This proposal constitutes an application for an ADAMHA Research Scientist Award (RSA). The investigations will trace ongoing mental processes by tracking eye fixations and other behavioral measures during the comprehension of sentences, examining the role of working memory in comprehension. The PI will extend his skills in computer simulation of parallel production systems and other connectionist architectures. The proposed research experimentally examines how comprehension performance changes when the demands of the task exceed the supply of storage and processing resources available in working memory. the empirical studies examine working memory constraints on four aspects of language comprehension. One series of experiments investigates the relation between syntactic modularity and working memory capacity, examining the hypothesis that a resource-demanding interaction between syntactic and semantic processing occurs only in those individuals and tasks in which the required resources are available. A second series examines whether the larger capacity of some individuals permits them to maintain multiple interpretations of a structurally or lexically ambiguous sentence. A third series investigates how the storage of information over a text distance varies with the processing demands made by the intervening text. A fourth series develops the methodology of pupillometry to index the consumption of cognitive resources during language comprehension. In addition, the experimental methodologies include the measurement of gaze locations and durations during reading, measurement of word-by-word self-paced reading times, and cross-modal priming. The methodologies are used to answer questions about the time course, content, and intensity of processing. The theory will be instantiated as a computational model, namely an activation-based production system, in which both processing and storage are fueled by activation. In this model, the total amount of activation available to the system has an upperbound that corresponds to the maximum capacity of an individual. The goal of the theory is to explain how the processing of language accommodates (or fails to accommodate) the transient computational and storage demands that occur in language comprehension, and to thereby explain the variation in comprehension among tasks and individuals. One health-related implication of this research is that the theory will explain a dimension of individual differences that potentially encompasses not just normal variation in comprehension, but also variation due to extreme age, to stress, or to trauma. Second, the research develops new methodologies with clinical potential (relating eye fixations to cognitive processes and relating pupil dilation to the consumption of cognitive resources). Third, the research develops the theoretical analysis of a psychometric instrument (the reading span test) that may prove useful for measuring age and disease-related changes in language functioning.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Scientist Award (K05)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-BRB-I (01))
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Carnegie-Mellon University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Newman, Sharlene D; Just, Marcel Adam; Keller, Timothy A et al. (2003) Differential effects of syntactic and semantic processing on the subregions of Broca's area. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 16:297-307