Bilingualism in sign language and spoken language: a study of brain plasticity
This is a project in collaboration with Moscow State Linguistic University funded by the Russian Research Council. We are investigating language learning in deaf individuals and the changes in the brain associated to this phenomenon. More information about our project can be found here (in Russian!).
Cognition refers to the mental processes that we use to make sense of and interact with our environment. These include problem solving, planning, reasoning, thinking, learning and memory. Here we are interested in understanding differences in the neural mechanisms that support cognitive processes in deaf and hearing individuals. If you are interested in taking part in this research, get in touch here!
Working memory in deaf individuals
Working memory is the type of memory that we use to keep information in mind while performing a task. For example, when asked to calculate (2 x 3) – 5, we use our working memory to keep the numbers in our head, keep track of the result of the multiplication, and keep track of the operations that need to be performed.
In this project, we are interested in understanding the effect of deafness on visual working memory mechanisms in the brain. Evidence suggest that deaf individuals perform better in certain visual working memory tasks. How does the brain reorganise to produce this, and why does this happen? Is it because of having to rely more strongly on vision? Is it because many deaf individuals use a sign language? Help us finding out, by signing up for our research!
The signing brain vs. the speaking brain
This project is a collaboration with Jiangsu Normal University in China, and UCL’s Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL). The aim is to understand the effect of bilingualism in the structure and function of the brain. There is evidence suggesting that bilingualism in two spoken languages (unimodal bilingualism) confers cognitive advantages, but it is not clear if this is also the case for people who are bilingual in a spoken and a signed language (bimodal bilinguals). Understanding this could help us in promoting the use of BSL in deaf children, designing better educational tools and interventions, and in the training of BSL interpreters. More information can be found here. Adult-onset hearing loss, dopamine and speech perception
Adult-hearing loss affects a large proportion of society. Cochlear implantation has been beneficial in restoring hearing in such cases. However, there is still much variability in outcome, and there is a need for a simple post-implantation therapy that could significantly increase implantation success rate. The aim of the project, funded by Action on Hearing Loss, was to use the neuromodulator dopamine to develop an intervention therapy to improve speech perception in patients who receive a cochlear implant in adulthood.
Sights and Signs
This project investigated how the experience of deafness and that of sign language knowledge impacts on neural reorganisation. This project was a collaboration with Linköping University, funded by Riksbankens Jubileums fond (P2008-0481:1-E), the Swedish Council for Working Life and SocialResearch (2008-0846), and the Swedish Research Council (Linnaeus Centre HEAD).
Results from this project can be found here:
- Dissociating cognitive and sensory neural plasticity in human superior temporal cortex.
- Monitoring Different Phonological Parameters of Sign Language Engages the Same Cortical Language Network but Distinctive Perceptual Ones
- Differential activity in Heschl’s gyrus between deaf and hearing individuals is driven by auditory deprivation rather than language modality.
- Similar digit-based working memory in deaf signers and hearing non-signers despite digit span differences.