Brain and Language Lab



June 2019

Michael Ullman gave a lecture to high school students at the National Student Leadership Conference at American University. See here for the post-lecture interview and clips from his lecture.


August 2018

We were awarded a Partners in Research grant from the Dean of Research at Georgetown University Medical Center: "How does aging affect our ability to remember words?". We live in a rapidly aging society, so the impact of age-related problems is increasing dramatically. Word finding and word learning (e.g., the names of medications to be taken) appear to be the greatest language problems in older adults. This study is designed to reveal just what specific aspects of word use and word learning decline during aging and why such declines take place. The highly interdisciplinary project uses a rigorous behavioral and brain experimental approach, and tests the innovative novel hypothesis that the word problems experienced by older people can be at least partly explained by underlying declines in declarative memory, a general-purpose learning and memory system rooted in the hippocampus. The findings should advance our understanding of word difficulties in aging, and may lead to therapeutic approaches for these problems in healthy aging as well as in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. The Principal Investigator is Michael Ullman, and the co-investigators are Jana Reifegerste (who co-wrote the proposal with the PI), Peter Turkeltaub, and Gheorghe Luta. Collaborators David Balota, Marcus Meinzer, Loraine Obler, and Michael Rugg will also contribute to the project.

January 2018

Georgetown University Medical Center distributed a press release on a paper that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research combines results from multiple studies involving a total of 665 participants. It shows that children learn their native language and adults learn additional languages in evolutionarily ancient brain circuits that also are used for tasks as diverse as remembering a shopping list and learning to drive - the same brain circuits that allow birds to remember where they hid their acorns and allow rats to perform grooming sequences. The findings have broad research, educational, and clinical implications.

Read the press release: Language is Learned in Brain Circuits that Predate Humans

​ Read about it in: Newsweek, Psychology Today, Voice of America (Radio), Science Daily, Sci News, Sci Casts, IFL Science, Neuroscience News, Language Magazine, Medical Xpress,, Reliawire, Eureka Alert, Alphr, Newswise, A Word A Day, Daily Mail (UK), Yahoo News (UK), Die Presse (Germany), Le Scienze (Italy), Rai Radio (Italy), ZAP (Portugal), Radio France (Radio; France), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), Kopalnia Wiedzy (Poland), Science and Life (Russia), Debate (Mexico), Bohemia (Cuba), Infosalus (in Spanish), Nmas (in Spanish), PC Authority (Australia), Xinhua (China), People's Daily (China; in Spanish), International Business Times (India), Iran Daily (Iran), or Kazinform (Kazahkstan). This article was in the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric.

Read the article: Hamrick, P., Lum, J. A., & Ullman, M. T. (2018). Child first language and adult second language are both tied to general-purpose learning systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(7), 1487-1492.


October 2017

Georgetown University Medical Center distributed a press release on a paper that was published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. The study reports an experiment that found that early bilinguals (who had learned both English and Mandarin at an early age) showed brain advantages over (English speaking) monolinguals at learning an additional language in adulthood. Specifically, the bilinguals showed more native-like brain processing of the additional language than the monolinguals, both at early and later stages of learning the language.

Read the press release: If your child is bilingual, learning additional languages later might be easier

Read about it in US News and World Report, The New Nation, Quartz, Herald and Review, (website for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News), Wordsmith (A.Word.A.Day), NSF, The Blue & Gray, Science Daily, Neuroscience News, Health Day, Medical News Today, Education Week, Billings Gazette, Doctors Lounge,, EHE&ME, EurekAlert!, Long Room, Medical News Today, MedicalXpress,Medicinenet, Northwest Indiana Times, Rocket News, Science Newsline, Yahoo! News, CanIndia (Canada),Liverpool Echo (U.K.), The Daily Mail (U.K.), Aprendemas (Spanish), El Independiente (Spain), Sanihelp (Italy),Spektrum (Germany), Top Santé (France), The Post (South Africa), Health 24 (South Africa), Republika (Indonesia), Business Standard (India), Daijiworld (India), Deccan Chronicle (India), Hindustan Times (India),IANS Live (India), Millennium Post (India), Outlook India (India), The Asian Age (India), The Hans India (India), The Hindu (India), The Indian Express (India), The South Asian Times (India), The Times of India (India), and others. The research was also discussed on about 60 local US TV news reports, on NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and cable, in 29 states. This article was in the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric (highest-scoring research output from Bilingualism: Language and Cognition: #1 of 226).

Read the article: Grey, S., Sanz, C., Morgan-Short, K., & Ullman, M. T. (2018). Bilingual and monolingual adults learning an additional language: ERPs reveal differences in syntactic processing. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 21(5), 970-994.

July 2017

We were awarded a grant from the Tourette Association of America: "Is procedural memory enhanced in Tourette syndrome?". The project, which follows up on our recent papers suggesting that procedural memory and grammar may be enhanced in children with Tourette syndrome, comprehensively investigates procedural memory, language (in grammar, across syntax, morphology, and phonology, and in lexical processing, as well as in grammar and word learning), declarative memory, working memory, and inhibitory control, in children with TS and typically developing control children. The Principal Investigator is Michael Ullman, with subcontracts to Phillip Hamrick (Kent State), Stewart Mostofsky (Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins), and Donald Gilbert (Cincinnati Children's Hospital).

January 2017

Harvard University, Grand Challenges Canada, and other institutions distributed a press release on a paper that we published in Lancet Global Health. The paper reports that if women (in Lombok, Indonesia) took multiple micrountrients while pregnant, their children had better cognition (as compared to women who did not take these micronutrients) when they were about 10 years old. In fact, the children's procedural memory advantages were equivalent to the increase in score typical after an additional half-year of schooling. Additionally, we found that socio-economic factors such as a strong nurturing environment also significantly positively affected the children's cognition.

Read the press release: Maternal Micronutrients, Nurturing Environment Boost Child Development

Read about it in The Telegraph, Science Daily, or Eureka Alert

Read the article: Prado, E.L., Sebayang, S.K., Apriatni, M., Adawiyah, S.R., Hidayati, N., Islamiyah, A., Siddiq, S., Harefa, B., Lum, J., Alcock, K.J., Ullman, M.T., Muadz, H. & Shankar, A.H. (2017). Maternal multiple micronutrient supplementation and other biomedical and socio-environmental influences on children’s cognition at age 9–12 years in Indonesia: Follow-up of the SUMMIT randomised trial. Lancet Global Health. 5, e217–28.


November 2016

A grant from the Swedish Research Council was awarded to Mikael Heimann (PI; Linköping University, Sweden), Rachel Barr (co-PI; Georgetown University), and Michael Ullman (co-PI). The project, entitled "Which neurocognitive learning and memory systems are associated with language development in 9- to 22-month-old children?", examines the relationship between declarative and procedural memory on the one hand, and lexical and grammatical language abilities on the other, in a longitudinal study of infants.

October 2016

Tanya Evans and Michael Ullman were interviewed by Dyslexic Advantage on dyslexia, math disability, and procedural memory.

See the post and listen to the interview: Interview with Tanya Evans and Michael Ullman on dyslexia, math disability, and procedural memory.

October 2016

Tanya Evans and Michael Ullman were interviewed on the role of procedural memory in math disability, on The Takeaway (a morning radio news program produced by Public Radio International (PRI) and WNYC-New York Public Radio, with editorial partners The New York Times and WGBH Radio Boston).

Listen to the interview: Interview with Tanya Evans and Michael Ullman on the role of procedural memory in math disability.

October 2016

Newcastle University in the UK distributed a press release on a paper that we published in the journal Brain and Language. First author Cristina Dye is at Newcastle. The paper reports that children with Tourette syndrome are faster at repeating made-up words than typically developing children. This is interpreted as reflecting speeded rule-governed combination of phonological segments, since non-word repetition depends importantly on (de)composition of these segments. The results are consistent with our previous findings suggesting speeded rule-governed combination in morphology (Walenski et al., 2007). We suggest that, more generally, rule-governed grammatical combination may be speeded in Tourette syndrome, perhaps due to its dependence on frontal/basal-ganglia circuits that also underlie tics, which share the characteristic of being fast and semi-voluntary.

Read the press release: Do children with Tourette syndrome have an advantage at language?

Read about it in United Press International, Headline News, Medical News Today, Science Daily, Medical Xpress, Neuroscience News, Breaking News Magazine, The Daily Mail (UK), Med India, Iran News, Sahafaha Arabiah, or Look Magazine (UK).

Read the article: Dye, C.D., Walenski, M., Mostofsky, S. H., & Ullman, M.T. (2016). A verbal strength in children with Tourette syndrome? Evidence from a non-word repetition task. Brain and Language. 160, pp. 61-70.

September 2016

Georgetown University Medical Center distributed a press release on a paper that was published in a special issue on reading and math in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The paper proposes that developmental math disability can be explained in part by abnormalities of brain structures subserving the procedural memory system, which underlies our learning of automatized skills like driving or grammar. That is, the paper extends the procedural deficit hypothesis (PDH) from language-related disorders (specific language impairment, dyslexia) to math disability. This brain-based account of math disability is motivated in part by the presence of math problems in children with dyslexia or specific language impairment, suggesting that the deficits may share causal mechanisms. The account is also motivated by the fact that learning automatized math skills, which are impaired in math disability, likely depend on procedural memory. Although the paper does not claim that the PDH is likely to fully explain math disability, it suggests that the hypothesis could have substantial explanatory power, and may provide a useful theoretical framework to advance our understanding of the disorder.

Read the press release: Math difficulties may reflect problems in a crucial learning system in the brain

Read about it in Science Daily, Medical Daily,, The Sun (UK), Science News, Medical Xpress, The Parent Herald, News World India, South Asian Times, or La Vanguardia (Catalonia).

Read the article: Evans, T.M., & Ullman, M.T. (2016). An extension of the procedural deficit hypothesis from developmental language disorders to mathematical disability. Frontiers in Psychology. 7, 1318.

September 2016

Michael Ullman was interviewed on the role of declarative memory in autism in an article for Spectrum magazine, which focuses on the disorder.

July 2016

An NIH R21 grant, HD087088 (2016-2018), “The neurocognition of procedural and declarative memory in dyslexia and S-RCD”, was awarded to Laurie Cutting from Vanderbilt University (Principal Investigator) and Michael Ullman (Subcontractual Principal Investigator). Using fMRI and behavioral approaches, the project examines the hypotheses that two neurodevelopmental reading disorders, dyslexia and specific-reading comprehension disorder (S-RCD), may be at least partly explained by impairments of procedural memory and declarative memory, respectively.

March 2016

Michael Ullman was interviewed about bilingualism and learning languages in immersion contexts on the radio show Central Standard, on public radio station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri.

Listen to the interview: Interview with Michael Ullman on bilingualism and immersion


April 2015

Natasha Janfaza, an undergraduate in the lab, was awarded a Kalorama Fellowship for the summer of 2015, from Georgetown University. ​The Kalorama Fellowship offers select Georgetown undergraduates an intensive summer research experience in the sciences or humanities to pursue an independent research project under the guidance of a mentor. She will be working with Michael Ullman on a study examining the relation between music learning, language learning, and memory systems.

March 2015

Christos Pliatsikas was awarded a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society to visit the Brain and Language lab, arriving in September 2015.

March 2015

Michael Ullman and Mariel Pullman wrote a column in the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) newsletter, on the compensatory role of declarative memory in autism.

Read the column: Powerful memory system may compensate for autism's deficits

March 2015

Michael Ullman was interviewed about the compensatory role of declarative memory in autism, dyslexia, OCD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders, on the Georgetown University Forum radio show, which is distributed to National Public Radio and the Armed Forces Radio.

Listen to the interview: Interview with Michael Ullman on compensation by declarative memory

February 2015

Georgetown University Medical Center distributed a press release on the publication of a paper in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. The paper proposes that individuals with five neurodevelopmental disorders — autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, dyslexia, and specific language impairment — compensate for a wide range of deficits by relying on a single powerful and nimble system in the brain known as declarative memory. This hypothesis, which may extend to other disorders (e.g., ADHD, aphasia, Parkinson's disease), has potentially important therapeutic, diagnostic, and basic research implications.

Read the press release: A brain system that appears to compensate for autism, OCD, and dyslexia

Read about it in Science Daily, Autism Daily Newscast, or PsychCentral.

Read the article: Ullman, M.T. and Pullman, M.Y. (2015). A compensatory role for declarative memory in neurodevelopmental disorders. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 51, 205-222.

February 2015

Michael Ullman was interviewed about second language and bilingualism on the Georgetown University Forum radio show, which is distributed to National Public Radio and the Armed Forces Radio.

Listen to the interview: Interview with Michael Ullman on second language and bilingualism

January 2015

Scott Miles, a Ph.D. student in the Brain and Language Lab, was selected as a 2015 Cosmos Scholars Award recipient, and also received a J.K. McLaughlin Award in Biomedical Science from the Cosmos Club Foundation, for his proposal "The neurocognition of learning a new musical system".


December 2014

Michael Ullman was interviewed by Diane R​ehm on The Diane Rehm Show, about bilingualism and the brain.

Listen to the interview: The Latest Research On Bilingualism And The Brain

September 2014

Georgetown University Medical Center distributed a press release on the publication of a study in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The study suggests that boys with autism are faster at processing grammar than typically developing boys.

Read the press release: Boys with Autism Demonstrate Surprising Strength in Grammar Processing

Read about it in Autism Daily Newscast.

Read the article: Walenski, M., Mostofsky, S. H. & Ullman, M. T. (2014). Inflectional morphology in high-functioning autism: Evidence for speeded grammatical processing. Research in AutismSpectrum Disorders. 8, 1607-1621.

September 2014

We were awarded a National Science Foundation grant: NSF BCS 1439290 (2014-2017), "Second language acquisition and long-term retention in a mini-language". The project examines how our brains change as we learn a second language. Adult participants learn a reduced version of the Basque language while both behavioral and neural (fMRI) measures are continuously acquired, from initial exposure to high proficiency, and then again weeks later to test retention. The project should reveal for the first time how the brain changes in real time as it learns a language.

June 2014

Newcastle University distributed a press release on the publication of a study in the journal PLoS ONE. The study suggests that girls and boys may rely on different neurocognitive mechanisms for aspects of grammar: specifically, whereas boys appear to compose rule-governed complex forms from their parts (e.g., walk + -ed), girls are more likely to store and retrieve them as chunks (e.g., "walked").

Read about it in Science Daily.

Read the article: Dye, C.D., Walenski, M., Prado, E., Mostofsky, S.H., & Ullman, M.T. (2013). Children's computation of complex linguistic forms: A study of frequency and imageability effects. PLoS ONE. 8(9), e74683.


Led by Jarrad Lum, we published a series of meta-analyses on procedural memory in various disorders. These suggest that procedural memory is impaired in dyslexia, Specific Language Impairment (SLI), and Parkinson's disease. The meta-analyses focused on the Serial Reaction Time (SRT) task, the most widely used task to probe procedural memory. A press release was also distributed for one of these papers.

SRT meta-analysis in Parkinson's disease:

Read the article: Clark, G.M., Lum, J. A. G., & Ullman, M. T. (2014). A meta-analysis and meta-regression of serial reaction time task performance in Parkinson's disease. Neuropsychology. 28(6), 945-958.

SRT meta-analysis in SLI:

Read the press release: Unconscious memories affect language learning

Read the article: Lum, J.A.G., Conti-Ramsden, G.M., Morgan, A.T., & Ullman, M.T. (2014). Procedural learning deficits in Specific Language Impairment (SLI): A meta-analysis of serial reaction time task performance. Cortex. 51, 1-10.

SRT meta-analysis in dyslexia:

Read the article: Lum, J.A.G., Ullman, M.T., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2013). Procedural learning is impaired in dyslexia: Evidence from a meta-analysis of serial reaction time studies. Research in Developmental Disabilities. 34(10), 3460-3476.