You may not realize it, but during every moment of your life, your brain is constantly soaking in information about the world. It keeps track of things that you experience, the context in which the experience occurred, and what the outcome was. Even bits of information that might seem unimportant to you at the time or that you didn’t pay much attention to can be encoded.In particular, your brain tracks statistical associations — for example, the frequency that a particular event occurs given another event — and then uses this past information to predict the future.
In the NeuroLearn Lab, we study how the brain tracks the statistical co-occurrences of environmental events and how it uses such information to predict what might happen next.
We are especially interested in how these general-purpose learning processes help people acquire language, and what might be going wrong in the case of a language disorder or delay. We are also interested in how experience and other factors shape these brain learning mechanisms, with the goal of capitalizing on such neuroplasticity to improve learning and language abilities.
The four main research themes embodied in our lab are as follows:
Statistical Learning and Language:
Statistical learning — the ability to learn statistical associations or predictive relationships among stimuli — appears to be an important aspect of what it means to acquire language. We investigate the link between these learning abilities and language processing in both typical and atypical development. [read more]
Evolutionary and Developmental Constraints:
In order for a species to develop complex communication, their brains must have evolved to enable sufficient learning abilities. Similarly, human children must also possess the ability to learn complex patterns if they are to acquire language. We are interested in how these learning abilities evolved in other species such as non-human primates and also how they develop in human children. [read more]
Perceptual and Attentional Constraints:
Learning a complex domain such as language involves integrating information across sensory modalities. Our research explores the way in which patterns of information are learned through different sensory domains, and how other cognitive factors, such as attention and working memory resources, affect learning. [read more]
Neuroplasticity and Training:
The brain appears to be highly “plastic”, that is, modifiable through experience. Our research investigates how different kinds of experiences — such as sensory deprivation, the quality of the social environment a child is raised in, or music experience — affects learning abilities. We also are interested in developing novel training interventions to improve language learning. [read more]