I am currently working on two projects:
Understanding the neural processes involved in word learning in typically developing children and children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)
In this work, we aim to use passive listening tasks, and functional connectivity analysis (EEG and fNIRS) to understand the neural processes involved in word learning and find out why is it that some individual are less good at this task. Recent advances in neuroimaging techniques have substantially improved our understanding of the neural encoding of speech. However, our understanding of the neural and perceptual mechanisms that underlie language disorders is still limited. By measuring functional connectivity during learning, this work will allow us to investigate the relation between differences in word learning ability and neural differences in the online processing of typically developing children and children with DLD, and hence to understand the neural mechanisms that underlie DLD, with potential implications for diagnosis and intervention.
This work is founded by the ESRC through the LuCiD centre
The Babe with the predictive power
Error-based learning theories suggest that predictions play a key role from the earliest stages of language acquisition; yet existing studies have typically focused only on older age groups. As a result, there is currently limited evidence that prediction is a viable learning mechanism in infancy. This study targets the role of prediction in early word encoding to assess the viability of such a learning mechanism. To achieve this, we have adapted an adult EEG study focusing on syllabic prediction (Vidal et al., 2019) for an infant population of 9 months of age. We are using an oddball design featuring speech-like stimuli to check if deviant pseudo-word elicit a mismatch response, indicative of a prediction being falsify by perception. We are also carrying out a localizer task to determine the polarity, location and time window of the MMR in each individual infant.
This work has been accepted as a stage 1 Registered report in Developmental Science
In March 2024 will start my next founded project The Origins of Infant Word Learning (Leverhulme Trust)
If you are a student and are interested to hear more about any of those projects dont hesitate to contact me for potential internship/PhD.
Understanding the neural processes involved in word learning in typically developing children and children with DLD
In this project funded by the ESRC through the LuCiD research center, we aim to understand the neural processes involved in processing language and how these might differ in children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). Listening to speech requires processing very rapid information (4 syllables per second), identifying the information (what the different syllables are), and tracking how the information is related (if the syllables are part of the same word or from different words). We aim to understand how the brain integrates this information to process incoming speech and organise the stream of syllables into words using two electroencephalography (EEG), which provides very precise timing information of brain activity.
Recent advances in neuroimaging techniques and analyses allow us to see how different parts of the brain interact during specific tasks. We will use these new techniques to determine how listeners organise syllables into words. We will determine what this process looks like in typical adults and then extend this to typically developing children to see how these integration systems develop, and then we will extend this to children with DLD to determine whether disruptions to the integration system might explain DLD.LuCiD webpage
The babe with the predictive power: a registered report examining the role of prediction in early word encoding
Error-based theories of language acquisition posit that predictions are a key part of language processing throughout the lifespan. They suggest that adults and children are constantly anticipating upcoming input, assess these predictions and use discrepancies to update their linguistic knowledge. So far there is limited evidence that infants are able to form predictions as they listen speech, consequently prediction as a learning mechanism may not be viable. Here, we directly test the ability of 9-month-old infants to form prediction. To achieve this, we have adapted an adult EEG study focusing on syllabic prediction (Vidal et al., 2019) for an infant population. Here, we rely on the presence of mismatch-response (MMR) to establish whether infants predicted the upcoming syllable of an invented word. As infants’ MMR can vary, we will also carry out a second task to localize participants’ individual MMR responses in the form of a tone-change-detection Optimum-1 task. This task will determine the location, latency and polarity of the MMR for each infant separately. Here, we will present the very first result from an adult group and from some infant data.The data that support the findings of this study are openly available at the project's Open Science Framework site
The Origins of Infant Word Learning
LEVERHULME TRUST (UK)
March 2024 - February 2028
The Centre for Language and Communicative Development.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
September 2014 - October 2025
Adam Attaheri , Áine Ní Choisdealbha, Sinead Rocha, Giovanni Di Liberto & Usha Goswami
Project: The BabyRhythm project
External: University of Cambridge
Language lies at the heart of our experience as humans and disorders of language acquisition carry severe developmental costs.
Recent results in auditory neuroscience show that speech processing depends on brain wave rhythms aligning to rhythms in speech. So the infant brain needs to learn to “copy” the rhythms produced when we talk. Consequently, successful language acquisition by infants must depend in part on successful rhythmic processing.
The BabyRhtythm project is an ambitious longitudinal project aiming to “drill down” into the relationship between brain rhythms, speech rhythms and language acquisition.
Giulia Mornati, Chiara Cantiani & Mariateresa Guasti
Project: Electrophysiological correlates of articles-nouns gender agreement: a comparison between biological and formal gender in italian adults and 2-year-old toddlers.
External: Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca
Italian nouns are preceded by articles, which change according to the noun gender and number. Nouns feature either a biological, transparent relationship between the referent’s biological sex and the noun gender (ladetfem nonngrandma-afem the grandma) or a formal gender, where the gender is assigned arbitrarily (ladetfem sediafem the chair). Previous studies on adults have shown that a gender violation elicits typical ERP components: a posterior positivity (P600) sometimes preceded by a negativity (LAN/N400). However, little is known about how toddlers process gender. Here, we investigated biological and formal gender processing by Italian adults and 24-month-old toddlers. In each trial, participants were presented with a picture on the screen, associated with an auditory stimulus (“Look at themasc/fem big [nounmasc/fem]”). This stimulus could correctly describe the image (Labelling condition), or not, creating a gender violation with the image (Mislabelling condition). Additionally, the nouns were divided based on the type of gender (Bio vs Formal). Analyses were conducted using a cluster-based permutation and showed that adults and toddlers detect the gender mismatch similarly, triggering an anterior negativity during the article processing. Concerning the types of gender, adults relied more on formal gender even though the results is not fully significant. During the noun time-window, both groups reveal a biphasic effect: adults showed a frontal negativity and a posterior positivity whereas toddlers showed the opposite polarity. In sum, these results indicate that the early processing of gender mismatch in noun phrases is already developed at age 24 months, even if some differences between children and adults emerged.