Language, Bilingualism, and Cognitive Development

The language, bilingualism, and cognitive development group consists of a highly collaborative set of researchers. The group uses a variety of behavioural, neuropsychological, and cognitive neuroscience methods to study the interaction of language and cognition across the lifespan. Research Projects include both basic level and transactional research with monolingual and bilingual infants, children, and adults.  Current topics of research include phonological and lexical development, word recognition, semantic processing, literacy, treatment programmes for aphasia in bilinguals, cognitive advantages to bilingualism, cross-language priming and interference in bilinguals. 

Several members of the group are also involved in the Centre for Research in Bilingualism and the Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Funding sources for this research have been:  ESRC, ERC, WAG, HEFCW

Marketa Caravolas

Marketa Caravolas is the Director of the Miles Dyslexia Centre and Senior Lecturer in Psychology. Her research interests are in developmental psycholinguistics and early literacy, phonological development in the context of alphabetic literacy, cross-linguistic investigations of language-general and language-specific factors in reading and spelling development in typical and dyslexic populations.

Publications to be updated soon.

Helen Henningham

Dr. Henningham's research area focuses on early interventions for children who are at risk for learning and behaviour problems and her work has mostly been carried out in Jamaica and other low and middle income countries. She conducts cluster randomised trials of interventions in schools and primary health care settings which involve working with parents, teachers and health care staff to promote children's development.

Dr Henningham's Publications

Pauline Horne

Professor Horne's research interests include the development of imitation in human infants and young children, behavioural analysis of naming and other linguistic behaviours in young children, the study of imitation in babies and young children, and applied research that aims to promote healthy eating and exercise in children of all ages. Along with Professor Fergus Lowe she developed the Food Dudes Programme. 

Professor Horne's Publications

Manon Jones

Dr. Jones investigates the factors involved in reading development, fluency and dyslexia. She uses experiments (behavioural, eyetracking and ERPs) and longitudinal designs to study reading. Her research interests include: literacy development and reading fluency, dyslexia, bilingualism, and language production. She is also the coordinator of the Welsh provision at the department

Dr Manon Jones' Publications

 

Debbie Mills

Professor Mills' research bridges the areas of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive development using a combined behavioural and brain imaging (ERP/fMRI) approach to characterize trajectories of developmental change in the neural bases of language and social/emotional cognitive processes. Her research examines the effects of experience on brain development including: how learning two languages changes the organization of the brain, and the interaction between social/emotional experience and language development. The approach taken is to study typically developing monolingual and bilingual infants, children, and adults, in addition to individuals with altered genetic, neurocognitive, and experiential profiles such as infants whose mothers are depressed, and children and adults with Williams Syndrome.

Professor Mills' Publications

Gary Oppenheim

Dr. Oppenheim is interested in cognition and learning, specifically using language production as a model system for discovering more general themes in  how the mind works. His research has largely focused on ways that speakers flexibly adapt their verbal behavior to accommodate particular goals. This includes both short-term behavioral control—for instance, choosing a particular word, or using language for internal functions like inner speech—and long-term adjustments, such as re-mapping connections from meanings to words, so as to make future word retrievals more efficient. He combines behavioral and computational approaches, seeking explanations that reconcile error and response time data from typical and atypical populations and are constrained by neurophysiological observations.

Dr Oppenheim's Publications

Marie-Josephe Tainturier

Dr. Tainturier's research interests include: word recognition, reading and spelling in normal and brain damaged adults, as well as in normal or delayed written language acquisition; ERP studies of written word processing. She is the Principal Investigator on an ESRC/MRC funded project "Patterns of cross-linguistic treatment generalisation in acquired dysgraphia: A window into the organisation of the bilingual spelling system". This innovative project involves an extensive empirical program of studies on the treatment of spelling disorders in Welsh-English bilingual brain-damaged adults.  Its goals are 1) to contribute to theory development in the area of bilingual language processing by testing predictions about the conditions under which treating one language could lead to improved performance in the untreated language and 2) to contribute to the development of more effective treatment strategies in bilingual populations.

Dr Tainturier's Publications

Guillaume Thierry

Professor Thierry studies language comprehension in the auditory and visual modalities, and, in particular, semantic access. His research incorporates a cross-disciplinary approach using methods from experimental psychology (e.g., reaction times, error patterns, eye-tracking), functional brain imaging (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, fMRI, and Positron Emission Tomography, PET), and mostly event-related potentials (ERPs). Thierry has investigated a range of themes, such as verbal/non-verbal dissociations, visual object recognition, functional cerebral asymmetry, language-emotion interactions, language development, developmental dyslexia, and bilingualism. His main interests are (a) the levels of integration of the two languages of bilingual infants and adults at lexical, syntactic and semantic levels; (b) the neural basis of conceptual priming in the verbal and nonverbal domains in both the infant and the adult, i.e., the fundamental aspects of neurosemantics.

Professor Thierry's Publications

Aphasia

Strokes often lead to language disturbances which impair the ability to communicate effectively and function in society. Many people in the UK and worldwide are bilingual, and brain damage usually affects both languages. However there are few well-controlled studies to guide the treatment of bilingual language disorders. This project focuses on "acquired dysgraphia", a disorder of written language that takes different forms.  It will take place in North Wales where many people are bilingual.

Bilingualism

Researchers within the School of Psychology use a variety of behavioural, neuropsychological, and cognitive neuroscience methods to study the interaction of learning two or more languages across the lifespan. Current research projects on Welsh /English bilinguals include: translanguaging in the classroom, literacy development, bilingual norms for language development from infants to young adults, how bilingualism affects the organisation of brain activity for language in toddlers, categorisation and meaning, cognitive advantages to bilingualism, treatment of spelling disorders in aphasia, protective effects of bilingualism on ageing and dementia. Other studies within the school interact with local councils and business in to examine unconscious attitudes towards work and employment in Wales. Currently there are five PhD projects on Welsh/English bilinguals in the School: Co-activation of grammar and lexicon in bilinguals; Bilingualism and executive functioning in toddlers, children, and adults; Cross language transfer of treatment effects in bilingual asphasia; Developing and evaluating a Welsh medium direct instruction reading programme; Clinical and neuroscience studies of the interaction between language, culture, and emotion.

Language and cognitive development

Bangor has a number of developmental labs using cognitive neuroscience and behavioural techniques to study language and cognitive development in monolingual and bilingual infants, children, adolescents and adults. Topics include speech perception, word recognition, semantic priming, categorisation, imitation, grammatical processing, and the interaction between language and non-language domains such as memory and emotion. Other work has been conducted within a behaviour analysis framework including a new account of how early words are learned and how they drive categorisation of formally unrelated stimuli. Experimental tests of this theory have challenged existing behavioural theories of language and 'stimulus equivalence'.

Dyslexia

Bangor has a long-standing tradition of research into dyslexia. The Centre was the first unit of its kind to be established combining research into dyslexia with clinical work, based on groundwork by the acclaimed Professor Tim Miles OBE who began work on Dyslexia in the 1960s. We continue to operate a Dyslexia Unit and have a number of integrative cross-group projects on the theme of language deficits. The Miles Dyslexia Centre is a self-financing, nationally and internationally renowned, specialised Centre within the School of Psychology at Bangor University, North Wales.

Language and Emotion

Researchers at Bangor are exploring how language interacts with socio-emotional processes across the lifespan. Some of the research questions addressed include: Is emotion processed differently in a bilingual's first versus second language?  Does the brain process emotion and meaning in the same way? How does social development influence language development? Are positive and negative emotion words processed differently in people with and without anxiety and depression? How do attitudes and cultural identity interact with language perception? A number of different labs use a variety of cognitive neuroscience and behavioural methods to explore these questions in monolingual and bilingual infants, children, and adults.

How reading in a second language protects your heart

Reading words in a second language spontaneously activates native language translations in the human bilingual mind. Here, we show that the emotional valence of a word presented in English constrains unconscious access to its Chinese translation. We asked native speakers of Chinese fluent with English to indicate whether or not pairs of English words were related in meaning while monitoring their brain electrical activity. Read more...

Emotion-controlled native language access

We have discovered that bilinguals may not access their native language systematically when reading the ir second language. Chinese-English bilinguals reading in English only accessed Chinese translation of the English words they read when those were neutral or positive but not when they had a negative valence.

Reading words in a second language spontaneously activates native language translations in the human bilingual mind. Here, we show that the emotional valence of a word presented in English constrains unconscious access to its Chinese translation. We asked native speakers of Chinese fluent with English to indicate whether or not pairs of English words were related in meaning while monitoring their brain electrical activity. Unbeknownst to the participants some of the word pairs hid a sound repetition if translated into Chinese. Remarkably, English words with a negative valence such as 'violence' did not automatically activate their Chinese translation, even though we observed the expected sound repetition priming effect for positive and neutral words, such as 'holiday' and 'theory'. These findings show that emotion conveyed by words determines language activation in bilinguals, where potentially disturbing stimuli rigger inhibitory mechanisms that block access to the native language.

This paper is published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Wu & Thierry (2012)

Discoveries from the ELDEL Project on Dyslexia

In a study that tracked the reading and writing development of almost 1,000 children in four European countries, researchers on the ELDEL project discovered that,across languages,only 3 skills assessed in kindergarten strongly predict children's reading and spelling abilities one year later. The research team (WP1) found that Kindergarteners' knowledge of (1) alphabet letters, (2) phonemic awareness, and (3) fluency in oral naming were the most powerful predictors of reading and spelling levels in first grade in English, Spanish, Czech and Slovak. What is more, these abilities predicted literacy outcomes to a remarkably similar extent in all languages! This study has been published in the major journal: Psychological Science.

A second novel finding of the ELDEL project was that complexity of a writing system affects the /rate /at which children learn to read, but not the foundation skills required for early reading development.   A second, follow-on to the above study tracked children over six time points between kindergarten and end-grade 2, and assessed the rate at which reading skills developed among English, Spanish, and Czech children. This study revealed that despite very similar beginnings in learning to read, English children progressed more slowly than their Spanish and Czech peers, given similar reading tasks. This study suggests that while young learners of English (whose orthography is quite inconsistent) are presented with a relatively more difficult task that slows their growth in reading, they do not go about reading in a different way to learners of less complex written languages. This study is currently in press in Psychological Science.

Study links genes, brain, and behaviour

The study investigated how genes affect brain activity across development in individuals with a rare genetic disorder known as Williams syndrome. Williams syndrome is associated with the deletion of about 25 genes from Chromosome 7. Although individuals with Williams experience developmental delays and learning disabilities, they are exceptionally sociable and possess remarkable verbal abilities and facial recognition skills in relation to their lower IQ. By measuring neural activity in the brain, using a technique called event-related potentials (ERPs), Mills and an international team of scientists showed that the brain can adapt to the genetic abnormality and still showing strong cognitive abilities for face and language processing, but by using different neural systems. This is called brain plasticity.

 

"We discovered, that in those with Williams syndrome, the brain understands language and recognises faces in a unique way." This pattern of brain activity was evident in individuals with Williams syndrome from early childhood through middle age. "This was a surprise because previous studies had suggested that part of the Williams brain functions normally in adulthood, with little understanding about how it developed." Another critical piece of the puzzle came from including in their study two adults with partial genetic deletions for Williams. By comparing brain activity from individuals with fewer genes deleted to those with full deletion in Williams and typically developing controls, we were able to see how very slight genetic differences affected brain activity separately for faces and language."

 

The study was published in the November issue of Developmental Neuropsychology, Mills et al. (2013)