From emojis to beatboxers, an unstoppable urge to communicate: Professor Sophie Scott presents The Royal Institution’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES

29 Aug 2017

Fellow of the British Academy Professor Sophie Scott will present this year’s Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES, exploring one of the fundamentals of human and animal life: the unstoppable urge to communicate. 

We are natural born communicators. From the first reassuring scream seconds after birth to our dying word, our lives are ruled by an unstoppable urge to send and receive information. But what brought about this incredible ability to communicate and why is it such a huge part of our lives? And with Emoji the fastest growing language of all time, is modern technology ruining the way we interact? 

In this three-part series, Sophie will venture into magic, music and the science of mirth to discover why communication is such a huge part of our lives. 

Sophie’s first lecture will explore how we gained the remarkable instrument that is the human voice. Sophie will explore how laughter provides a link to our animal past, how our voice box has changed the shape of our faces and why we sound the way we do.  In Lecture 2, Sophie will explore everything we say without opening our mouths, from contagious behaviours to the emotional clues in smell, and whether information wired directly into our brains is really a future we want. And in Lecture 3, she will examine one of the biggest puzzles in science – how and when humans first evolved language. 

The Lectures are broadcast on BBC Four and produced by Windfall Films. 

Professor Sophie Scott FBA FMedSci is Wellcome Senior Research Fellow in Basic Biomedical Science and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London (UCL), where her special interest is in researching the neuroscience of voices, speech and laughter. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2016. 

Sophie said: “I don’t know a successful scientist today who wasn’t inspired as a child by the Royal Institution’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES.  I grew up watching them with my parents and I now continue the tradition with my son.  They’re fun and engaging and a great family-focused way to stimulate an interest in science. So it is an enormous honour to be chosen to present the 2017 CHRISTMAS LECTURES.  

“And as we’ll be looking at such a fundamental feature of human and animal behaviour, I can’t think of a more direct example of how relevant science is to our everyday lives.  I’m looking forward to revealing that there’s much more to communication than we think, and to asking some fairly challenging questions about the future we want.”    

First broadcast in 1936, the Royal Institution CHRISTMAS LECTURES are the world’s oldest science series. The 2017 series will be filmed at the Royal Institution on 12, 14 and 16 December 2017. Tickets are available by a ballot in September, open to members and patrons of the Royal Institution and UK registered schools.

To find out more, please visit

Listen to Sophie Scott talk about the role of the voice when we speak to each other in our From our Fellows podcast.


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