Research Interests

Brain Networks Involved in Reading and Attentional Control

In our research, we use neuroimaging to better understand the foundation of cognitive skills in different populations of learners, and to gain insights into the dynamics of learning. For example, we recently developed an fMRI paradigm that simultaneously indexes the brain networks supporting reading and attentional control, and are now using this paradigm to clarify the biological foundations of co-occurring reading and attentional control deficits in children. In another set of studies, we are investigating why trial-to-trial variability in brain activity may be beneficial for reading development.

  • Arrington, C.N., Malins, J.G., Winter, R., Mencl, W.E., Pugh, K.R., & Morris, R. (2019). Examining individual differences in reading and attentional control networks utilizing an oddball fMRI task. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 38, 100674. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2019.100674
  • Hung, Y.H., Frost, S.J., Molfese, P., Malins, J.G., Landi, N., Mencl, W.E., Rueckl, J.G., Bogaerts, L., & Pugh, K.R. (2019). Common neural basis of motor sequence learning and word recognition and its relation with individual differences in reading skill. Scientific Studies of Reading, 23(1), 89-100. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888438.2018.1451533
  • Malins, J.G., Pugh, K.R., Buis, B., Frost, S.J., Hoeft, F., Landi, N., Mencl, W.E., Kurian, A., Staples, R., Molfese, P., Sevcik, R.A., & Morris, R. (2018). Individual differences in reading skill are related to trial-by-trial neural activation variability in the reading network. Journal of Neuroscience, 38(12), 2981-2989. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0907-17.2018
  • Malins, J. G., Gumkowski, N., Buis, B., Molfese, P., Rueckl, J. G., Frost, S. J., Pugh, K. R., Morris, R., & Mencl, W. E. (2016). Dough, tough, cough, rough: A “fast” fMRI localizer of component processes in reading. Neuropsychologia, 91, 394-406. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.08.027
  • Qi, T., Gu, B. Ding, G., Gong, G., Lu, C., Peng, D., Malins, J.G., & Liu, L. (2016). More bilateral, more anterior: Alterations of brain organization in the large-scale structural network in Chinese dyslexia. NeuroImage, 124A, 63-74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.09.011

Spoken Word Learning and Processing

In addition to studying reading, we are also interested in how individuals learn and remember spoken words, and how the brain processes that support spoken word learning are related to language skills. For example, in a recent study, we examined how well children learned similarly sounding words (like pibu and pibo), and how well they remembered these new words the next day. We observed differences in word learning between typically developing children, children with reading disability, and children with both reading disability and developmental language disorder. These findings could help educators promote optimal vocabulary development in children with reading and language challenges.

  • Malins, J.G., Landi, N., Ryherd, K., Frijters, J.C., Magnuson, J.S., Rueckl, J.G., Pugh, K.R., Sevcik, R., & Morris, R. (2020). Is that a pibu or a pibo? Children with reading and language deficits show difficulties learning and remembering phonologically similar pseudowords. Developmental Science, e13023. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.13023
  • Landi, N., Malins, J.G., Frost, S.J., Magnuson, J., Molfese, P., Ryherd, K., Rueckl, J.G., Mencl, W.E., & Pugh, K.R. (2018). Neural representations for newly learned words are modulated by overnight consolidation, reading skill, and age. Neuropsychologia, 111, 133-144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.01.011
  • Malins, J.G., Desroches, A.S., Robertson, E.K., Newman, R.L., Archibald, L.M.D., & Joanisse, M.F. (2013). ERPs reveal the temporal dynamics of auditory word recognition in Specific Language Impairment. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 5, 134-148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2013.02.005

Bilingual Language Processing

When studying reading and language development, we are curious about how brain networks are shaped by diverse experiences with language. In particular, we have been fortunate to be involved in several international collaborations to study language processing in bilingual speakers of Mandarin Chinese and English. Because these two languages differ widely in structural features, working with Mandarin-English speakers offers an opportunity to ask intriguing questions about bilingual language organization.

  • Xue, J., Li, B., Yan, R., Gruen, J.R., Feng, T., Joanisse, M.F., & Malins, J.G. (2020). The temporal dynamics of first and second language processing: ERPs to spoken words in Mandarin-English bilinguals. Neuropsychologia, 146, 107562. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107562
  • Wang, X., Wang, J., & Malins, J.G. (2017). Do you hear ‘feather’ when listening to ‘rain’? Lexical tone activation during unconscious translation: Evidence from Mandarin-English bilinguals. Cognition, 169, 15-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2017.07.013
  • Gao, Y., Sun, Y., Lu, C., Ding, G., Guo, T., Malins, J.G., Booth, J.R., Peng, D., & Liu, L. (2017). Dynamic spatial organization of the occipito-temporal word form area for second language processing. Neuropsychologia, 103, 20-28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.06.007

Spoken Word Recognition in Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, meaning that some words are solely differentiated on the basis of fluctuations in the pitch of spoken syllables. Although Mandarin Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, current theories and models of spoken word processing do not account for tonal languages such as Mandarin. Motivated by this, we have conducted a number of studies to clarify the brain processes that support tonal processing in Mandarin, and have developed a computational model called TRACE-T that was inspired by these experimental findings.

  • Shuai, L., & Malins, J.G. (2017). Encoding lexical tones in jTRACE: A simulation of monosyllabic spoken word recognition in Mandarin Chinese. Behavior Research Methods, 49(1), 230-241. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-015-0690-0
  • Malins, J.G., Gao, D., Tao, R., Booth, J., Shu, H., Joanisse, M.F., Liu, L., & Desroches, A.S. (2014). Developmental differences in the influence of phonological similarity on spoken word processing in Mandarin Chinese. Brain & Language, 138, 38-50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2014.09.002
  • Malins, J.G., & Joanisse, M.F. (2012). Setting the tone: An ERP investigation of the influences of phonological similarity on spoken word recognition in Mandarin Chinese. Neuropsychologia, 50, 2032-2043. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.05.002
  • Malins, J.G., & Joanisse, M.F. (2010). The roles of tonal and segmental information in Mandarin spoken word recognition: An eyetracking study. Journal of Memory & Language, 62, 407-420. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2010.02.004

Molecular and Imaging Genetic Studies of Reading and Language

Finally, we are interested in how different biological and environmental factors interact to influence the connectivity of brain networks supporting reading, language, and attentional control. For example, we have collaborated on studies evaluating how patterns of brain connectivity are related to different genetic variants that have been associated with reading skills.  

  • Li, M., Truong, D.T., DeMille, M.M.C., Malins, J.G., Lovett, M.W., Bosson-Heenan, J., Gruen, J.R., Frijters, J.C. (2020). Effect of READ1 on latent profiles of reading disability and comorbid attention and language learning disability subtypes. Child Neuropsychology, 26(2), 145-169. https://doi.org/10.1080/09297049.2019.1648642
  • Li, M., Malins, J.G., DeMille, M.M.C., Lovett, M.W., Truong, D.T., Epstein, K., Lacadie, C., Mehta, C., Bosson-Heenan, J., Gruen, J. R., & Frijters, J.C. (2018). A molecular-genetic and imaging-genetic approach to specific comprehension difficulties in children. npj Science of Learning, 3(20), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41539-018-0034-9
  • DeMille, M.M.C., Tang, K., Mehta, C., Geissler, C., Malins, J.G., Powers, N.R., Bowen, B.M., Adams, A.K., Truong, D.T., Frijters, J.C., & Gruen, J.R. (2018). Worldwide distribution of the DCDC2 READ1 element and its relationship with phoneme variation across languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(19), 4951-4956. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1710472115