How miracles really work: Minimally counterintuitive concepts in the context of emotion and styles of speech (314)

The world of fairy tales, myths and legends is filled with wonder: they are emotional concepts that violate our system of knowledge. Why do these concepts have such a major impact on our culture, and how do our brains process them?

Ample evidence suggests that our semantic system, entailing knowledge about concepts, their semantic attributes and relations, is organized along well-defined taxonomic and categorical structures. Yet, many culturally successful concepts, for instance, concepts entailed in fairy tales or myths, violate the clear structures of the semantic system, i.e., zombies (acting dead), ghosts (bodiless agents) or speaking animals. Such minimally counterintuitive elements (MCIs) may be the basis for the success of these concepts.

Culturally successful MCIs are often characterized by their emotional value and are communicated in specific styles of language, for instance, in fairy tales. The project investigates the cognitive and neural mechanisms of minimally counter-intuitive concepts by means of behavioural, electrophysiological and imaging techniques, and computational modelling.


Abdel Rahman, R. (2011, Im Druck). Facing Good and Evil: Early brain signatures of affective biographical knowledge in face recognition. Emotion.

Aristei, S., Melinger, A., Abdel Rahman, R. (2011, Im Druck). Electrophysiological chronometry of semantic context effects in language production. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (23). 1567–1586.

Abdel Rahman, R., Melinger, A. (2011). The dynamic microstructure of speech production: Semantic interference built on the fly. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition (37). 149-161.

Aristei, S., &, Abdel Rahman, R. (2011). On the relevance of response relevance: Investigating semantic interference with conditional naming.

Abdel Rahman, R., Aristei, S. (2010). Now you see it, … and now again: Semantic interference reflects lexical competition in speech production with and without articulation. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review (17). 657-661.

Schacht, A., Martín-Loeches, M., Casado, P., Hohlfeld, A., Abdel Rahman, R., Sommer, W. (2010). Rules and heuristics during sentence comprehension II : How is sentence processing affected by external semantic and syntactic information?. PLoS ONE (5). e9742.

Abdel Rahman, R., Melinger, A. (2009). Dismissing lexical competition does not make speaking any easier: A rejoinder to Mahon and Caramazza (2009). Language and Cognitive Processes (24 (5)). 749-760.

Abdel Rahman, R., Melinger, A. (2009). Semantic context effects in language production: A swinging lexical network proposal and a review. Language and Cognitive Processes (24 (5)). 713-734.

Martín-Loeches,M., Schacht, A., Casado,P., Hohlfeld, A., Abdel Rahman, R., &, Sommer, W. (2009). Rules and heuristics during sentence comprehension: evidences from a dual-task brain potential study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (21 (7)). 1380-1395.

Abdel Rahman, R., Melinger, A. (2008). Enhanced phonological facilitation and traces of concurrent word form activation in speech production: An object naming study with multiple distractors. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (61). 1410-1440.

Sarlo, M., Palomba, D., Stark, R., Schienle, A., Aristei, S., Vaitl, D. (2004). Neural responses towards disgusting and fear inducing clips. International Journal of Psychophysiology (54). 59.