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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.


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