Work Package 1 - Speech perception and production in interaction

Research lines initiated by coordinating postdoc


Postdoctoral research associate: Frank Eisner
Work package leaders: James McQueen & Anne Cutler


Project 1 - Interaction between speech perception and production under adverse conditions

Collaboration with: Ivan Toni (WP1) and James McQueen (WP1)

To what extent is speech perception facilitated by interactions with the motor systems that subserve speech production? This project aims to test a potential contribution of motor systems to perception specifically under adverse listening conditions. Methodological approaches from speech science and neuroscience are combined. Motor and auditory cortices will be disrupted selectively by transcranial magnetic stimulation while participants are engaged in perceptual tasks with degraded speech materials. The results will allow us to make causal inferences about the role of motor systems in language comprehension.

This project involves a new collaboration between researchers in speech perception and action planning/motor execution. It contributes to the larger aims of LiI by trying to explain how "variability" is dealt with at the level of perceptual processing.

Stimulus materials have been completed in 2016. The project will continue in 2017 in collaboration with Dr. Alexis Hervais-Adelman.

Project 2 - Learning and memory gains from linguistic processing

Collaboration with: Merel Burgering (PhD), James McQueen (WP1) and Jean Vroomen (WP1)

How does the language system support learning and retention of new associations? This study tests the contribution of phonological processing to the learning of novel sound–picture associations.

Participants were asked to learn associations between spoken non-words and pictures of non-objects. By using sine-wave synthesis to distort the speech materials, it was manipulated whether participants were aware that they are in fact listening to speech or to non-speech sounds. This approach allows to study learning and memory processes in a tightly controlled fashion by keeping the bottom-up signal constant. This enabled us to test whether memory encoding and retention are enhanced when the language system is engaged.

The project involves a new collaboration between researchers in learning and plasticity with psychophysics and multisensory integration. The project contributes to the larger aims of LiI by studying how the language network is interlinked with other cognitive systems; specifically, with memory systems.

Data collection for a series of five experiments is now complete. The results suggest that phonological processing, as opposed to general auditory processing, facilitates encoding and retention, consistent with the notion that phonological short-term memory is critical for learning novel words. Whether a sound enters phonological short-term memory is partly determined by top-down expectations. Furthermore, the results suggest that speech has a distinct status in phonological short-term memory. A paper based on this project (“Specialized memory systems for learning spoken words”) has been submitted to JEP: LMC with Eisner, McQueen, Burgering & Vroomen as authors.

Other collaborations

  • Frank Eisner collaborated with Matthias Franken (DCCN), Dan Acheson (MPI), James McQueen (DCC) and Peter Hagoort (MPI) as daily supervisor for M. Franken's PhD project "The role of feedback control in speech motor learning." This project investigates interactions between speech perception and production systems and directly relates to the aims of WP1.
  • James McQueen and Frank Eisner collaborated with Dennis Norris (MRC-CBU, Cambridge, UK) on a commentary regarding feedback mechanisms in speech processing, which addressed one of the key theoretical approaches in WP1. The commentary appeared in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience in 2016.
  • Frank Eisner and James McQueen collaborated on a review chapter on speech perception for the Stevens' Handbook of Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience. The chapter has been accepted for publication.
  • Frank Eisner collaborated with Falk Huettig (MPI) on a project entitled "The effects of literacy acquisition on language networks.”  This project investigates language networks in literate and illiterate adults from a rural population in India. It relates to LiI’s overall goal of accounting for variability in language processing across cultures and links to BQ5.