Visual system and reading: Horacio A. Barber

Horacio A. Barber

Reading is an activity that most literate people realize daily without a lot of effort. For this reason we are not aware of the huge complexity that brings about this neurocognitive proces. When we read a word our brain has to perform a series of complicated operations to eventually recognise ink marks and connect them with the meanings stored in our memory. These computations can include the definition of the limits of the words, letter recognition, determination of the letter positions, detection of word forms by groups of letters, activation of phonological codes, and the competetion of potential meanings. For example to recognise a word it is necessary to not only recognise each of the letters seperately but also their relative position (Muñoz, García-Orza, Perea y Barber, 2012). Additionally on the orthographic level it was proposed that letters can be grouped into intermediate units like syllables (Barber, Vergara y Carreiras, 2004) or morphemes (Barber, Domínguez y de Vega, 2002). Therefore, words can be segmented into intermediate units that contribute to activate possible meanings of which the correct one is selected. In the last few years research has favoured these processes with different techniques including electrophysiology, and the obtained results are used to elaborate detailed theoretical models and computations about word recognition (see review Barber y Kutas, 2007).

Scanning printed text involves continuous fast eye movements called saccades, but words are only perceived during fixations — the period between saccades when a reader’s gaze lands on a specific word. It is well known that not every word in text is fixated during reading; many words (especially short words and function words) are perceived only parafoveally. Determining the specific contributions of saccade programming, lexical processing, and semantic integration on mean fixation times is difficult. Much remains unknown about the exact type and amount of linguistic information garnered from the parafovea, under what circumstances, and how this information is integrated in real time with the foveal information. In our lab we use both eye-tracking and ERP techniques to determine the factors that constrain the amount of information extracted from the parafovea during reading (Barber, Doñamayor, Kutas, & Münte, 2010; Barber, Shir, Bentin, & Kutas, 2011).

Bilingualism and the emotion-cognition coupling: Markus Conrad

Markus Conrad

Emotions are a basic factor of our individual experience and also determine behavior and our social interactions. They can also influence our cognitive functions and vice versa. In recent years, experimental research in psycholinguistics increasingly focuses on the role of emotion for the processing of language – the fundamental domain of human interaction.

We study interactions between both native and second language processing on the one hand and emotion processes on the other hand using behavioural and neuroscientific methods: We address the time course of these processes via electroencephalography(EEG) and their functional neuroanatomy via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the experimental context of our laboratory.

Results (using EEG) have shown how our brain reacts distinctively with regard to the emotion content of words – even when presented in print – whithin no longer than a few hundred milliseconds (e.g. Recio, Hansen, Jacobs, & Conrad, 2014).

Also when we process a second language, this sensitivity to emotionality of language content appears to be preserved although slightly delayed in time (see Conrad, Recio, & Jacobs, 2011). Respective patterns of brain activation for bilingual readers as obtained by fMRI seem to depend, further, on the type of emotion – negative vs. positive (see Hsu, Jacobs, & Conrad, 2015).

Research on persons speaking more than language also suggest that switching between languages goes along with cultural frame shifts affecting classical dimensions of personality (Veltkamp, Recio, Jacobs, & Conrad, 2014): We feel different when we speak another language.

Morphosyntactic agreement: Enrique Meseguer

Enrique Meseguer

Across the world, languages make extensive use of agreementto signal the structural relation between words in an utterance. Morphological marks are important and necessary information for computing dependenciesbetween a noun and other words in a sentence, such as determiners,adjectives, past participles, pronouns, etc., especially in richly inflectedlanguages. For example, in Spanish, nouns are markedas either masculine or feminine, with a natural criterion for assigning gender to human beings (based on the biological sex of the referent) and an arbitrary criterion for objects, roles, and abstract entities. They also can carry explicit plural markers signalling one aspect of quantity of the semantic referent. The gender and number of determiners, adjectives, pronouns, and past participles must always agree with the entity to which they refer. Therefore, agreement poses a challenge to sentence processing systems both in production and in comprehension. During comprehension, the processor needs to figure out which items agree and which do not, because long distance agreement relations often occur.In our lab we have carried out several studies in which we analyzed the cognitive operations associated to the processing of different types of agreement relationships during language comprehension. We have defined the main ERP correlates of the processing of gender and number agreement violations (Barber & Carreiras, 2003; Barber, Salillas & Carreiras, 2004; Barber & Carreiras, 2005; see review in Molinaro, Barber & Carreiras, 2011), and we have tried to determine the main brain structures associated to these processes using bothfMRI(Carreiras, Carr, Barber & Hernandez, 2010) and the TMS techniques (Carreiras, Pattamadilok, Meseguer, Barber & Devlin, 2012).

Attentional bias in healthy and clinical populations: Julien Dampuré

Julien Dampuré

This research project focuses on how information perceived in the visual field (foveal or parafoveal visions) is processed and used to implicitly guide our exploration behavior. Two interconnected lines of research compose this project:

The first is dedicated to the study of parafoveal word semantic processing during visual search, that is how the meaning of a word can guide spontaneously our eyes. For this, we have implemented a visual word search paradigm in which we manipulate the information presented in parafoveal and/or foveal visions while recording participants eye movements (Dampuré et al., 2012, 2014) and/or their electroencephalographic activity (Dampuré et al., 2015). The combination of these two measures allows us in particular to examine the Fixation-Related Potentials (FRP, López-Pérez et al., 2016).

The second is an application of the first in the field of clinical research of addictions. More specifically, we are interested in the role played by stimuli related to a patient's addiction (in particular, smokers) in the implicit reactivation of craving and in relapses. The long-term objective of this line of research is to develop new therapeutic methods aimed at reducing the frequency of appearance of craving episodes by modulating the pathological attentional biases by means of neuromodulation techniques (i.e. Neurofeedback, tDCS).

Data analysis in cognitive neuroscience: Juan A. Hernández-Cabrera
Ajedrez, habilidades cognitivas y rendimiento escolar: Moisés Betancort

Moisés Betancort

We are interested in how the simple act of playing chess in children and adolescents can benefict the academic performance, improving cognitive and affective aspect. This is the main idea of our Erasmus + project named MATE (Multidimensional analytical training in education (Proyecto nº: 2016-1-PL01-KA201-026365). We are interested in investigating the neurocognitive mechanisms related to the practice of chess. We understand that the regular practice of chess in a school context (could be as individual or group) either in primary and secondary school, can generate patterns of cognitive functioning that favor cognitive skills such as attention, perception, work memory; higher cognitive skills such as critical thinking, heuristic thinking, self-management, communication skills, social skills, empathy, etc. All those aspects all closely linked to academic performance in school. However, until now, research in this field has not shown solid and replicable evidence of the effects of chess practice on academic performance, even when recent works have found some effect on math scores. However, school failure is very low among chess players. Therefore, we are still behind reality in this field of research.

Some publication of our group in this topic:

  1. The benefits of chess for the intellectual and social-emotinal enrichment in schoolchildren. Spanish Journal of Psychology, 2012, vol 15, 551-559
  2. Effects of Chess Training Method, Comprehensive Training Versus Tactical Training, in Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Competences of SchoolchildrenUniversitas Psychologica, 2016 v. 15, n. 1, p. 165-176