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Neural Oscillations in Audiovisual Language and Communication  

Linda Drijvers and Sara Mazzini

How do neural oscillations support human audiovisual language and communication? Considering the rhythmic nature of audiovisual language, in which stimuli from different sensory modalities unfold over time, neural oscillations represent an ideal candidate to investigate how audiovisual language is processed in the brain. Modulations of oscillatory phase and power are thought to support audiovisual language and communication in multiple ways. Neural oscillations synchronize by tracking external rhythmic stimuli or by re-setting their phase to presentation of relevant stimuli, resulting in perceptual benefits. In particular, synchronized neural oscillations have been shown to subserve the processing and the integration of auditory speech, visual speech, and hand gestures. Furthermore, synchronized oscillatory modulations have been studied and reported between brains during social interaction, suggesting that their contribution to audiovisual communication goes beyond the processing of single stimuli and applies to natural, face-to-face communication. There are still some outstanding questions that need to be answered to reach a better understanding of the neural processes supporting audiovisual language and communication. In particular, it is not entirely clear yet how the multitude of signals encountered during audiovisual communication are combined into a coherent percept and how this is affected during real-world dyadic interactions. In order to address these outstanding questions, it is fundamental to consider language as a multimodal phenomenon, involving the processing of multiple stimuli unfolding at different rhythms over time, and to study language in its natural context: social interaction. Other outstanding questions could be addressed by implementing novel techniques (such as rapid invisible frequency tagging, dual-electroencephalography, or multi-brain stimulation) and analysis methods (e.g., using temporal response functions) to better understand the relationship between oscillatory dynamics and efficient audiovisual communication.