Our Research

Language and social cognition are exceptionally complex behaviors, scaffolded by both sensorimotor and cognitive systems, unfolding across short and long timescales, and varying greatly across individuals and development. Our lab studies the neurocognitive basis of language and social cognition across typical and atypical neurodevelopment. To do this, we combine tools from cognitive neuroscience, psychiatry, and developmental psychology including neuroimaging, neuromodulation, behavioral experimentation, and clinical interventions.

The cerebellum in language, cognition, and disorders

The cerebellum contains over 80% of the neurons in the whole brain. In the sensorimotor domain, the cerebellum is a core structure for skill acquisition and motor learning. However, the vast majority of the cerebellum is actually devoted to cognitive processing. Understanding the basic organization and cognitive influences of the cerebellum addresses a major gap in the cognitive neuroscience literature, which has focused on cortical contributions to sociolinguistic behaviors and development. How does cerebellar functional organization support these behaviors and their development? This line of research seeks to understand cerebellar contributions to complex cognition and development using neuroimaging, neuromodulation, and examining populations with injury to the cerebellum.

Language and cognition in autism

Early language delays are some of the first signs of autism, and autistic individuals use, process, and represent language differently than neurotypical individuals. We are interested in understanding the neural basis of language differences in children and adults with autism.

Predictive processing for language and cognition

The world around us changes rapidly, and rapidly changing contexts provide a challenge for behavior. Different accents, speakers, and social norms render social interaction and conversation highly challenging. Luckily, the human brain is fundamentally plastic – able to rapidly adapt to changing contexts and learn from repeated exposure. This plasticity allows us to learn from our past experiences, form predictions about the future, and optimize our behavior in a given context. Impairments in these basic systems can result in sub-optimal social, linguistic, and perceptual behavior with relevance for neurodevelopmental disorders. What are the neural systems and mechanisms that allow us to quickly adapt to changing circumstances in our sociolinguistic environment and optimize our social and linguistic behaviors accordingly. One such mechanism is adaptive prediction – which broadly refers to prior experience and context can change processing systems before input becomes available to create an efficient processing system. Predictive processes have been extensively studied in the sensorimotor realm, but are equally important for optimal social interaction and language, allowing us to anticipate, for instance, how a conversational partner will react. This line of research aims to study the neural systems that support predictive processing and how alterations in these systems may result in cognitive differences in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Strengths-based approaches in neurodevelopmental disorders

All individuals are characterized by unique challenges and strengths. This is also true for neurodevelopmental populations, such as autism. Our work has found that autistic individuals can show equal or even better performance in certain domains and contexts than their neurotypical counterparts. However, research rarely takes a strengths-based approach to examining neurodevelopmental disorders. This line of research seeks to understand the neurocognitive basis of both strengths and challenges in children and adults with autism.

Tools and Approaches

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

Behavior

Non-invasive neuromodulation