Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language
  • Donostia / San Sebastián, Spain
Recent publications
During reading, we can process words allocated to the parafoveal visual region. Our ability to extract parafoveal information is determined by the availability of attentional resources, and by how these are distributed among words in the visual field. According to the foveal load hypothesis, a greater difficulty in processing the foveal word would result in less attentional resources being allocated to the parafoveal word, thereby hindering its processing. However, contradictory results have raised questions about which foveal load manipulations may affect the processing of parafoveal words at different levels. We explored whether the semantic processing of parafoveal words can be modulated by variations in a frequency-based foveal load. When participants read word triads, modulations in the N400 component indicated that, while parafoveal words were semantically processed when foveal load was low, their meaning could not be accessed if the foveal word was more difficult to process. Therefore, a frequency-based foveal load modulates semantic parafoveal processing and a semantic preview manipulation may be a suitable baseline to test the foveal load hypothesis.
Purpose This scoping review considers the acoustic features of a clear speech register directed to nonnative listeners known as foreigner-directed speech (FDS). We identify vowel hyperarticulation and low speech rate as the most representative acoustic features of FDS; other features, including wide pitch range and high intensity, are still under debate. We also discuss factors that may influence the outcomes and characteristics of FDS. We start by examining accommodation theories, outlining the reasons why FDS is likely to serve a didactic function by helping listeners acquire a second language (L2). We examine how this speech register adapts to listeners' identities and linguistic needs, suggesting that FDS also takes listeners' L2 proficiency into account. To confirm the didactic function of FDS, we compare it to other clear speech registers, specifically infant-directed speech and Lombard speech. Conclusions Our review reveals that research has not yet established whether FDS succeeds as a didactic tool that supports L2 acquisition. Moreover, a complex set of factors determines specific realizations of FDS, which need further exploration. We conclude by summarizing open questions and indicating directions and recommendations for future research.
Functional neuroimaging research on anxiety has traditionally focused on brain networks associated with the psychological aspects of anxiety. Here, instead, we target the somatic aspects of anxiety. Motivated by the growing appreciation that top-down cortical processing plays a crucial role in perception and action, we used resting-state functional MRI data from the Human Connectome Project and Dynamic Causal Modeling (DCM) to characterize effective connectivity among hierarchically organized regions in the exteroceptive, interoceptive, and motor cortices. In people with high (fear-related) somatic arousal, top-down effective connectivity was enhanced in all three networks: an observation that corroborates well with the phenomenology of anxiety. The anxiety-associated changes in connectivity were sufficiently reliable to predict whether a new participant has mild or severe somatic anxiety. Interestingly, the increase in top-down connections to sensorimotor cortex were not associated with fear affect scores, thus establishing the (relative) dissociation between somatic and cognitive dimensions of anxiety. Overall, enhanced top-down effective connectivity in sensorimotor cortices emerges as a promising and quantifiable candidate marker of trait somatic anxiety.
Despite the tangible progress in psychological and cognitive sciences over the last several years, these disciplines still trail other more mature sciences in identifying the most important questions that need to be solved. Reaching such consensus could lead to greater synergy across different laboratories, faster progress, and increased focus on solving important problems rather than pursuing isolated, niche efforts. Here, 26 researchers from the field of visual metacognition reached consensus on four long-term and two medium-term common goals. We describe the process that we followed, the goals themselves, and our plans for accomplishing these goals. If this effort proves successful within the next few years, such consensus building around common goals could be adopted more widely in psychological science.
The left ventral occipito-temporal cortex (vOTC) supports extraction and processing of visual features. However, it has remained unclear whether left vOTC-based functional connectivity (FC) differs according to task-relevant representations (e.g., lexical, visual) and control demands imposed by the task, even when similar visual-semantic processing is required for object identification. Here, neural responses to the same set of pictures of meaningful objects were measured, while the type of task that participants had to perform (picture naming versus size-judgment task), and the level of cognitive control required by the picture naming task (high versus low interference contexts) were manipulated. Explicit retrieval of lexical representations in the picture naming task facilitated activation of lexical/phonological representations, modulating FC between left vOTC and dorsal anterior-cingulate-cortex/pre-supplementary-motor-area. This effect was not observed in the size-judgment task, which did not require explicit word-retrieval of object names. Furthermore, retrieving the very same lexical/phonological representation in the high versus low interference contexts during picture naming increased FC between left vOTC and left caudate. These findings support the proposal that vOTC functional specialization emerges from interactions with task-relevant brain regions.
This dissertation explores the effect of modality on lexical access. Various experiments examined the role of sub-lexical units in spoken Spanish and in Spanish Sign Language (LSE) in 56 hearing bimodal bilinguals, who were native or second language (L2) signers. These experiments investigate the time course of lexical access using the visual world paradigm, focusing on onset and rhyme for the spoken language, and handshape and location in the signed language. The main aim is to determine whether this access is modulated by modality-specific characteristics of the sub-lexical structure of each language and by the age of acquisition (AoA) of the signed language.
Evidence so far shows that status detection increases attentional resources, especially for high hierarchies. However, little is known about the effects of masked social status cues on cognition. Here, we explore the masked priming effects of social status cues during a categorization task. For this purpose, we use Event-Related brain Potentials (ERP) time-locked to the presentation of two types of artworks (Christian, non-Christian) primed by masked social hierarchies sorted into two types (religious, military), and in two ranks (high, low) each. ERP results indicate early attention effects at N1, showing larger amplitudes for the processing of artworks after high and military ranks. Thereafter, the P3a increased for all artworks primed by religious vs. military figures, indicating a relevant role of task demands at this processing stage. Our results remark the automaticity of hierarchy detection and extend previous findings on the effects of social status cues on complex cognitive processes.
This study investigates how two non-finite forms, infinitives and conversion nouns, are represented in the mind of L1 and L2 speakers and what is their relationship to other members of the corresponding word family. German native speakers and proficient German learners with Czech as L1 participated in four overt priming experiments involving a grammatical judgement task. We investigated the relationship between infinitives (Experiment 1) and conversion nouns (Experiment 2) and formally identical verbal or noun forms. We further focussed on the relationship between conversion nouns and regular nominal derivation forms with two derivational suffixes: -er and -ung (Experiments 3 and 4). Our results show that the two non-finite forms differ in their relations to other members of a word family and do not constitute a special class of non-finites as suggested in previous literature. While German infinitives seem to be closer related to finite verbal forms, conversion nouns behave in the same way as other regular nominal derivatives within the same word family. As for the German L1 and L2 contrast, no significant difference in the mental representation of the examined forms was found. This finding suggests that with respect to the explored phenomena, proficient learners rely on the same linguistic organisation as L1 speakers.
As humans, we seamlessly hold objects in our hands, and may even lose consciousness of these objects. This phenomenon raises the unsettled question of the involvement of the cerebral cortex, the core area for voluntary motor control, in dynamically maintaining steady muscle force. To address this issue, we measured magnetoencephalographic brain activity from healthy adults who maintained a steady pinch grip. Using a novel analysis approach, we uncovered fine-grained temporal modulations in the beta sensorimotor brain rhythm and its coupling with muscle activity, with respect to several aspects of muscle force (rate of increase/decrease or plateauing high/low). These modulations preceded changes in force features by ∼40 ms and possessed behavioral relevance, as less salient or absent modulation predicted a more stable force output. These findings have consequences for the existing theories regarding the functional role of cortico-muscular coupling, and suggest that steady muscle contractions are characterized by a stable rather than fluttering involvement of the sensorimotor cortex.
Some prior investigations suggest that tone perception is flexible, reasonably independent of native phonology, whereas others suggest it is constrained by native phonology. We address this issue in a systematic and comprehensive investigation of adult tone perception. Sampling from diverse tone and non-tone speaking communities, we tested discrimination of the three major tone systems (Cantonese, Thai, Mandarin) that dominate the tone perception literature, in relation to native language and language experience as well as stimulus variation (tone properties, presentation order, pitch cues) using linear mixed effect modelling and multidimensional scaling. There was an overall discrimination advantage for tone language speakers and for native tones. However, language- and tone-specific effects, and presentation order effects also emerged. Thus, over and above native phonology, stimulus variation exerts a powerful influence on tone discrimination. This study provides a tone atlas, a reference guide to inform empirical studies of tone sensitivity, both retrospectively and prospectively.
Video games play a major role in the everyday life of children, teenagers, and adults. Several studies show that action video games (AVGs) improve visual attentional efficiency. AVGs also appear to improve reading speed and phonological skills in children with developmental dyslexia. These results have been linked to the intrinsic characteristics of AVGs, in which fast disengagement of multisensory attention allows for efficient extraction of relevant dynamic information, a skill that is crucially also involved in phonological and reading skills. We tested the hypothesis that AVG players demonstrate faster auditory attention disengagement in an auditory spatial cuing task, as well as better phonological and reading performance than non-players. We found that AVG players were faster in spatial localization of auditory targets and showed enhanced attentional disengagement as indexed by a smaller cuing effect. AVG players also showed better phonological decoding and working memory skills. Moreover, the beneficial effects of AVGs, as measured by faster attentional disengagement, were linked to better phonological and reading skills in adult AVG players. We suggest that a more efficient attentional disengagement - controlled by the posterior parietal cortex - induces enhanced multisensory processing in AVG players.
In our continuously globalizing world, cross-cultural and cross-linguistic communications are far from exceptional. A wealth of research has indicated that the processing of non-native accented speech can be challenging for native listeners, both at the level of phonology (e.g., Munro & Derwing, 1995) and syntax (Caffarra & Martin, 2019). However, few online studies have examined the underpinnings of accented-speech recognition from the perspective of the non-native listener, even though behavioural studies indicate that accented input may be easier to process for such individuals (i.e., the interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit; Bent & Bradlow, 2003). The current EEG study first examined the phonological and syntactic analysis of non-native accented speech among non-native listeners. As such, thirty English learners-of-Spanish listened to syntactically correct and incorrect Spanish sentences produced in native- and non-native accented Spanish. The violation in the incorrect sentences was caused by errors that are typical (i.e., gender errors; *la color) or atypical for English learners-of-Spanish (i.e., number errors; *los color). Results indicated that non-native listeners elicit a Phonological Mismatch Negativity (PMN) when attending to speech produced by a native Spanish speaker. Furthermore, the non-native listeners showed a P600 for all grammatical violations, indicating that they repair all errors regardless of their typicality or the accent in which they are produced. Follow-up analyses compared our novel data to the data of native listeners from the methodologically identical precursor study (Caffarra & Martin, 2019). These analyses showed that native- and non-native listeners exhibit directionally opposite PMN effects; while natives exhibited a larger PMN for English- accented Spanish, non-natives displayed a larger PMN in response to native-Spanish utterances (a classic interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit). An additional difference was observed at the syntactic level: whereas natives repaired only atypical number errors when they were English-accented, non-native participants exhibited a P600 in response to all English-accented syntactic errors, regardless of their typicality (a syntactic interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit). Altogether, these results suggests that accented speech is not inherently difficult to process; in fact, non-natives may benefit from the presence of a non- native accent. Thus, our data provide some of the first electrophysiological evidence supporting the existence of the classic interlanguage speech intelligibility benefit, and its novel syntactic counterpart.
Do humans perceive the world through discrete sampling of the sensory environment? Although it contrasts starkly with the intuition of a continuous perceptual flow, this idea dates back decades when brain rhythms were first suggested to work as periodic shutters. These would gate bouts of information into conscious perception and affect behavioural responses to sensory events. Seminal experimental findings have since largely confirmed brain rhythms as the neural implementation of periodic sampling. However, novel methods, improved experimental designs, and innovative analytical approaches show that the exact roles and functional significance of rhythmic brain activity for cognition remain to be determined. In re‐visiting the evidence for rhythmic sampling, the contributions to this Special Issue gave a mixed picture: Studies testing for rhythmic patterns in behavioural performance largely supported the notion. However, at odds with previous results, most attempts to link behavioural outcomes with the phase of neural rhythms did not find supporting evidence. Also, contrasting earlier results, studies that used external sensory or electrical stimulation to control neural phase (‘entrainment’) failed to find support for rhythmic sampling in behavioural performance despite other research, included here, that reported neural indicators of entrainment. This Special Issue therefore points out interesting divides in the study of rhythmic sampling across different domains and highlights the importance of publishing negative findings and replications to improve our understanding of the role of rhythms in cognition.
Cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR), an important indicator of cerebrovascular health, is commonly studied with the Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent functional MRI (BOLD-fMRI) response to a vasoactive stimulus. Theoretical and empirical evidence suggests that baseline cerebral blood flow (CBF) modulates BOLD signal amplitude and may influence BOLD-CVR estimates. We address how acquisition and modeling choices affect the relationship between baseline cerebral blood flow (bCBF) and BOLD-CVR: whether BOLD-CVR is modeled with the inclusion of a breathing task, and whether BOLD-CVR amplitudes are optimized for hemodynamic lag effects. We assessed between-subject correlations of average GM values and within-subject spatial correlations across cortical regions. Our results suggest that a breathing task addition to a resting-state acquisition, alongside lag-optimization within BOLD-CVR modeling, can improve BOLD-CVR correlations with bCBF, both between- and within-subjects, likely because these CVR estimates are more physiologically accurate. We report positive correlations between bCBF and BOLD-CVR, both between- and within-subjects. The physiological explanation of this positive correlation is unclear; research with larger samples and tightly controlled vasoactive stimuli is needed. Insights into what drives variability in BOLD-CVR measurements and related measurements of cerebrovascular function are particularly relevant when interpreting results in populations with altered vascular and/or metabolic baselines or impaired cerebrovascular reserve.
Bilinguals living in a bilingual society continuously need to choose one of their languages to communicate a message. Sometimes, the circumstances (e.g., the presence of a monolingual) dictate language choice. When surrounded by other bilinguals, however, the bilinguals themselves can often decide which language to use. While much previous research has assessed language production when language selection is predetermined, we assessed how bilinguals choose the naming language themselves. We focused on the role of personal language preferences and examined to what extent personal preferences might be affected by external, suggestive language primes. Spanish-Basque bilinguals were asked to name pictures in their language of choice. Pictures were either presented on their own or were preceded by a linguistic or non-linguistic prime. In a separate session, participants were asked which language they preferred for each picture. Language choice during voluntary picture naming was related to personal language preferences. A bilingual was more likely to name a picture in the language they preferred for that specific picture. Furthermore, bilinguals were more likely to choose the language matching the preceding linguistic or non-linguistic prime. Effects of primes and preferences were additive and the influence of language preference on choice was equally strong in the primed and no-prime tasks. In addition to modulating language choice, following preferences and primes was also associated with faster responses. Together, these findings show that initial stages of language production and language choice are not just modulated by external primes but also by a bilingual's individual preferences.
A framework to pinpoint the scope of unconscious processing is critical to improve models of visual consciousness. Previous research observed brain signatures of unconscious processing in visual cortex, but these were not reliably identified. Further, whether unconscious contents are represented in high-level stages of the ventral visual stream and linked parieto-frontal areas remains unknown. Using a within-subject, high-precision functional magnetic resonance imaging approach, we show that unconscious contents can be decoded from multi-voxel patterns that are highly distributed alongside the ventral visual pathway and also involving parieto-frontal substrates. Classifiers trained with multi-voxel patterns of conscious items generalized to predict the unconscious counterparts, indicating that their neural representations overlap. These findings suggest revisions to models of consciousness such as the neuronal global workspace. We then provide a computational simulation of visual processing/representation without perceptual sensitivity by using deep neural networks performing a similar visual task. The work provides a framework for pinpointing the representation of unconscious knowledge across different task domains.
Adapting to novelty is essential for an organism’s survival in an uncertain world. Neuroimaging evidence consistently links the anterior prefrontal, specifically the frontopolar cortex (FPC; BA10), to exploratory reweighting of attentional weights thereby underscoring the role of the FPC in responding to environmental changes that are often complex and may occur very rapidly. Here we report new evidence showing that the FPC serves a role in attentional reallocation even in the absence of conscious awareness. Both mass-univariate and multivariate pattern analyses of fMRI data revealed that the right FPC and other attention-related areas not only are sensitive to unaware changes in the relevant stimulus dimension, but also that unconsciously processed information of the novel stimulus was globally represented across these regions. Our results indicate that unconsciously processed information can reach a global level of representation outside the occipitotemporal cortex, and that the FPC is crucial for the reweighting of selection biases in the absence of visual awareness.
The cognate effect refers to translation equivalents with similar form between languages—i.e., cognates, such as “band” (English) and “banda” (Spanish)—being processed faster than words with dissimilar forms—such as, “cloud” and “nube.” Substantive literature supports this claim, but is mostly based on orthographic similarity and tested in the visual modality. In a previous study, we found an inhibitory orthographic similarity effect in the auditory modality—i.e., greater orthographic similarity led to slower response times and reduced accuracy. The aim of the present study is to explain this effect. In doing so, we explore the role of the speaker's accent in auditory word recognition and whether native accents lead to a mismatch between the participants' phonological representation and the stimulus. Participants carried out a lexical decision task and a typing task in which they spelled out the word they heard. Words were produced by two speakers: one with a native English accent (Standard American) and the other with a non-native accent matching that of the participants (native Spanish speaker from Spain). We manipulated orthographic and phonological similarity orthogonally and found that accent did have some effect on both response time and accuracy as well as modulating the effects of similarity. Overall, the non-native accent improved performance, but it did not fully explain why high orthographic similarity items show an inhibitory effect in the auditory modality. Theoretical implications and future directions are discussed.
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Paseo Mikeletegi, 69, Donostia / San Sebastián, Spain
Head of institution
Manuel Carreiras