The research program in the Laboratory for the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language focuses on the psychological and neural mechanisms of language comprehension. Language comprehension is critical to human interactions, and in some ways unique to the human species. The main goal of our research is to study when and how different kinds of contextual information, including syntactic, thematic, semantic and referential information are integrated during reading and listening comprehension, and to identify the neural substrates of these integration processes. Recently we have also started new lines of research, namely: (1) to study the role of cognitive control, working memory, conceptual span and language experience during language comprehension; (2) to identify if and how the perisylvian language network and other areas in the brain (e.g., anterior temporal and dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex) interact during language comprehension. Informed by our previous work and related to our new goals we have begun to develop a model of the brain circuitry involved in language comprehension that should also account for individual differences.
Our research capitalizes on multiple research methods to gain the deepest possible understanding of the psychological processes and brain mechanisms that we use to extract meaning from text and conversation. These research methods include eyetracking (collaboratively), and the recording of brain electrical activity (ERPs) and hemodynamic responses (functional magnetic resonance imaging -- fMRI), as well as a variety of other behavioral measures. Finally, we test patients with MRI circumscribed lesions with and without aphasia to further constrain the neural language circuit and test schizophrenia patients with known deficits in cognitive control to assess how that influences their language function. My research program has been supported since 1997 by grants from the McDonnell-Pew Foundation, NSF, and NIMH.
Tamara Y. Swaab, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator, Associate Professor