In 2020, during the implementation of the project “Cognitive mechanisms and discursive strategies to overcome sociocultural threats in historical dynamics: a multidisciplinary study”, supported by the Russian Science Foundation, the Russian State University for the Humanities has created for the first time ever a unique Neurosemantic Atlas of the Russian Language. The entire work was done by the Research and Study Center for Cognitive Programs and Technologies, a worldclass state-of-the-art laboratory headed by Director of the Center, Doctor of Philology, Professor V. I. Zabotkina, with active involvement of RAS Corresponding Member, Doctor of Psychology, Professor B. M. Velichkovsky.
The Atlas was initially designed to study how the human brain and mind perceive threatening and alarming texts. A special technique has been developed to monitor semantic processes of conceptualizing sociocultural threats using fMRI. A narrator was reading selected texts to the volunteers participating in the experiment, while fMRI was recording the processes in different brain areas. The obtained data were then mathematically processed and represented in special tables. The experiment results allow for conclusions that have spread far beyond the project topic and relate to perception of both the texts in Russian and in any other language. Therefore, they are of unprecedented significance for both the Russian and world science.
The Atlas includes neurosemantic portraits of 1000 high-frequency nouns and verbs of the Russian language and of their semantic classes – so called synsets. Semantics of each word is determined by the distance to the conditional centers of 12 basic clusters. The clusters present the main network categories of the neurosemantic atlas experimentally identified at the previous stages of the project on the basis of linguistic and neurophysiological data. For example, clusters 02, 04 and 10 were semantically related to space and time of the described events, while clusters 03, 06 and 07 were related to the topics of threat, open conflict, and deprivation. For native Russian speakers of a certain age and educational background, they represent a peculiar analytical “constructor” of meanings and senses within their vocabulary. The method makes it possible to localize the brain mechanisms of semantic processing, as well as to describe individual differences in the perception of information about threats contained in the stimulus material.
The project outcomes have shown that, with rare exceptions, any frequent word, i.e. any word actively used by any native speaker (not only of the Russian language but, in our opinion, of any other language) can be described by a set of distances to any number of basic network clusters (12 clusters in our case). The value of these distances and the order of clusters in the set were regarded as a neurosemantic portrait of a given word. As a result of rather complicated mathematical calculations, for each cluster a vector was estimated that captures the average value of all the words in the cluster. Words close to the center or nucleus of each cluster were examined: they generally corresponded to the clusters’ semantics and the labels proposed by the experts for the experiment. The experiment has identified a neurosemantic pattern of sociocultural threats. Thus, the use of fMRI is a possible method to monitor individual conceptualization of such threats within the perception of text narratives. On the contrary, determining the linguistic parameters of each of the network clusters, for example, the threat cluster, can be used for daily monitoring through autonomic tools of threats contained in texts. A special parser can be used for a search of the threat pattern, the one that is normally used to search for semantic patterns in large text arrays.
In 2019, the Scientific and educational center for cognitive programs and technologies (world-class laboratory) of the Russian State University for the Humanities successfully completed the second phase of the project No. 17-78-30029 "Cognitive mechanisms and discursive strategies for overcoming socio-cultural threats in historical dynamics: multidisciplinary research."
For the first time in Russian science, the problem of socio-cultural threats, as well as the socio-cultural consequences of the so-called "hard" threats (military actions, natural disasters) was studied in a multidisciplinary perspective: advanced theoretical and methodological resources of socio-humanitarian (historical, linguistic, sociological) and natural science knowledge, the latest technologies for studying the brain and algorithms for automatic processing of big data were used and integrated for the research.
The main research objective of high social significance, achieved in the course of the project implementation, was to identify cognitive, conceptual and discursive features of Russian-language texts that represent prototypical people’s beliefs, lying at the heart of national mentality. The apprehension of socio-cultural problems as threats induces in people various kinds of fears and mass panic moods, increase the background anxiety of the population, and, thus, inhibits rational understanding of current challenges and problems and the adoption of comprehensively balanced and strategically correct decisions.
At the core of all research areas of the project is the frame of socio-cultural threats, developed with the help of the categorical apparatus of cognitive sciences. It consists of three levels: superordinate, basic and subordinate. This approach allows researchers to combine the results, obtained in several areas in cognitive science. So multidimensional integral knowledge within the chosen problem field has been obtained, facilitating the achievement of a common goal - the explanation of universal anthropological and national-historical mechanisms of emergence and functioning of the phenomenon of socio-cultural threats and the development of effective measures to overcome them.
For each of the research areas in 2019, innovative scientific results have been achieved, presented primarily in the form of digital tools, interfaced through multi-aspect navigation: the Thesaurus of socio-cultural threats, the Corpus of representative texts (THREAT-Corpus) and the multimedia application "Anatomy of threats".
Breakthrough results were also achieved by the group, engaged in the study of the reaction of individual brain areas to texts describing "soft" socio-cultural threats. The technique for the study has been worked out and tested on 25 subjects. That made it possible to start designing a neuro-semantic atlas of the Russian language, which is unprecedented for world science. At the same time, algorithms for automatic detection and evaluation of threatening messages in the news stream have been worked out.
The significance of the research is also in the combination of the diachronic and synchronic aspects. Annotation and multidimensional analysis of discourses from the Imperial, Soviet and post-Soviet periods of Russian history, represented by fiction, historical and news texts, have been carried out in 2019. The obtained results were projected on the study of cognitive-discursive processes in modern Russian society.
Another considerable outcome of a project is a comparative analysis of the cultural-specific characteristics of threat conceptualization in the Russian and English-speaking cultures. On the basis of the observations made, particular categories of the Russian-language and English-language thesauri of socio-cultural threats have been compared.
The study of threat dynamics was supplemented by content analysis of an array of news reports and automatic syntactic-semantic research of social media discourse with the implementation of a specially developed parser. The sociological, public opinion survey of threats in Russia has been organized; the results were compared with the representations of threats in the current media. Based on the observations made, separate categories of the Russian-language thesaurus of threats have been compared to English-language thesaurus.
The study of threat dynamics was supplemented by content analysis of an array of news reports, and automatic syntactic-semantic research of social media discourse using a specially developed parser, as well as a sociological study of public opinion of Russians in comparison with the representations of threats in the current media.
The thesaurus of socio-cultural threats is a breakthrough scientific product created in 2019. It has become the primary achievement of research for all groups of the project. It is structured according to the principle of taxonomy "tree" of concepts of the thematic field "socio-cultural threats" and includes about 250 hierarchically organized elements – the concepts of socio-cultural threats, correlated with the corpus of more than 10 million words and almost a thousand text fragments. Text fragments are a result of a profound expert markup of Russian-language texts (fiction, historical texts and news texts within the period of XIX-XXI centuries). The product of such an analytical level has no precedents not only in cognitive linguistics but also in the interdisciplinary field of modern humanitarian knowledge.
An essential part of the work at this stage consisted in the monitoring of various social and age groups opinions about socio-cultural threats relevant to modern society. Considerable interest in the project was demonstrated by MIA "Russia today". The co-financing provided by MIA "Russia today" allowed to significantly expand the sociologiсal part of the research. Monitoring was carried out in two stages, using an integrated approach consisting of quantitative and qualitative methods. It was possible to carry out desk research, media content analysis, comparative analysis of Russian-language media monitoring data and longitudinal monitoring data of ISPI RAS. The problems of actual socio-cultural threats were tracked in three periods: 2012, 2015 and 2019 (up to and including September). Then the all-Russian public opinion poll was conducted by the method of semi-formalized interview, as well as a series of expert interviews. The experts were competent participants of social, socio-economic, socio-political life - specialists whose activities are associated with the study, coverage of socio-cultural and socio-political threats and risks, prevention of emerging imbalances and possible conflicts. In the field study (July-August 2019) 1,600 Russians over the age of 18 living in 7 regions of the Russian Federation-Moscow, Leningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Sverdlovsk and Novosibirsk regions, Krasnodar territory, Primorye-in settlements of 3 types: urban agglomerations, district centers, villages and settlements have been surveyed.
The analysis of empirical data obtained during the semi-formalized interview showed that Russian society is essentially characterized by a fairly high level of anxiety and, as a consequence, increased conflict. All groups of threats reflected in the Toolkit are actualized in the public consciousness, but the most important for respondents are threats related to well-being and socio-economic situation (high cost of living, unemployment, rising food prices, increase in utility tariffs, division of the society into rich and poor). In the second place – threats related to security- high level of crime, the arbitrariness of officials, the environmental situation. In the third place are the threats of a sociocultural order which are connected with problems of identity, disruption of customs, reduction of access to cultural values.
Assessing the causes of different types of threats, experts in the course of the survey highlighted their common basis-the lack of a holistic ideology that forms public thought, public consciousness. Answering questions about the role of mass media in the formation of socio-cultural fears and threats, most experts consider it negative and note the escalation of anxiety and fears among the audience by the majority of the media. Some respondents expressed the opinion that fear-mongering is a commercial technique used by modern media to attract consumers looking for such content.
According to the results of the study, since the beginning of the project (2017), more than 50 publications have been prepared in SCOPUS and Web of Science, including more than 20 articles and 2 monographs in 2019.
In 2018, RSUH Research and Study Center for Cognitive Programs and Technologies which was granted a world-class laboratory status, continued implementation of the project "Cognitive mechanisms and discursive strategies for overcoming socio-cultural threats in historical dynamics: multidisciplinary research" with the support of the Russian Science Foundation.
The project is focused on the development of cognitive tools and research models for systematic analysis of socio-cultural threats as factors having a significant impact on modern society development. It is an unprecedented complex study of mechanisms of conceptualization and discursive representation of real and hypothetical risks in the Russian-speakers worldview. The study is also focused on communicative strategies for preventing and overcoming public threats in the Russian history, as well as on the ways of responding to the present day challenges.
The study presupposes close collaboration of neuropsychologists, philologists, linguists, historians and sociologists. The project is planned to be implemented within the period till 2020. During the first stage of research, the following results have been achieved:
- a specialized thematic corpus of Russian-language historical, literary and news texts has been created. The corpus represents various socio-cultural threats and risks (THREAT-CORPUS); the total volume of the corpus amounts to 10 million word usages and it will be continually enriched. The corpus will serve as a unique source base for all subsequent research related to the problems of overcoming social threats;
- a “threat” event frame has been developed; the structure of the category “threat” (which is the basis of the corresponding conceptual domain) has been elaborated; the concepts that are the cognitive basis of discursive threat manifestation have been identified and classified; a method of identifying conceptual metaphors of socio-cultural threats in texts of various genres has been proposed and tested;
- an interactive navigator has been designed for accessing corpus texts using specially selected metadata. The research team has also elaborated an expert marking mechanism for attributing text fragments in accordance with the frame structure of socio-cultural threats (threat agents, causative factors, patients, counteragents) and taking into account the conceptual metaphors in marked fragments;
- a multi-modal annex to the corpus containing textual and visual materials (photographs, documents, video clips) has been developed. It reflects historical events related to the Patriotic War of 1812 and the October Revolution of 1917, as well as cultural perception of these events by contemporaries and subsequent generations;
- the research team of neuropsychologists has elaborated semantic brain mapping technique for Russian-speakers based on selected concepts of socio-cultural threats;
- the research team of sociologists has elaborated the algorithm for monitoring opinions of various social and age groups on topical socio-cultural threats;
- The International School for Young Researchers “Studying and Overcoming Socio-Cultural Threats in Historical Dynamics” is organized annually within the framework of the project.
- 28 articles have been published in Web of Science and SCOPUS journals.
The research is unprecedented in the world science: it is simultaneously focused on the study of the neuropsychological substratum, mechanisms of cognitive, social, cultural and linguistic construction of threats, as well as on the analysis of the historical experience of overcoming threats. Such multidisciplinary work facilitates the search for innovative tools and mechanisms of critical analysis for overcoming socio-cultural threats.
In 2017, the RSUH Research and Study Center for Cognitive Programs and Technologies was granted a world-class laboratory status within the framework of the project "Cognitive mechanisms and discursive strategies for overcoming socio-cultural threats in historical dynamics: multidisciplinary research" with the support of the Russian Science Foundation.
The project is focused on the development of cognitive tools and research models for systematic analysis of socio-cultural threats as factors having a significant impact on modern society development. Unprecedented complex study of mechanisms of conceptualization and discursive representation of real and hypothetical risks (within the changes in the Russian-speakers worldview) will be carried out, communicative strategies for preventing and overcoming public threats in the history of Russia will be studied, and ways of responding to the present day challenges will be suggested within the framework of multidisciplinary approach.
The members of the research team will address the following questions:
- How to differentiate between imaginary threats and the real dangers, false alarms and alarmist moods and moral panics from situations that really require urgent intervention of society and the state;
- how a person and society should respond to various risks, relying on natural mechanisms of self-protection, common to all cultures, but manifested in each in its own way;
The research demonstrates close cooperation of representatives of several research fields:
- Psychologists and neurophysiologists will perform a semantic mapping of the Russian language lexicon conceptual structures in the coordinates of the brain of Russian native speakers, and on this basis they will study the perception of threats and aggression manifestations;
- the representatives of cognitive linguistics will reveal and describe the mental and language mechanisms structuring the reactions of the Russian native speakers and representatives of the Russian culture to threatening behavior, various kinds of dangers, challenges that a person faces as an individual and as a member of a certain socio-cultural community;
- philologists will study the reflection and comprehension of the most critical challenges of society in Russian literature, beginning with the classical works of Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, up to the Russian novels of the 21st century, nominated for prestigious literary awards and offering an artistic interpretation of the dramatic events of recent decades;
- historians will show how the menaces that threaten society are reflected and interpreted in historical sources, what was the man afraid of in different epochs, and how he tried to overcome his fears and build a strategy of resistance with the help of the word.
During the first months of the project, which will last till 2020, the following results have been achieved:
- The basis of the interdisciplinary conceptual thesaurus (terminological dictionary) of the research has been developed;
- the research team has developed a methodology and started forming a specialized thematic corpus of Russian historical, literary and news texts containing various socio-cultural threats and risks. At the moment the corpus includes about 5 million word usages. The creation of a multimodal corpus appendix containing videos showing aggression, threats and dominant behavior has been started. The corpus will serve as a unique source base for all subsequent studies related to the problem of overcoming public threats;
- the event frame of "threat" has been elaborated; the category of "threat" has been structured as the basis of the corresponding conceptual domain; the concepts that serve the cognitive basis of the discursive manifestation of threats have been identified and classified; a methodology for revealing and identification of the conceptual metaphors of socio-cultural threats has been proposed and tested;
- the team of historians has developed the concept of four semantic fields representing various phases of socio-cultural threats: the phase of anticipation of the approaching threat, the phase of experiencing the threat (behavior strategies in the crisis situations), the phase of post-threat (the reflection of what has happened), the phase of the relevance of the lessons learned;
- a set of successful experiments has been carried out to elaborate a methodology of neurolinguistic mapping of Russian-speakers brain on the basis of selected concepts of socio-cultural threats;
- the International School for Young Scholars "Overcoming socio-cultural threats in historical dynamics: case studies in anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and genocides" was held at Russian State University for the Humanities;
- 12 articles in Web of Science and SCOPUS journals have been published.
The research is unprecedented in the world science: it is simultaneously focused on the study of the neuropsychological substratum, social, cultural and linguistic construction of threats, as well as on the analysis of the historical experience of overcoming threats. Such kind of multidisciplinary work facilitates the search for critical tools and analytical mechanisms for normalizing modern communicative space in crisis situations.