Science & Technology

Blue Plate Research: The Science Behind the Art of Conversation With Stephanie Borrie

By Alicia Richmond |

Stephanie Borrie

Conversations are integral to our daily lives. They serve as the foundation for building and maintaining relationships, conducting work, raising children, accessing services, engaging in our communities and much more.

An Blue Plate Research event on March 21 hosted by the Office of Research is titled “The Science Behind the Art of Conversation.” Stephanie Borrie, associate professor in the Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education Department in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, will explore how successful conversations emerge from the collaborative efforts of those who engage in them.

All are invited to attend this Blue Plate Research event. It will take place on Thursday, March 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Gallivan Hall in downtown Salt Lake City. The insightful discussion will be an opportunity to understand the science that informs the subtleties of our daily interactions and to enhance the way we connect with others. To RSVP for the event, visit

“This is an opportunity to communicate my research and the importance of being active participants in conversations to the wider community,” Borrie says. “Science tells us that to experience successful conversations, we cannot function as individual entities — you, me. Rather, we must collaborate our behaviors, coordinating our speech in meaningful ways.”

Borrie will delve into her research, which examines the impact of neurological conditions such as stroke, brain injury and Parkinson’s disease on conversation, and will discuss ways that communication partners can work together to improve conversations.

While the act of having a conversation may seem straightforward, it actually involves a complex coordination of behaviors that require communication partners to make constant adaptations in order to understand one another and ensure a smooth interaction. Borrie describes conversation as a “dynamic and deeply cooperative joint activity.”

Recently, Borrie embarked on a large project to improve participation in conversations for people with Parkinson’s disease. The work is supported by a multimillion-dollar, five-year grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

“We are currently in the data collection phase of the project, which requires collecting hundreds of conversations from people with and without Parkinson’s disease,” she says. “If anyone is interested in being involved, they can check out my lab website for more details.”

Borrie’s work aims to help people with Parkinson’s disease have better conversations and feel more involved and included in social interactions.

“Despite the fact that conversation is challenging for people with Parkinson’s disease, we really don’t have a lot of research on what is going on and how to improve it,” Borrie says. “We want to help people with Parkinson’s disease feel more confident, heard and engaged in their everyday interactions.”

To help impact and improve conversations for people with Parkinson’s disease, Borrie’s project brings together a team of talented researchers across speech science, signal processing and computational modeling. To identify what is causing a breakdown in a conversation, the researchers will examine the behaviors and patterns exhibited by the conversational partners in the study as well as the participants with Parkinson’s disease.

“Good conversation is co-created by both partners,” Borrie said. “In order to effectively address conversation, we need to look at the system, not just the person with Parkinson’s disease.”

The targeted goals for Borrie’s study are to gain a deep understanding of the barriers to successful interactions for people with Parkinson’s disease and to develop evidence-based interventions to improve their ability to fully participate in conversations.

“The next time you are having a difficult conversation — maybe with someone with a communication disorder, or someone with a foreign accent, or someone who is just hard to connect with — what role can you play to have a more successful conversation?” Borrie asks. “There is a role for all of us.”


Alicia Richmond
Director of Public Relations & Marketing
Emma Eccles Jones College of Education & Human Services


Nathan Stucki
Office of Research Communications
Interim Director


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