SPL2: adaptive processing of spoken language

Lead Research Organisation: MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Abstract

We are able to understand speech in a wide variety of situations that dramatically affect the sounds that reach our ears. For example, we can understand talkers who speak at different rates, or with wildly different accents or vocabularies. In many such situations, we find that comprehension improves over time reflecting people’s abilities to learn and adapt to new and challenging listening situations. These abilities are not only central to successful spoken communication in everyday situations but may also play an important role in situations where comprehension is challenged by hearing impairment, or in understanding educational achievements and failures (e.g. language impaired or dyslexic individuals).
Our goal in this work is to use behavioural experiments and functional brain understand the brain mechanisms that allow healthy adult listeners adjust to and learn from encounters with different forms of challenging spoken language. A better understanding of these mechanisms will help us understand the listening abilities of language users and to understand and remediate disorders of spoken language following sensory impairment, brain injury or in developmental disorders.

Technical Summary

Human listeners easily comprehend spoken language despite wide variation in the form and content of speech. This suggests that neural systems for speech perception and comprehension possess impressive capabilities for adjusting to variable and ambiguous speech. These processes are called on in everyday situations in which we understand speech that is presented in background noise or acoustically degraded, spoken in a novel accent, that includes unfamiliar words or phrases or in resolving transient ambiguities created by words with multiple meanings (e.g. bark). The ability of the comprehension system to adjust to incoming speech plays a critical role in supporting effective spoken language comprehension for post-lingually deafened individuals that receive a cochlear implant, in acquiring and maintaining the form and meaning of spoken words, as well as in supporting educational achievements that depend on spoken language (such as literacy and second-language acquisition).

In our research we conduct behavioural studies in which participants learn to understand artificially-manipulated speech (e.g. vocoded speech, or syllables containing ambiguous phonemes), novel words or novel word sequences and meanings. We explore the role of external feedback (e.g. presentation of non-distorted speech, or spoken/written context) in supporting initial learning. We also compare performance on learned and novel items in practiced or novel tasks at various delays after initial exposure in order to assess the role of offline, possibly sleep-associated consolidation processes in supporting language learning and generalisation.

By combining these methods with multimodal functional brain imaging (primarily fMRI and E/MEG) and brain stimulation we can study the neural systems that support these various forms of learning and adaptation. In this way we can uncover the functional and neural mechanisms that are critical for successful comprehension of spoken language in healthy volunteers, and that contribute to successful learning and rehabilitation in educational and clinical settings.

Publications

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Yuen I (2010) Activation of articulatory information in speech perception. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Wild CJ (2012) Effortful listening: the processing of degraded speech depends critically on attention. in The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

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Van Casteren M (2007) Match: a program to assist in matching the conditions of factorial experiments. in Behavior research methods

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Van Casteren M (2006) Mix, a program for pseudorandomization. in Behavior research methods

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Taylor JS (2014) Distinct neural specializations for learning to read words and name objects. in Journal of cognitive neuroscience

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Tamminen J (2015) From specific examples to general knowledge in language learning. in Cognitive psychology

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Sohoglu E (2012) Predictive top-down integration of prior knowledge during speech perception. in The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

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Sohoglu E (2014) Top-down influences of written text on perceived clarity of degraded speech. in Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance

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Sohoglu E (2016) Perceptual learning of degraded speech by minimizing prediction error. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Rogers J.C. (2009) Categorical perception of speech without stimulus repetition in Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association, INTERSPEECH

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Rodd J (2013) Long-term priming of the meanings of ambiguous words in Journal of Memory and Language

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Rodd J (2017) How to study spoken language understanding: a survey of neuroscientific methods in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience

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Rastle K (2008) Morphological decomposition based on the analysis of orthography in Language and Cognitive Processes

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Peelle JE (2010) Hierarchical processing for speech in human auditory cortex and beyond. in Frontiers in human neuroscience

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Peelle JE (2012) Neural Oscillations Carry Speech Rhythm through to Comprehension. in Frontiers in psychology

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Peelle JE (2013) Phase-locked responses to speech in human auditory cortex are enhanced during comprehension. in Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991)

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Owen AM (2006) Detecting awareness in the vegetative state. in Science (New York, N.Y.)

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Owen A.M. (2008) The consciousness dilemma: Feel or feel of feeling? - Reply in Archives of Neurology

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Orfanidou E (2011) Orthographic and semantic opacity in masked and delayed priming: Evidence from Greek in Language and Cognitive Processes

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Orfanidou E (2011) Perceptual and response components in repetition priming of spoken words and pseudowords. in Quarterly journal of experimental psychology (2006)

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Norris D (2006) Lexically guided retuning of letter perception. in Quarterly journal of experimental psychology (2006)

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Merkx M (2011) The acquisition of morphological knowledge investigated through artificial language learning. in Quarterly journal of experimental psychology (2006)

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McQueen JM (2006) The dynamic nature of speech perception. in Language and speech

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McQueen JM (2006) Phonological abstraction in the mental lexicon. in Cognitive science

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McCormick S (2009) Adore-able not adorable? Orthographic underspecification studied with masked repetition priming in European Journal of Cognitive Psychology

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Mattys S (2012) Speech recognition in adverse conditions: A review in Language and Cognitive Processes

 
Description Member of ministerial steering committee for languages, Department for Education
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
 
Description Director's Strategic Fund Award
Amount £16,505 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 12/2013
 
Description Director's Strategic Fund Award
Amount £16,012 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2013 
End 03/2013
 
Description EPS Workshop award
Amount £3,500 (GBP)
Organisation Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2011 
End 07/2011
 
Description ESRC Project Grant
Amount £298,966 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2010 
End 03/2013
 
Description Experimental Psychology Society: Undergraduate Research Bursary
Amount £2,000 (GBP)
Organisation Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2009 
End 09/2009
 
Description Fellowship
Amount € 0 (EUR)
Funding ID SPE2008-1215038 
Organisation Foundation for Medical Research (FRM) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country France
Start 01/2009 
End 01/2010
 
Description Incoming International Fellowship
Amount £104,494 (GBP)
Funding ID MIF1-CT-2006-022025 
Organisation Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions 
Sector Academic/University
Country Global
Start 02/2006 
End 02/2008
 
Description Interdisciplinary PhD Studentships (X2)
Amount £154,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department ESRC Doctoral Training Centre
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 10/2017
 
Description International Travel Grant
Amount £1,405 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2010 
End 11/2010
 
Description MRC-ESRC Interdisciplinary Post-doctoral Fellowship
Amount £174,626 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2009 
End 09/2011
 
Description Marie-Curie Intra-European Fellowship
Amount £153,723 (GBP)
Organisation Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions 
Sector Academic/University
Country Global
Start 03/2009 
End 03/2011
 
Description Programme Grant
Amount £0 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 01/2016
 
Description Project Grant
Amount £461,561 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2014 
End 02/2017
 
Description Project Grant
Amount £480,455 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2014 
End 02/2017
 
Description Research Project Grant
Amount £125,139 (GBP)
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2007 
End 04/2010
 
Description Small Project Grant
Amount £5,170 (GBP)
Funding ID SG-45216 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2007 
End 02/2008
 
Description The role of implicit learning in promoting insight in language learning
Amount £4,910 (GBP)
Organisation University of Cambridge 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2015 
End 04/2016
 
Title Match 
Description Computer software for creating matched/controlled groups of participants or items for empirical research. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2006 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Publication in Behavior Research Methods (van Casteren & Davis, 2007) 
 
Title Mix 
Description Software for generating constrained lists of trials for empirical research. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2006 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Publication of paper in Behavior Research Methods (van Casteren & Davis, 2006) 
 
Title Semantic ambiguity fMRI as a neural marker for speech perception and comprehension 
Description A collection of well matched speech and non-speech materials that permit a hierarchical assessment of neural responses to sound, speech and meaning in vegetative patients, sedated individuals and healthy volunteers. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2008 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Multiple peer-reviewed publications from 2005 to date. Use of these materials in assessment of brain injured patients. 
 
Description Accent and noise in sentence comprehension 
Organisation University of Manchester
Department Faculty of Life Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contribution to design, analysis and interpretation of fMRI studies of effortful speech comprehension. Co-authorship of publication.
Collaborator Contribution Additional insights into the brain systems involved in effortful speech comprehension.
Impact Adank et al (in press, Neuropsychologia)
Start Year 2009
 
Description Developmental Dyslexia, An Educational Neuroscience Approach 
Organisation Maastricht University (UM)
Department Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributions to design, analysis and interpretation of behavioural and MEG studies.
Collaborator Contribution Insights into behavioural and neural basis of developmental dyslexia
Impact No outputs yet. Multidisciplinary research involving neuroscience, psychology, and education.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Learning and consolidation of novel spoken words 
Organisation University College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Supervised the design, collection, analysis and interpretation of functional brain imaging studies resulting in peer-reviewed publications on empirical data. Contributed to the development of a complementary learning systems account of word learning published in a peer-reviewed theoretical/review paper.
Collaborator Contribution Provided methods, materials and theoretical insights that are driving current and planned research.
Impact 18578598 19933145 (many others in publications)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Learning and consolidation of novel spoken words 
Organisation University of York
Department Department of Psychology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Supervised the design, collection, analysis and interpretation of functional brain imaging studies resulting in peer-reviewed publications on empirical data. Contributed to the development of a complementary learning systems account of word learning published in a peer-reviewed theoretical/review paper.
Collaborator Contribution Provided methods, materials and theoretical insights that are driving current and planned research.
Impact 18578598 19933145 (many others in publications)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Learning and recognition of morphemic units 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Department of Psychology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Design, construction, analysis, interpretation and publication of experimental studies of the recognition of morphologically complex written words in skilled adult readers.
Collaborator Contribution Providing materials, methods and theoretical insights that have inspired current and future research.
Impact Two peer-reviewed journal publications - however, neither have PubMed ID numbers. Titles are: Is there a 'fete' in 'fetish'? Effects of orthographic opacity on morpho-orthographic segmentation in visual word recognition Morphological decomposition is based on the analysis of orthography. Further publications listed.
 
Description Motor activation during speech perception: EPG studies 
Organisation Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Department of Psychology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed to design/construction of experiments, data analysis, interpretation and publication
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative research on motor involvement in speech perception.
Impact 20080724
Start Year 2008
 
Description Top-down influences on speech perception 
Organisation University College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed to design, analysis and interpretation of behavioural and functional imaging data.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative research on cognitive and neural processes involved in speech perception in challenging listening situations. Collaborative research on the perception of vocoded speech
Impact 18377182 18211243 17317056 15869347 12716950 21077718 20661456 (many others listed in publications)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Top-down influences on speech perception 
Organisation University of Geneva
Department Department of Basic Neurosciences
Country Switzerland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed to design, analysis and interpretation of behavioural and functional imaging data.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative research on cognitive and neural processes involved in speech perception in challenging listening situations. Collaborative research on the perception of vocoded speech
Impact 18377182 18211243 17317056 15869347 12716950 21077718 20661456 (many others listed in publications)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Top-down influences on speech perception 
Organisation Washington University in St Louis
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed to design, analysis and interpretation of behavioural and functional imaging data.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative research on cognitive and neural processes involved in speech perception in challenging listening situations. Collaborative research on the perception of vocoded speech
Impact 18377182 18211243 17317056 15869347 12716950 21077718 20661456 (many others listed in publications)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Top-down influences on speech perception 
Organisation Western University
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed to design, analysis and interpretation of behavioural and functional imaging data.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative research on cognitive and neural processes involved in speech perception in challenging listening situations. Collaborative research on the perception of vocoded speech
Impact 18377182 18211243 17317056 15869347 12716950 21077718 20661456 (many others listed in publications)
Start Year 2006
 
Description Bright Club - "Naughtie Words" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact People laughed. Sometimes!

Fun!
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
URL http://brightclub.wordpress.com
 
Description Cheltenham Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of work on assessing speech comprehension in brain injured patients and sedated volunteers. Participated in discussion of scientific and ethical implications of this work.

Contact with fellow neuroscientists, clinicians, science communicators and the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
 
Description Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Learning: Implications for Education 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Praise from the then Minister for Schools (Nick Gibb, MP).

Invited to contribute to evidence gathering activities. Invited to give presentation to subject matter organisations (e.g. Association for Language Learning)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
 
Description Listen-Up at the Science Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Workshop Facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We conducted an experiment on speech perception in the Science Museum in London. We tested 3000 museum visitors of all ages and nationalities and provided scientific background on what goes on in the mouth when speaking and in the brain when listening.

Collected enormous quantities of data! Taught lots of visitors about speech.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/blog/2013/01/january-2013-listen-up-cbu-researchers-at-the-science-muse...
 
Description Media interviews on recent research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed by journalists on recent research for publication in print (New Scientist, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail, Herald Ireland, Helsingin Sanomat, Times of India), radio broadcast (Radio 4, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC 3 Counties), TV (Anglia ITV news)

Increased public awareness of recent research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007,2008,2009,2011,2012
 
Description Posts on neuroscience blogs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Reports of recent research findings concerning speech perception, speech comprehension, word learning, joke appreciation.

Large numbers of hits on MRC WWW pages concerning my research, references to my work in scientific papers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007,2008,2009,2011,2012
 
Description Presentations on neuroscience of language learning 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to senior advisors in the UK Government, Department for Education (2012)
- Nick Gibb (MP) & Ministerial Steering Group, Department for Education, Whitehall, UK, 21st Feb 2012.

Presentations at meetings of language learning teachers and practitioners:
- Association of University Language Centres (UK/Ireland). Cambridge, UK, 7th Jan 2015.
- Cambridge English Forum: Multilingual education: policy, practice and reality" Salamanca, Spain, 20th October 2014.
- Cambridge University, Linguistics Society, Cambridge, UK, 28th November 2013.
- Association for Language Learning (ALL) annual meeting, Nottingham, UK, 22nd March 2013.
- Literacy, Language & Communication (LiLaC) network, Royal Holloway, Egham, UK, 8th Nov 2012.

Positive feedback concerning potential for neuroscientific contributions to educational policy and practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014,2015
 
Description Reports of research to health professionals 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Health professionals
Results and Impact Reports of publications in F1000 Medicine and Anaesthesiology News

Dissemination of research to health professionals
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007
 
Description Sine-Wave speech exhibit and demonstrations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exhibit on sine-wave speech in life gallery, "At Bristol" museum, Bristol, UK (2011)
Exhibit on hearing research, speech perception (including sine-wave speech), Cambridge Science Centre (Feb 2014)
Demonstration of sine-wave speech, online experiment and discussion, BBC Radio 4 "Human Zoo" (July 2014)

Interest in research on speech sounds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2014
URL http://tiny.cc/humanzoo
 
Description Speech Perception and Misperception 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Science Show Off presentation as part of SNL meeting
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.scienceshowoff.org
 
Description Speech Perception and Misperception 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentations on speech perception and misperception to general audiences in Cambridge ("Pint of Science")
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://pintofscience.com
 
Description Speech Perception and Misperception 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview and example materials on BBC Radio 4 programme, "Inside Science"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07414kl
 
Description Speech perception and misperception 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media interview / feature - Using cochlear implants to cure deafness
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.thenakedscientists.com/podcasts/naked-scientists/meteor-comet-or-asteroid-whats-differen...