C0095541 Maireld MacSweeney, Neuroscience Research

Photo: Wellcome Trust

Speaker: Mairéad MacSweeney, University College London

Thursday, August 18, 2016, 9:00 – 10:00 am, Logan Hall

Chair: Greig de Zubicaray, Queensland University of Technology

Dr. Mairéad MacSweeney is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience where she leads the Visual Communication group. She is also a Co-Director of the UCL Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre. She explores how the brain processes language through primarily visual means including reading, gesture, lipreading and sign language. Much of her research focusses on people who were born profoundly deaf.

Insights into the neurobiology of language processing from deafness and sign language

The study of the neurobiology of language has, until recently, focussed primarily on auditory speech. In this talk I will consider how research with people born deaf can provide a unique perspective into the neural basis of language processing.

First, signed languages can be used as tools to determine the neural systems involved in processing language, regardless of whether it is seen or heard. I will review the current literature which suggests that the neural systems supporting signed and spoken language are very similar, both involving a predominantly left-lateralised perisylvian network. Yet they are not identical. Many recent studies highlight subtle differences between sign and speech processing. These findings have consequences for developing models of language processing that can be applied to all languages.

Second, examining how spoken languages, and representations of spoken languages, are processed in the absence of auditory input (e.g., lipreading/ reading) provides unique insights into the influence of altered sensory experience on language processing. This research can help establish, for example, the role of auditory information in learning to read and may inform models of reading development.

Findings from this field further our understanding of how the brain processes language under conditions of altered sensory experience. Importantly however, it also encourages and stimulates the application of a wider, multimodal view of language and communication to the broader hearing population.