At the Neurobiology of Language Department, our research covers various themes. To find out more about these overarching themes and associated projects, click on the relevant sections below. Here you will also find contact information for the teams of researchers, postdocs, and PhD students.

Beyond words

Language processing is about more than just producing and understanding single words. A hallmark of the human capacity for language is that we can combine words in endless new ways. This is what has been referred to as Unification in the overall Memory, Unification and Control (MUC) framework, which guides part of our research programme.

Crucial questions here are:

  • How are different sources of linguistic and extra-linguistic information, which are retrieved from memory or provided by sensory input, combined to generate an interpretation (comprehension) or message (production) beyond the single word level?
  • Which neural networks are recruited for these unification operations?
  • To what extent are these shared between production and comprehension, and what is the nature of their dynamic interplay with memory components, such as the mental lexicon or episodic memory of the prior discourse?

An important large scale, open data project in this theme is the MOUS (Mother Of all Unification Studies) project.

Research team

Sophie Arana (PhD)
Kristijan Armeni (PhD)
Cas Coopmans (PhD)
Laura Giglio (PhD)
Peter Hagoort (Director)
Valeria Mongelli (PhD)
Fenna Poletiek (Guest researcher)
Joost Rommers (Postdoctoral researcher)
Jan-Mathijs Schoffelen (Senior researcher)
Rene Terporten (PhD)
Kirsten Weber (Postdoctoral researcher)



Neurolinguistic decoding during sentence processing

Modelling brain dynamics for naturalistic language comprehension with neural networks

The cognitive neuroscience of syntactic structure building

The neurobiology of sentence production

The influence of awareness on language combinatorial processes

Artificial grammar learning

Mechanisms and consequences of predictive language processing

Language processing under cognitive control

Language learning and beyond

Neurocomputational models of language

Computational modelling has attempted to reverse-engineer the language system from experimental data (e.g., behavioural, neuroimaging, etc.). In this research group, we take a novel approach to language modelling.

Instead of fitting cognitive models to data, we model key characteristics of the neurobiological system that generates the data: the human brain.

Through large-scale network simulations, we investigate which neurophysiological features are crucial for supporting linguistic computations and memory. This causal-modelling approach aims to explain the core aspects of the human capacity for language from neurobiological principles.

Research team

Dick van den Broek (RA)
Renato Duarte (Guest researcher)
Hartmut Fitz (Postdoctoral researcher)
Peter Hagoort (Director)
Karl Magnus Petersson (Senior Investigator)
Marvin Uhlmann (PhD)
Alessio Quaresima (PhD)



Language modelling from neurobiological principles

Spiking neural network models for Mental Lexicon
Neural architecture

Ultimately, the human capacity for language is dependent on basic features of brain anatomy and physiology. As part of this overarching theme, we study the interaction of neuro-pharmacological agents with basic language processes, the laminar organisation of the neocortex as a nexus for the bottom-up and top-down processing of language-relevant information, and intrinsic brain oscillations as a mechanism for sampling and segmenting speech and language input and for determining dynamic network configurations. In addition, subcortical and cerebellar structure contributions are also a focus of our research.

Research team

Bohan Dai (PhD)
Ashley Lewis (Postdoctoral researcher)
Xin Liu (Postdoctoral researcher)
Branka Milivojevic (Postdoctoral researcher)
David Norris (External member MPG)
Markus Ostarek (Postdoctoral researcher)
Basil Preisig (Guest researcher)
Daniel Sharoh (PhD)
Yingying Tan (Postdoctoral researcher)



Speech processing in noisy environments

Shifting from bottom-up to top-down during sentence reading: Indices from neural oscillations

Variability in language processing and in language learning

Mapping the story space: narratives as context for episodic memories

The role of perceptual processes in language comprehension

The neural bases of inter-hemispheric speech sound integration

The interaction of neuro-pharmacological agents with basic language processes

The enlanguaged brain

Language interacts with and influences other cognitive functions, such as perception, action, memory, and emotions. Within this theme, we investigate the consequences of language for other central aspects of the human mind.

Research team

Monique Flecken (Senior Investigator)
Micha Heilbron (PhD)
Guillermo Montero-Melis (Postdoctoral researcher)
Julia Misersky (PhD)
Ksenija Slivac (PhD)



Cross-linguistic investigations of event representation

How does context guide understanding?

Is the neural coding of concepts affected by the language we speak?

From "language and thought" to experience and attention: on the role of aspect marking in event cognition

Language-perception interaction

Beyond Language

The Beyond Language theme is grounded in the idea that language is not just a bunch of sentences waiting to be coded or decoded. Language helps us coordinate with others to get things done or share experiences, it supports the development and maintenance of social relationships and culture, and it helps us to think about and refer to the external and internal world. In this theme, we examine the neural and cognitive architecture of the language system when embedded in richer social, physical, or discourse contexts than those typically studied in the cognitive neuroscience lab. Studies on the interaction between language and gesture, on pragmatic inferencing, in rich Virtual Reality environments approaching the complexity of the real world, are examples of research within this theme.

Research team

Eleanor Callaghan (Postdoctoral researcher)
Karin Heidlmayr (Postdoctoral researcher)
Mante Nieuwland (Senior Investigator)
David Peeters (Guest researcher)
Rowan Sommers (PhD)



Processing meaning in discourse

Reference and pragmatic meaning

Language and Communication in Virtual Reality



More information about our department’s and director’s research results and activities can be found on the News page and on, our own departmental website (available in Dutch and English).

Share this page