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).

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.

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