At the Interaction Analysis Lab, we study the linguistic, non-verbal, and physiological processes essential for interpersonal interaction. We employ conversation analysis, laboratory experiments, and two-person electrophysiological measurements to delve into the micro-processes that make interpersonal interaction possible. Our research can be divided into the following topics:

Engagement is an emergent micro-interactional process characterized by 1) interactants' orientation to each other through posture, perception, and attention, and 2) alignment in interactants' actions and emotions. It can be understood as an engine that keeps conversations going. In the EnTiTy project funded by SLS, we examine how factors such as socio-cultural background, technology, and personality shape expressions of being engaged in interaction. Here, our task is to enhance awareness of the biopsychologically and culturally rooted expressions of engagement making it possible to detect and mitigate potential causes of inter-individual and cross-cultural collaboration problems, misunderstandings, and conflicts. We examine the body language, neural activity, and use of language of persons when they meet for the first time, talk about their opinions, and meaningful life events, or get involved in collaborative problem-solving. Some of the conversations are free from experimental manipulations whereas some involve manipulations that influence the interactants' receptiveness and scope of attention.

What the participants inevitably bring in an encounter is the language, which, in turn, reflects (sub)culturally preferred styles of interacting. That is, speaking a language does not involve only grammar and lexicon but also knowledge about pragmatic conventions and the ability to identify and apply them in “typical ways” in specific interactional situations. In the bilingual Finnish context, this brings to the fore a comparative question regarding speakers of Finnish and Swedish. Interrelations between the Finnish and Swedish conversational styles in Finland have not been researched substantially before, but preliminary work suggests that the Swedish communicative culture is strongly oriented to informality and consensus-seeking, favoring a high-involvement style, while the Finnish communicative patterns are more oriented to freedom to act and evasiveness. Expanding this strand of work, we seek to identify differences between Finnish and Swedish speakers’ “engagement metrics” in their linguistic and embodied communicative practices and sensitivity to lack of displays of engagement.

Engagement in interaction is made possible by the smooth cooperation of sensory systems, attentional and motor control, and the ability to synchronize actions and emotions with other persons. The ability to sustain attention and sensitivity to salient distracting events varies among individuals due to life history and genetic factors. Similarly, people differ in their ways of perceiving, interpreting, and responding to others' verbal and non-verbal actions. Traditional personality research focuses on variability in context-independent traits of sociability, negative affectivity, consciousness, and openness to experiences. What has remained unstudied are the micro-level interactional mechanisms associated with these personality traits. An emerging approach has topicalized this knowledge gap positing that the personality differences perceived in interactions pertain largely to variation in engagement behaviors and motivation to affiliate and dominate.

The way in which people interact with others is largely dependent on the emotional content of the conversation. For example, think about a person telling a rumor or funny anecdote to another. What we can see is that there is increasing alignment in the speaker's and listener's emotional expressions, postural sway, and verbal actions. Our previous research shows that interactants’ nonverbal emotional cues influence the recipient’s neural processing of subsequent nonverbal and verbal messages and that this happens at a very early stage of neural sensory processing (Harjunen et al. 2017; Ravaja et al. 2017, Spapé et al. 2019). Thus, emotional cues seem to work as a locking mechanism that sustains engagement in interaction through predictive coding, both from the speaker and recipient perspectives. In the lab, we study the role of emotion-driven predictions in sustaining attention to conversation and enabling mutual understanding in the course of interaction. Here, we utilize magnetoencephalography and functional neuroimaging to examine the processing of natural conversations with varying degrees of predictability and emotional salience.