Lena Warnke

Visiting Lecturer in Psychology


Cognitive Scientist and Linguist interested in pragmatics, the cognitive basis of communication, turn-taking in conversation and predictive language comprehension.

My research explores how we communicate with each other in everyday conversation and how the social dynamics of interaction shape how we understand language. Conversation is a cognitively complex endeavor: we have to process our interlocutor’s utterance, understand its meaning, and prepare and initiate an appropriate response, all within a matter of milliseconds. Our environment is noisy, language is ambiguous, and the meaning of our utterances are not always literal so must be inferred from the broader (social) context. Yet, talking to each other typically feels effortless. I’m interested in understanding the cognitive underpinnings that support this process: what is happening in our minds and brains that allows us to communicate with each other smoothly? I’m particularly interested in the role of anticipation in conversation, and use a variety of methods including corpus analysis, behavioral experiments and neuroimaging to get at these questions.

At Wellesley I teach Sensation and Perception and Introduction to Psychology. I have recently taught a seminar on Human Communication, and have experience teaching courses in Linguistics, Cognitive Science and Psychology.

I am also an artist working in photography, bookmaking and music. My practice lives within sidebody, a band and art collective in Somerville, MA.