During my PhD, I studied the neurobiology of syntactic processing. The participants learned different artificial grammars that mimic important aspects of the structure of natural languages. I used stimulation (transcranial magnetic stimulation, TMS) to investigate a potential causal relation between brain activity and syntactic processing. Key publications:
• Uddén, J., Folia, V., Forkstam, C., Ingvar, M., Fernández, G., Overeem, S., Van Elswijk, G., Hagoort, P., & Petersson, K. M. (2008). The inferior frontal cortex in artificial syntax processing: An rTMS study. Brain Research, 1224, 69-78.
• Udden, J., & Bahlmann, J. (2012). A rostro-caudal gradient of structured sequence processing in the left inferior frontal gyrus. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 367, 2023-2032.
I co-designed and co-coordinated one of the largest scale collaborative projects so far, in the field of Neurobiology of Language (called ‘the Mother of all Unification Studies’ or MOUS, 2012 - present). We have created an unusually large database with 204 participants, scanned with all the state of the art genetic techniques and neuroimaging techniques including FMRI, DTI and MEG. This project studies combinatorial processes that combine words into well-formed sentences by analysing brain activity when participants read and listen to sentences. We are also interested in whether individual structural connectivity explains functional brain data. Our large sample size has allowed us to conduct replication studies on original findings in brain imaging genetics on language. Publications so far:
• Lam, N., Schoffelen, J.-M., Udden, J., Hulten, A., & Hagoort, P. (2016). Neural activity during sentence processing as reflected in theta, alpha, beta and gamma oscillations. NeuroImage. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.03.007.
• Udden, J., Snijders, T. M., Fisher, S. E., & Hagoort, P. (2016). A common variant of the CNTNAP2 gene is associated with structural variation in the left superior occipital gyrus. Brain and Language. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2016.02.003.
While I will continue to work on sentence processing and individual differences in the language network in the brain in the last phase of the MOUS project, I am planning to continue in another direction from July 2017. I have been admitted to the 5-year Pro Futura Scientia programme, where I will study how the adolescent brain develops to support pragmatics. The central role of pragmatics for understanding what language is, how it evolves and develops, has lately been increasingly recognized within linguistics. There are however only a handful of studies yet, studying pragmatics using neuroimaging. There is even less work, if any, on the neural development of pragmatic skills. I think that the understanding of evolution of communication and society will be enhanced by a parallel understanding of the development of the human brain. I will continue my research at the newly established Stockholm University Brain Imaging center, at the Linguistics and Psychology Departments at Stockholm University.