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Neurocognition of Language Lab Members Presenting Five Posters at 20th Anniversary Cognitive Neuroscience Society Meeting

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Published: 1/23/2013 3:53:00 PM

The students, post-docs and faculty of the Neurocognition of Language Lab will present five research posters at 20th Anniversary Cognitive Neuroscience Society Meeting to be held April 13-16 in San Francisco.

About the CNS Annual Meeting
  (description from CNS Media Advisory) 

Each year The Cognitive Neuroscience Society holds and annual meeting in the spring. The purpose of the meeting is to bring together researchers from around the world to share the latest studies in cognitive neuroscience. This 4 day event is filled with symposia, slides, posters, awards and most importantly the opportunity to connect with colleagues. 

Highlights will include:

  • 50 scientific talks and 1000+ posters on the latest cognitive neuroscience research

  • 3 keynote addresses this year by: William Newsome of Stanford University who studies visual perception and visual-based decision making; Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington who studies early language, brain development, and learning in young children; and Joseph LeDoux of New York University, who studies the neural basis of emotions, especially fear and anxiety.

  • Fred Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will deliver the George A. Miller Award address for his work on the adult central nervous system and how it can adapt to the environment over time. His work may lead to methods of replacing or enhancing brain and spinal cord tissues lost or damaged due to neurodegenerative disease or trauma.

  • Robert Knight of the University of California, Berkeley, will deliver the Distinguished Career Contribution Award address for his research using electrophysiological, fMRI, and behavioral techniques to understand cognitive processing in humans. His laboratory, which investigates neurological patients with frontal lobe damage, uses this information to develop brain machine interfaces for motor and language prosthetic devices.

Below are abstracts for the posters that will be presented at the conference.

April 14

N170 Visual Word Specialization on Implicit and Explicit Reading Tasks in Spanish-Speaking Adult Neoliterates

Trey Avery, Laura Sanchez, Karen Froud;  Teachers College, Columbia University

Adult literacy training is known to be difficult in terms of teaching and maintenance (Abadzi, 2003), perhaps because neoliterate adults have not acquired reading automaticity. This study examines fast word recognition processes in neoliterate adults, to evaluate whether they show evidence of perceptual (automatic) distinctions between linguistic and visual (symbolic) stimuli. Such a mechanism is thought to be the basis for effortless reading, associated with Visual Word Form Area activation that becomes “tuned” to script as literacy skills are acquired (McCandliss, Cohen, & Dehaene, 2003). High density EEG was recorded from a group of neoliterate adults who participated in two reading tasks: (1) a one-back task requiring implicit reading (available only to those who have attained automaticity), and (2) an explicit reading task, in which participants detected mismatches between pairs of visual and auditory words. Results were compared to recordings from a comparison group of adults who learned to read in childhood. The left-lateralized N170 ERP was targeted as an index of automaticity in reading. Participants from the comparison group showed left-lateralized N170 to word stimuli in both the implicit and reading tasks. Conversely, the N170 elicited from the experimental group showed a left-lateralized topography only in the explicit reading task, and a right lateralization in the one-back task. This suggests that automaticity in reading can be indexed in neoliterate adults using the N170, and that automaticity had not been acquired by the experimental group investigated here. Study implications with respect to literacy education and attainment are discussed.

April 15

Perception of American English vowels by adult bilingual Spanish speakers: An EEG study

Paula Garcia, Karen Froud; Teachers College, Columbia University

Adult cross-language studies demonstrate that learning of a second language (L2) is influenced by the native language (L1) phonological system, with L2 learners assimilating non-native sounds to native phonemes (Best, 1995; Flege, 1995). Adult sequential bilingual Spanish-English speakers face perceptual challenges in acquiring American English (AE) vowel contrasts, because these are often signaled by multiple acoustic cues that may not be present in their L1. Research on English vowel perception in L1-Spanish adults has focused on the English vowel contrast /i/, /ɪ/ (as in sheep, ship) because discrimination errors between these two vowels are common (Flege, Bohn & Jang, 1997; Fox, Flege & Munro, 1995). However, other vowel contrasts such as /ɑ/-/ʌ/ and /ɛ/-/æ/ are also known to present perceptual challenges for Spanish listeners (Flege, Munro & MacKay, 1994; Escudero & Chládková, 2010). This study examined neurophysiological responses (ERPs) of adult sequential Spanish-English bilinguals, compared to English-speaking controls, in a task requiring perceptual discrimination of AE vowel contrasts /ɑ/-/ʌ/, /ɛ/-/æ/ under two listening conditions: (1) natural vowel duration and (2) neutral vowel duration. MMN / P300 responses were observed for all participants, indicating that Spanish and English listeners were able to discriminate these vowels. However, Spanish speakers did not show behavioral indices of discrimination between AE vowels, since accuracy and reaction time differed significantly between Spanish and English groups. Directional asymmetries were observed only for the L1-Spanish listeners. These findings provide more evidence on the neural correlates of Spanish-speaking adults’ perceptual organizational abilities for identification of L2 vowel contrasts.

April 16

Neural Correlates of African American English Syntax: An ERP Pilot Study

Felicidad Garcia1, Reem Khamis-Dakwar2, Karen Froud1; 1Teachers College, Columbia University, 2Adelphi University

This experiment compares event-related potential (ERP) responses to syntactic differences between African American English (AAE) and Standard American English (SAE). Recent research has shown that distinct ERP signatures are associated with switching between languages compared to switching between dialects or registers (Khamis-Dakwar & Froud, 2007; Moreno et al., 2001). The current investigation builds on these findings to investigate whether AAE syntax elicits differing neural responses in bidialectal speakers of AAE and SAE, compared to monolingual speakers of SAE. ERP responses in this investigation were measured in two experiments: Experiment 1 recorded ERP effects for auditorily presented sentences in each of two syntax types in its use or omission of a third-person singular agreement on a present tense verb (e.g., The young child lights/light the fire). Experiment 2 served to confirm the presence of similar ERP effects in both participant groups for grammaticality violations shared between both language varieties (e.g. The distant fire reaches them/*they in the morning). Initial results were compared between a bidialectal speaker of AAE/SAE and a monolingual SAE speaker. In experiment 1, monolingual speakers showed a P600 response to stimuli violating the 3rd person agreement restriction, but no such response was observed for the speaker of AAE. Experiment 2 produced P600 effects in both participants. Results of this preliminary study warrant further investigation of brain responses to syntactic variation in SAE and AAE. Implications include potential for greater understanding of language processing in AAE, that could influence appropriation of therapy and educational resources (Cole & Taylor, 1990).

Mismatch negativity to language of adoption and language of environment speech-sounds in children who are internationally adopted

Reem Khamis-Dakwar1,  Kathleen Scott2;  1Adelphi University, 2Hofstra University

Interest in the language acquisition of children who are internationally adopted (CWIA) has increased greatly over the last several years due to the increase in the numbers of children who are adopted from foreign countries into the US (U.S. Department of State, 2011). Despite rapid language acquisition in the early years postadoption, children who are internationally adopted (CWIA) appear to present with language difficulties when they reach the school-age years (Scott, Roberts, & Glennen, 2011, Beverly, McGuinness, & Blanton, 2008). To evaluate whether later language difficulties can be related to differences in phonemic system organization, we investigated auditory MMN responses from three CWIA (3 -5 years old) adopted from China and exposed to LE for at least 2 years, and one non- adopted monolingual English speaking child. The participants’ selection enables control for the effect of age of adoption and time in US on children’s’ MMN responses in comparison to the control. Participant 1 shared age of adoption (8 month) with participant 2, while sharing time spent in US (exposure to English) with participant 3. Words were presented in randomized order in passive listening oddball paradigms in three conditions. Chinese only, English only phonemic contrast, and phonemic contrast evident in both languages. The MMNs to different speech contrast deviants were elicited within an auditory oddball paradigm and recorded by a 32-channel. Differences in MMN presence, latency and amplitude reveal differences in the phonological representations in CWIA children, depending on time of adoption in interaction with amount of exposure to LE.

An ERP Investigation of Two Modes of Reasoning

Chaille Maddox, Karen Froud, John Black;  Teachers College Columbia University

We investigate neural correlates of representational systems underlying human reasoning: mental models (MM) and mental rules (MR). Semantic cognitive processes are postulated to be a property of model-based representational systems of reasoning (Gentner & Stevens, 1983; Johnson-Laird, 1983), whereas syntactic processes are posited to operate over symbol-based systems (Braine & O’Brien, 1998; Fodor, 1975; Plylshyn, 1984; Rips, 1994). The N400 and P600, long associated with semantic and syntactic processing in language (Kutas & Hillyard, 1980; Osterhout & Holcomb, 1992), were hypothesized to index cognitive processes underlying MM and MR reasoning, respectively. Participants were trained in MM or MR reasoning strategies (Schwartz & Black, 1996), and then viewed stimuli consisting of rotating gears. Their task was to use the learned reasoning paradigm to predict direction of gear turn. Predictions were either met (the "expected" condition) or violated (the "unexpected" condition). High-density EEG was concurrently recorded and ERPs were derived offline. Grandaveraged responses to expected and unexpected stimuli were compared for MM and MR. In the MM condition, N400 responses were observed, reflecting unexpectedness within image-specific representational networks (Federmeier & Kutas, 2001; McPherson & Holcomb, 1999; Sitnikova, et al., 2006). By comparison, in the MR condition, P600 was observed, reflecting a rule-governed representational system underlying this strategy (Friederici, Hahne, & Saddy, 2002; Hagoort, Brown & Osterhout, 1999; Kaan & Swaab, 2003; van Berkum, Brown, & Hagoort, 1999). ERP topographies differed from language-specific components, hypothesized to reflect execution of complex reasoning processes (Goel, 2009; Kroger, et al., 2002; Prabhakaran, et al., 1997).

About the Neurocognition of Language Lab

The Neurocognition of Language Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University conducts theoretically-grounded empirical research using behavioral, electroencephalographic, and other brain imaging modalities, with the goal of increasing understanding of the processes and representations involved in speech, language and cognition, and informing best practices in clinical and (educational) pedagogical arenas.

We investigate the neural correlates of speech, language and cognition in populations of interest for pedagogical and clinical professionals, including children and adults from linguistically, culturally and economically diverse populations, and those who have developmental and acquired speech/language or cognitive disorders. The resulting wide-ranging research program is consistently informed by the following approaches:
to relate theoretical frameworks to empirical observations, in order to inform and evaluate the theories as well as to generate hypotheses;
  • to investigate the neural correlates of linguistic representation and processing, in the full range of ability and disability;

  • to interpret empirical findings in terms of both individual variation between human participants, and in terms of the commonalities of neurological and linguistic processes;

  • to translate empirical findings and theoretical frameworks to practical considerations for clinicians and educators, so as to expedite direct benefits of the research to the populations under investigation.

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