Word Comprehension

The primary goal of the research in this area include study of language comprehension from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Many of the studies ongoing in the lab are focused on providing answers to questions about the sequence and timing of neural events that underlie the perceptual and cognitive processes involved in visual word comprehension. This research has three specific aims. The first is to test and elaborate on predictions of the Bi-modal Interactive Activation Model (BIAM) of word comprehension in competent adult users of language. While models like the BIAM have been touted as neurally plausible, relatively little work using cognitive neuroscience methods has actually attempted to test the predictions of such models. A second complementary aim focuses on improving the precision of ERP measures of word processing by providing a better understanding of their relationship with the perceptual, cognitive and linguistic processes they are hypothesized to reflect. A third aim seeks to improve our understanding of word comprehension by examining how comprehension processes develop over time. In one group of studies we are using masked priming in normal young adults.

This paradigm has allowed us to isolate four temporally overlapping ERP effects that we have hypothesized are sensitive to a cascade of word comprehension processes. We are currently testing predictions about the processing nature and timing of these ERP effects and plan to use these ERP effects to test predictions generated by the BIAM. A second group of ongoing studies include single word experiments, also in young adults, where a number of variables are manipulated that have previously been suggested to influence early visual word comprehension processes. We have hypothesized that previous failures to see effects with these variables were due to lack of power. A final group of studies will include word comprehension experiments modeled on the young adult studies mentioned above. These will be run in five groups of children between 7 and 11 years of age. The point of these experiments is to allow us to examine the development of visual word comprehension over time and thus better characterize changes in some of the neural/cognitive processes involved in reading. One long term goal is to extend these studies to children and adults with word processing and other language/cognitive deficits.