Brain and Language Lab


Our broad goal is to understand the neurocognition of language and memory, both in healthy populations and in disorders. We are especially interested in how language learning, knowledge, and use depend on learning and memory systems in the brain – in particular the hippocampal-based declarative memory system and the basal ganglia-based procedural memory system. We refer to this posited dependence as the declarative/procedural model. We are also interested in how other domains rely on these systems, including reading, math, and music.

Much of our work focuses on: the neurocognition of first language, including morphology, syntax, lexical/semantics, and phonology; second language learning and bilingualism; learning and memory in general, independent of language; and individual and group differences in language and memory, as well as variation within individuals, as a function of factors such as sex, genetic variation, and endocrine fluctuations.

We also investigate language and memory in various disorders. Much of our research on neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., developmental language disorder, dyslexia, autism, Tourette syndrome, and ADHD) examines the Procedural circuit Deficit Hypothesis, which posits that abnormalities of brain structures underlying procedural memory can help explain a number of different disorders; we also examine whether declarative memory compensates for dysfunction in these disorders. Additionally, we investigate language and memory in healthy aging and age-related disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases, and aphasia.

Our work is increasingly applied, with the goal of improving the learning, knowledge, and use of language and other domains both in healthy individuals and those with brain dysfunction: see enhancement and therapy.

A number of our studies fall within neurocognitive epidemiology, a term we use to refer to the investigation, in large data sets, of the biological, demographic, and other factors (e.g., genotype, micronutrient status, sex, age, education, SES, BMI, exercise, chronotype, etc.) that affect the neurocognition of language, memory, and other aspects of cognition.

We are increasingly examining other aspects of higher cognition, beyond language, with a focus on reading, math, and music. Our work mainly examines whether and how the declarative and procedural learning and memory systems underlie the learning, representations, and processing of these capacities.

Motivated in part by our findings of the importance of the basal ganglia in language and other domains, we have recently become interested in the broader issue of subcortical cognition. In particular, we suggest that numerous subcortical structures, throughout the brain, make substantial contributions to cognition, including higher cognition (e.g., language, reading, math, and music). We argue that these contributions go well beyond what is generally acknowledged in cognitive neuroscience, which till now has been highly corticocentric.

Motivated by a desire to reveal reliable rather than spurious patterns (i.e., avoiding false negatives and false positives), we have increasingly turned to meta-analyses and comprehensive reviews. These target a variety of topics (e.g., first language, second language, memory, disorders), and both behavioral and neuroanatomical findings.