Our Research

The primary goal of the group is to investigate the facilitatory effects of predictive cues in comprehension and its underlying processes. Focusing on rhythmic, formal, and emotional cues in communicative signals, we aim to identify factors that modulate the extraction of cues and thus the resulting predictions. Furthermore, we examine the functional and neuroanatomical links between specialized processing systems (language, learning, emotion, and sensorimotor) with respect to different types of predictive cues such as rhythm and emotion. In order to address these matters, behavioral, electrophysiological and brain imaging measures are employed in healthy and patient populations. Our research is based on an integrated perspective that comprises the interaction of cortical, basal ganglia and cerebellar circuitries.

Temporal processing and the sensorimotor system

Currently, we are working with Parkinson (PD) patients, individuals with speech dysfluencies, and patients with focal lesions of the basal ganglia (BG) or the cerebellum (CE). By means of behavioral (sensorimotor synchronization) and electrophysiological (M/EEG, EEG-oscillations) methods we explore specific aspects of temporal and emotional processing in these groups. Our primary concern is to differentiate the contributions of subcortical structures and their cortical connections in these processes with special interest in the lateralization of the pathology.

The role of rhythmic, formal, and emotional cues in comprehension

Our research is based on the working hypothesis that speech comprehension involves ongoing predictions about future events. Further, we assume that those predictions are established based on cues provided in the ongoing signal. An open question is how cues are extracted and which cues are selected to form predictions. Finally, our research investigates how predictions facilitate comprehension.

Investigating learning in speech and language

Learning is a continuous process occurring in all domains. Our main functional interest is how general learning mechanisms apply to speech and language. With regard to brain structures, our goal is to characterize cortical and subcortical components of the learning process. We study those mechanisms as well as facilitating factors such as music, social interaction, or rhythm. Additionally, we are interested in the emergence of inter-individual differences and their impact on learning. Furthermore, we test whether late language acquisition, considered as re-learning (e.g., in anomic patients or second language learners), involves the same processes and neural bases as early language acquisition. For this purpose we use behavioural as well as neuroimaging techniques (EEG, EEG-oscillations, fMRI).

Cross-domain rhythm perception

For the past 30 years, the use of neuroimaging in cognitive neuroscience has challenged the traditional modular view of the human brain and has highlighted the necessity for cross-domain research. Seemingly unrelated cognitive functions such as speech and music perception are being viewed under a new prism; effects of the one domain can be transferred to the other. Currently there are strong theoretical accounts that assume common ground between the music and the speech and language faculties of the human brain. The gap, however, lies in defining which aspects of speech and music processing are shared and which are domain-specific. Rhythm perception has been highlighted as a shared mechanism for both music and speech processing, as it relies on the same acoustic features (e.g. waveform periodicity, amplitude envelope), and it takes place in anatomically overlapping brain structures.
The project NERHYMUS, “The NEurobiology of RHYthm: effects of MUSical expertise on natural speech comprehension”, funded by the European Commission under the Marie Skłodowska -Curie Actions scheme, investigates whether musical rhythm expertise affects the processing of rhythm during speech comprehension. We use a naturalistic experimental paradigm, in which participants listen to stories and poems, in combination with behavioural, EEG, fMRI and TMS methods in order to investigate the neural underpinnings of rhythm perception.
Establishing a close neurobiological connection of music and language processing through rhythm perception could revolutionise the design of rhythm-based therapies in speech and language rehabilitation as well as rhythmical training for children with developmental disorders.

Vocal learning: It’s only human

Speech is a dynamic combination of initiating learned motor patterns and learning new motor patterns on the fly. Although speech involves a complex of orofacial and laryngeal muscles, the latter are the primary sound source for speech, are much less studied. The ability to volitionally control these muscles is incredibly rare and may be one of the crucial skills that make humans the only speaking ape. We are using fMRI to study the brain systems that regulate the learning of new vocalizations, the retrieval of vocalizations that have already been learned, and the production of emotional vocalizations which, being innate, never required learning.

Effect of individual differences in emotional regulation on cognitive control

Most psychological experiments treat individual differences as nuisance variation. However, there has been a recent resurgence in interest in understanding sources of individual variation in task performance, and particularly how these can be applied to individual differences in brain-structure, biochemistry, connectivity, and pathological behaviour. One of our research line focusses on systematically examining the overlap between the processes underpinning performance on emotional and non-emotional versions of traditional “conflict” tasks (e.g., Eriksen flanker) by examining the relationship between participants’ individual performance on these tasks and emotional regulation (e.g., sub-clinical depression and anxiety).

More information on other projects:

Learning & Re-learning

Adapting to Dynamic Environments

Vocal Learning