Neural Bases of Tactile and Visual Language Processing

ID: 3609
School: Research Center/Lab
Program: Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN)
Status: Ongoing
Start date: April 2017
End Date: December 2020


The proposed experiments in this project build towards addressing questions about neuroplasticity and resilience in the human cortex. To understand the neuroplasticity and resilience of the neural systems that underlie human communication, it is vital to include in a program of study populations with variations in (1) timing of first and second language exposure, (2) modality of language (i.e. tactile, auditory, visual), and (3) sensory experience (deaf-blind, hearing, and deaf populations.) The proposed project here focuses specifically on a DeafBlind population that uses a tactile language (i.e. ProTactile ASL, PTASL). We know that human language processing neural networks are constrained, yet flexible, and permits our species to learn and use a wide range of language structures and languages encoded in multiple modalities (visual, tactile, and auditory) and by including DeafBlind PTASL signers in the corpus of cognitive neuroscience literature, we advance understanding of the mechanisms that make this possible and, vitally, we illuminate possible overarching principles that guide human neural reorganization and resilience. Furthermore, the proposed experiments in this project begin to address key questions that have very strong relevance to society (particularly DeafBlind populations) surrounding debates about whether observed neural reorganization are instances of "maladaptive plasticity" or "functional resilience." By clarifying the scientific principles that underlie neuroplasticity findings and their interpretation, policies revolving around learning (e.g. optimizing language acquisition, sensory intervention for infants, reading practices, etc.) can be optimized greatly and the community may benefit indirectly from this proposed research project.

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