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Humans communicate not only through auditory speech, but also through vision. Visual routes to communication include reading, visual speech (lipreading), gesture and, for those who are deaf, sign language. Our research uses both behavioural and neuroimaging approaches to further our understanding of these modes of visual communication.
In particular our work involves research with people who are born deaf. Exploring the brains of individuals with altered sensory and language experience offers unique insights into the limits of neural plasticity and the cognitive and neurobiological conditions under which language develops. Our research addresses a fundamental issue in cognitive science: how does experience shape language and the brain?
In addition to informing our basic understanding of brain development and the neurobiology of language, aspects of our research will also ultimately inform intervention strategies for children born profoundly deaf both in terms of education and cochlear implant programmes.
The Visual Communication Research Group is also part of the UCL Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre, where Mairéad MacSweeney is Director.
Independent Research Fellows
- Evelyne Mercure
I am generally interested in the development of functional specialisation in the brain and how this process is influenced by experience. I am using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), event-related potentials (ERPs) and near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to investigate how the brain processes social stimuli (mainly faces, language and vocalisations). My current research investigates brain development and language learning in hearing babies with a deaf mother. Despite normal hearing, these infants have a different experience of speech and language to that of infants with hearing parents. For this reason they represent a unique opportunity to study experience-dependent plasticity in brain and cognitive development.
Post-doctoral Research Fellows
- Eva Gutierrez
My research interests are focused on how the brain processes semantic and phonological information, during sign language comprehension and reading. I will use different neuroimaging techniques such as event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional transcranial Doppler sonography (fTCD) to examine these processes.
- Tae Twomey
I am interested in the neurobiology of language. I use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion-weighted MRI with tractography to investigate the neural information processing of reading as well as the anatomical connectivity that contributes to reading. My current research focuses on examining the neural reading network in deaf adults.
- Heather Payne
I am interested in functional asymmetries (lateralisation) of processing signed and spoken language. I use functional transcranial Doppler sonography (fTCD) and behavioural measures to examine language lateralisation in deaf and hearing children.
- Junfei Liu
I am interested in the neural basis of reading in deaf readers. During my PhD, I will work on a cross-linguistic fMRI study of reading in Chinese deaf adults and English deaf adults.
- Laura Monroy
During my PhD I will investigate the contribution of fingerspelling (i.e. manual representation of the alphabet in Sign Language) to reading in deaf adults and children across languages with different orthographies. As a child of deaf adults (CODA) and having grown up in a deaf family, I am particularly interested in language processing in deaf people (sign and spoken language) and in the use of different strategies (e.g., fingerspelling, speechreading) on the development of their literacy.
- Victoria Mousley
I am interested in the early cognitive processes and neurological correlates of learning spoken and/or signed language. During my PhD, I will investigate the developmental trajectories of phonetic perception among monolingual, unimodal bilingual, and bimodal bilingual infants. Broadly, I hope to research how perception of speech sounds in the first year link to children’s language proficiency later in life
- Lizzie Worster
I am interested in language and literacy development. During my PhD I will be looking at the relationship between speechreading (lipreading), phonological awareness and reading development in deaf and hearing children.
- Indie Beedie
I am currently working on the Speechreading Training Intervention project with Dr Hannah Pimperton and Prof Mairéad MacSweeney. I am currently completing my masters in Psychology and my research interests include language and cognitive development in deaf children and adults.