Psycholinguistics Lab (Ferreira)

The Ferreira Lab conducts research in the area of psycholinguistics. We take advantage of basic insights from formal linguistics, especially theories in sentence phonology and syntax, to develop models of processing. Our empirical work relies both on behavioral and neural measures, including eyetracking (for measurement of fixations, saccades, and pupil diameter) and the recording of event-related potentials (ERPs). The fundamental aim of this work is to uncover the mechanisms that enable humans to understand and generate language in real time and in cooperation with other cognitive systems.

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Research Topics

Processing of Disfluent Speech

Everyday speech is full of um’s, uh’s, and other types of disfluencies, yet surprisingly little is known about how disfluencies are processed during language comprehension.  Some of our work has shown that the presence of um‘s and uh‘s can affect how listeners parse a sentence.  We are also interested in repair disfluencies (e.g., “Turn left, uh I mean, right at the next light”) — particularly in understanding the extent to which the reparandum (e.g., “left”) continues to influence processing even after it is replaced by the repair (e.g., “right”), as well as whether listeners actively predict the upcoming repair before it is spoken

Individual Differences in Reading

Using moving-window and boundary-change paradigms in eyetracking methodology, we have investigated the nature of individual differences in the size of the perceptual span during reading. This work, in collaboration with Dr. John Henderson, has examined several individual differences measures, including vocabulary size, print exposure, and oculomotor processing speed tasks, to understand the relative contributions of these factors to the reading process.

Neural Correlates of Syntax

Work in collaboration with Dr. John Henderson’s lab has examined how patterns of brain activation are modulated by syntactic surprisal — a computational linguistic measure estimating how syntactically unexpected each word in a sentence is, given what has come before it. This work employs concurrent recording of eye movements and functional MRI to assess changes in brain activation during natural reading.