Lab of Brain and Cognition

Watch Emily run a participant in the lab and explain some of our recent work:


IMG_44980croppedThe lab is dedicated to investigating the cognitive processes involved in reading and how these  processes change when we learn a second language. To study these changes, we employ both behavioral and electrophysiological (Event-Related Potentials, ERP) measures.

IMG_4504We are currently working on a few projects. In one project (in collaboration with Emily Heimbender, a psychology graduate student, and Elizabeth Sacchi, a former lab member and now a doctoral candidate at Binghamton University), we are studying how visual word recognition systems change when people learn a second language (L2). Our research shows a remarkable degree of neural plasticity in individuals who learned a second language, even when learning takes place during adulthood. For example, in collaboration with Guillaume Thierry (ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Bangor University, Wales), we recently shown that the N1, a negative component elicited 130 ms after the presentation of a word over posterior brain regions, becomes increasingly larger over the left sites with increasing experience with a second language (Welsh; Grossi, Savill, Thomas, & Thierry, 2010).

N1 lateralization over PO7 and PO8 in late bilinguals
The N1 has been found to be larger over the left (e.g., PO7) than the right (e.g., PO8) posterior sites in expert readers. [see picture on the right:  y axis = microV; x axis = ms; negative is plotted up; the N1 peaks at 150 ms; PO=parieto-occipital; Grossi et al., 2010]

Correlation between N1 asymmetry and years of experience with Welsh (L2)

Correlation between N1 asymmetry for Welsh (left-right) and years of experience in Welsh (Grossi et al., 2010). 

These data suggest that the organization of visual areas involved in word recognition is driven by experience with a language, not by age of acquisition, and that the degree of plasticity of these areas remains considerable in spite of the presence, in adult late bilinguals, of circuits already tuned to the first language. Our recent work (Grossi, Sacchi, & Heimbender, to be submitted) replicates these findings and shows a correlation between proficiency in the second language (Spanish) and N1 lateralization for words belonging to the native language. In a nutshell, our work shows that learning a second language is associated with changes in how both the second and the first language are processed at the neural level.

In another project, Amanda Lane (psychology graduate student) is investigating how two languages are processed in bilinguals and how they interact. Specifically, she is asking whether such interaction varies depending on the type of bilingualism (i.e., early vs. late). This project is an extension of a recently published study on late and early English-Welsh bilinguals (Grossi, Savill, Thomas, & Thierry, 2012).

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