, features the following interaction between them, as witnessed by other concert attendees:

Salieri: Did my work please you?
Mozart: I never knew that music like that was possible.
Salieri: You flatter me.
Mozart: No, no. One hears such sounds and what could one say but ‘Salieri’!

In this example Mozart skillfully chooses his utterances so that he seems to be paying Salieri a compliment when in fact he is conveying a negative opinion of his work. While Salieri likely realises the ambiguity of Mozart’s remarks, pushing for further clarity would make it seem to others like he is fishing for compliments, so he must let it rest. Checkmate for Mozart!

The interaction between Salieri and Mozart above shows how the ability to understand other people’s minds plays a crucial role in linguistic communication. In this course we will investigate this relationship between language and social cognition from various perspectives. In the first part of the course, we will discuss a range of topics in lecture-style meetings. We will focus on how language and social cognition interact in the course of both typical and atypical development and in adult cognitive processing. We will also consider how cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences affect the relationship between language and social cognition. An investigation of non-human social cognition will serve to deepen understanding of how the presence of language affects social cognitive abilities. Finally, we will consider a topic that has received quite some attention in recent years: how language, in the form of narrative fiction, can be used to enhance our ability to understand the mental lives of others. The second part of the course will consist of seminar-style sessions in which students will work together in small groups to develop and conduct their own small-scale research on how language and social cognition interact. This course will thus provide students with some hands-on experience in performing empirical research.

Course objectives

At the end of the course the students will be able to:

  • grasp how the presence of a human linguistic system affects social cognitive ability.

  • describe the relationship between language and social cognition in both typical and atypical development and in adult cognitive processing.

  • describe how cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences affect social cognition.

This course will provide students with experience in:

  • conducting their own small-scale empirical research project.

  • conveying the results of their own research to others in both the written and spoken form.

  • working together with peers in order to develop and conduct an empirical research project.


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

The course will be taught through a combination of lecture and seminar session

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Group Assignments: 15%
Oral Presentation (group): 15%
Final Research Essay: 70%

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of the three components. Note that the final research essay has to receive a passing grade in order to pass the course as a whole.


Students who fail the course may resit the final research essay.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

All reading material will be made available via the course Brightspace page. It will not be necessary to purchase any reading material for this course


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar

For questions related to the content of the course, please contact the lecturer, you can find their contact information by clicking on their name in the sidebar.

For questions regarding enrollment please contact the Education Administration Office Reuvensplaats E-mail address Education Administration Office Reuvensplaats:

For questions regarding your studyprogress contact the Coordinator of Studies