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Cortical tracking of natural and artificial sequences

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emporal contingencies and sequences are abundant in the environment. In language, for instance, sequences of phonemes form words, sequences of words form sentences. How does the brain parse, track, and process these sequences that unfold concurrently over time? In this talk, I will discuss our recent efforts to understand whether and how sequences are processed online, and what role brain rhythms might play in this process. Specifically, I will discuss studies demonstrating that rhythmic cortical activity entrains to the time course of large linguist units, even in the absence of any acoustic cues for the boundaries between phrases and sentences. Entrainment is also observed during second language acquisition, and can rapidly appear when learning to parse an artificial language. Similar processes occur in the visual domain. Together, these studies show that cortical entrainment to linguistic units reliably tracks online speech processing, offering endless possibilities to objectively assess language processing in children, difficult-to-test-populations (e.g., minimally conscious patients), as well as language precursors in animal preparations to allow for cross-species comparison.


Lucia Melloni is a cognitive neuroscientist holding a group at the Max Planck for Empirical Aesthetics and an assistant professor at NYU school of medicine. In her research she uses a combination of neuroimaging, electrophysiology, and behavior to dissect the neural circuits that give rise to perception and cognition in humans. Her research primarily focuses on questions 1) consciousness – what make us to have an experience – and 2) language – how do we communicate infinite number of ideas with a limited set of string. Her approach aims at revealing the elementary computations and neural mechanisms of those processes, and to develop a novel framework to study the physiology of uniquely human cognitive processes.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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