PEN Lecture Series
Academic Year 2017-2018
The Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) Program proudly presents the 2017-2018 PEN Distinguished Lecture Series in Educational Neuroscience:
"The Origin and Nature of Language, Numeracy, and Thought"
Presented in conjunction with the PEN 701 Proseminar, the PEN Program's 2017-2018 PEN Distinguished Lecture Series in Educational Neuroscience honors world-renowned scientists and aims to form a bridge between science and society.
The 2017-2018 presenters have helped change the landscape of science. Each presenter will share their discoveries with us as we forge new links across research communities within Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., and the world.
All lectures are open to the public and will take place in the Merrill Learning Center (Library), B111, from 4:00 - 5:30 p.m. Interpreters and CART services will be provided.
Live Streaming Available
All lectures will be live streamed at Gallaudet University's Webcast Channel. Additional lectures from 2008 to the present are also archived and available on this channel.
About 2017-2018 PEN Distinguished Lecture Series Presenters
This high-profile lecture series honors our presenters – true pioneers in science who work at the intersection of the Science of Learning (learning across the lifespan) and Educational Neuroscience (learning across early life). This year’s theme “The Origin and Nature of Language, Numeracy and Thought”, showcases work investigating the neural underpinnings of human higher cognition. What brain and cognitive functions are at the root of language, numeracy, memory, and thought? Our esteemed scientists will guide us in their quest for answers presenting their brain and behavioral discoveries on infants, adults, brain-lesioned patients, and nonhuman primates in the attempt to unravel the human ability to learn.
Where did language come from? Evolutionary precursor mechanisms in the brain of nonhuman primates
With all its uniqueness in humans, language and music must have its evolutionary origins in nonhuman animals. Dr. Rauschecker contends that it makes sense to search for traces of brain mechanisms supporting communication in our closest relatives, nonhuman primates. Monkeys have a well-developed system of communication calls and an auditory cortex that is organized very much like ours. Ventral and dorsal processing streams support similar functions in both the visual and the auditory systems of humans and monkeys. Where then is the difference that makes us human? It appears possible that nonhuman primates possess most of the necessary ingredients for successful communication, but have them to a lesser degree, so they do not reach the critical mass for a full-blown language system. Dr. Rauschecker states that studies using identical techniques in both species may help to bring us closer to an answer.
The human infant brain: A neural architecture able to learn language
Although different human languages use different sounds, words and syntax, most children acquire their native language without difficulties following the same developmental path. Once adults, they use the same specialized networks, located primarily in the left hemisphere around the sylvian fissure, to process speech. Thanks to the development of brain imaging, we can now study the early functional brain organization and examine on which cerebral resources, infants rely to learn their native language. Although these studies are still sparse, several characteristics are noticeable: first, parallel and hierarchical processing pathways are observed before intense exposure to speech with an efficient temporal coding in the left hemisphere and, second, frontal regions are involved from the start in infants ’ cognition. These observations are certainly not sufficient to explain language acquisition but illustrate a new approach that relies on a better description of infants’ brain activity during linguistic tasks, which compared to results in animals and human adults should clarify the emergence of language in the human species.
The languages of the brain
How did language and mathematics emerge in humans during the course of evolution? Scientists since Galileo have insisted that mathematics is structured as a language – but is this language similar to spoken language? Do mathematicians use classical language areas when doing mathematics? In the first part of the talk, I will present converging evidence that the left posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG, pars triangularis and orbitalis) play a central role in the syntax of spoken and written natural languages. In the second part, I will present fMRI studies investigating whether these brain areas also contribute to various aspects of mathematics. When professional mathematicians reflect upon high-level mathematical concepts in algebra, analysis, geometry or topology, the activation spares classical language areas. Instead, high-level mathematics involves bilateral intraparietal areas involved in elementary number sense and simple arithmetic, and bilateral infero-temporal areas involved in processing Arabic numerals. The evidence suggests that the acquisition of mathematical concepts recycles areas involved in elementary number processing. My conclusion will be that human brains are attuned to many different languages – spoken, written, mathematical, musical... – and that brain evolution may have endowed the human brain with a widespread ability to manipulate nested syntactic structures in most, if not all domains of human cognition.
How not to fool yourself with p-value and other statistics
In 2016 the American Statistical Association published its first position paper on the use of p-values, and recently this year a group of statisticians and other researchers published a paper recommending a change to the traditional definition of statistical significance. This talk will discuss some of the p-values problems and solutions raised in these and other papers, illustrating the ideas through a series of examples of published studies. The need for more attention to the communication and "human factors" of statistics and data science will also be briefly discussed.
Impacting early acoustic mapping in infants: Translational strategies can alter the course of language learning disorders.
Ongoing research in my laboratory provides evidence that the ability to perform fine-grained acoustic analysis in the tens-of-millisecond range during infancy appears to be one of the most powerful and significant predictors of subsequent language development and disorders. Our prospective, longitudinal research has shown that non-linguistic, spectrotemporally modulated, rapid auditory processing (RAP) skills in the first year of life can serve as a behavioral "marker" of developmental language impairments and thus are of particular utility in the early identification and proactive remediation of such disorders. In this talk a brief summary will be given of studies that demonstrate that difficulties in discriminating rapidly successive sensory events early in infancy are predictive of later language outcome. The main focus will be on findings from our baby-friendly, non-invasive behavioral intervention that specifically impacts acoustic mapping. These results demonstrate that interactive exposure to specific classes of non-linguistic, temporally-modulated sounds in early infancy engages ongoing experience-dependent processes, supporting development of more efficient, fine-grained auditory processing skills -- thus optimizing acoustic mapping and automatic processing well before expressive language emerges. Moreover active training with non-speech stimuli translates to improved processing of speech. Next steps include facilitating active technology transfer of such interactive techniques with the goal of providing “real-world” intervention solutions at the earliest stages of development.
Constructive memory and imagining the future
Studies of memory have mainly focused on remembering past experiences, but an important function of memory is to allow individuals to simulate or imagine future experiences. A rapidly growing number of studies have shown that simulating future experiences depends on much of the same neural and cognitive machinery as remembering past experiences. To account for these findings, we have suggested the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis, which holds that simulation of future experiences requires a system that can draw on the past in a manner that flexibly re-combines elements of previous experiences, sometimes producing memory distortions that reflect the operation of adaptive processes. This talk considers cognitive and neuroimaging studies that address both pitfalls and adaptive aspects of flexible recombination and episodic future simulation.