The capacity to comprehend language lies at the core of a person's ability to gain information from the environment, perform everyday tasks, and maintain normal social relations. The critical role of the left cerebral hemisphere (LH) in supporting these processes has served as a paradigmatic example of neural specialization for higher cognitive functions. However, it is increasingly apparent that the right hemisphere (RH) also makes important, distinctive contributions to language comprehension.
The aim of the proposed research is to delineate how processing resources distributed across the two cerebral hemispheres come together in real time to mediate language and how these processes and their underlying mechanisms change over the course of normal aging and in response to task demands. The proposal builds on a theoretical framework, based on recent neuropsychological, behavioral, and event-related brain potential (ERP) studies of language asymmetry, which asserts that LH and RH language comprehension differ because comprehension is cognitively and neurally integrated with language production only in the LH. Seventeen proposed experiments, using ERPs (often in combination with visual half-field presentation techniques to preferentially stimulate one hemisphere) and eyetracking measures with both young and older adults, test the hypotheses that (1) differences in the efficacy of neural connectivity within each hemisphere and across age set up qualitatively different processing dynamics during language comprehension, (2) these differences in processing dynamics can be modulated by factors such as stimulus predictability, task demands, and control - yielding different functional outcomes and (3) the roots of processing dynamics important for language comprehension can be traced to genetic factors that affect neural circuitry important for hand preference. These experiments lay the foundation for an understanding of the computational and neurobiological roots of the complex and critical cognitive skill that is language.

Public Health Relevance

Language comprehension is a crucial component of human life, and a reduction in language capabilities, as a function of advancing age or with brain damage as from a left hemisphere stroke, has important personal and societal costs. The proposed research examines language comprehension differences across the two cerebral hemispheres and as a function of age in order to understand what factors characterize and promote effective language processing. The long-term goal is to uncover ways to protect against or compensate for age-, trauma-, or disease-related reductions in the ability to comprehend and remember language.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Wagster, Molly V
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Payne, Brennan R; Federmeier, Kara D (2018) Contextual constraints on lexico-semantic processing in aging: Evidence from single-word event-related brain potentials. Brain Res 1687:117-128
Rommers, Joost; Federmeier, Kara D (2018) Predictability's aftermath: Downstream consequences of word predictability as revealed by repetition effects. Cortex 101:16-30
Payne, Brennan R; Federmeier, Kara D (2017) Event-related brain potentials reveal age-related changes in parafoveal-foveal integration during sentence processing. Neuropsychologia 106:358-370
Payne, Brennan R; Federmeier, Kara D (2017) Pace Yourself: Intraindividual Variability in Context Use Revealed by Self-paced Event-related Brain Potentials. J Cogn Neurosci 29:837-854
Rommers, Joost; Dickson, Danielle S; Norton, James J S et al. (2017) Alpha and theta band dynamics related to sentential constraint and word expectancy. Lang Cogn Neurosci 32:576-589
Lucas, Heather D; Hubbard, Ryan J; Federmeier, Kara D (2017) Flexible conceptual combination: Electrophysiological correlates and consequences for associative memory. Psychophysiology 54:833-847
Stites, Mallory C; Payne, Brennan R; Federmeier, Kara D (2017) Getting ahead of yourself: Parafoveal word expectancy modulates the N400 during sentence reading. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 17:475-490
Leckey, Michelle; Federmeier, Kara D (2017) Age-related shifts in hemispheric dominance for syntactic processing. Psychophysiology 54:1929-1939
Dickson, Danielle S; Federmeier, Kara D (2017) The language of arithmetic across the hemispheres: An event-related potential investigation. Brain Res 1662:46-56
Stites, Mallory C; Federmeier, Kara D; Christianson, Kiel (2016) Do Morphemes Matter when Reading Compound Words with Transposed Letters? Evidence from Eye-Tracking and Event-Related Potentials. Lang Cogn Neurosci 31:1299-1319

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