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Learning, Memory & Adaptation


Alastair Smith (Post-doctoral Researcher)

Laurel Brehm (Post-doctoral Researcher)

Sara Iacozza (PhD student)

Nina Mainz (PhD student)

Limor Raviv (PhD student)

Merel Wolf (PhD student)

Eirini Zormpa (PhD student)



As language users we must minimally learn, store and retrieve word forms and the concepts they represent. Within our group we assume that the core mechanisms and architecture for learning, storage and retrieval of language are universal across language users, but different constraints on when or how we use or experience language leads to differences in learning, storage and the structure of language itself, i.e. how language evolves (or adapts). With our research we aim to understand the relationship between such constraints and the effects they generate.



At the heart of our research are the following questions:

What are the core cognitive mechanisms and architecture that support language learning, storage and retrieval?

How do such mechanisms interact with communicative constraints to shape linguistic structure?

How and why do common properties of language use (e.g. speaking vs listening; listening vs reading) differ in their effects on learning and memory?

Can we use such knowledge to accelerate learning and/or improve memory?

What drives variation in language knowledge and are there distinct consequences of greater language knowledge?



What are the causes and consequences of variation in vocabulary size?

Nina Mainz, Alastair Smith & Antje Meyer

Individuals vary in the number of words they know and research shows the number of words people know is a good predictor of general language performance. With this project, we try to identify what factors cause such variation in vocabulary size and further whether there are distinct consequences of simply knowing more words? To explore such questions we combine individual difference measures and a novel word learning study to test whether knowing more words predicts future word learning. This is complemented by a computational modelling investigation that aims to isolate consequence from cause.

When and why does modality affect word learning?

Merel Wolf, Alastair Smith, Antje Meyer & Caroline Rowland

We learn new words either through hearing them or reading them, in this project we ask whether the modality (spoken vs written) in which a word is experienced has differential effects on learning and memory. Current research suggests modality of exposure affects learning yet a coherent picture of when and why differences exist is yet to be established. Using artificial word learning experiments we try to isolate the factors that may generate differential effects of modality at different levels of the word learning process and how these may change over the course of reading acquisition.

Why do we learn more from our ‘in-group’?

Sara Iacozza, Shiri Lev-Ari (Royal Holloway, University of London, U.K.), & Antje Meyer

Social characteristics of the speaker have been shown to alter the perception of what is said, as well as predictions about what is going to be said. Further, we know that arbitrary in-group vs out-group identification affects recall of information acquired from different groups. With this project using artificial word learning studies we aim to identify which aspects of the word learning process are affected by arbitrary in-group vs out-group identification, e.g. do we pay more attention to what our ‘in-group’ members do and say, and/or attribute greater importance to the encoding of ‘in-group’ acquired information.

How does social structure affect the formation of linguistic structure?

Limor Raviv, Shiri Lev-Ari (Royal Holloway, University of London, U.K.), & Antje Meyer

In this study we examine how social structure can affect the evolving structure of language. The goal of this project is to explore how different aspects of societies (e.g., group size, network structure, identity of the learners, etc.) shape and affect the emergence of linguistic structure in an artificial language game, simulating the process of cultural transmission and communication over time. We examine whether different grammatical structures emerge in different communities, and more specifically, whether limitations of the learning system interact with social factors such as group size to generate systematic variation in emergent linguistic structure.

Memory as a consequence of language

Laurel Brehm, Eirini Zormpa & Antje Meyer

In this project, we focus on how the processes entailed in producing and comprehending words—such as lexical access, articulation, and conceptual encoding—affect recognition memory. We examine the relationship between known memory phenomena (such as the generation effect, production effect, picture superiority effect, and source-monitoring) and language to see what common mechanisms are shared in language and memory.

Illusory coordination in language

Laurel Brehm, Eirini Zormpa & Antje Meyer

Within this project we use the mistakes people make for language to show how items are represented in the mind. Mis-remembering “pick up” after seeing “pick” and “up” shows that the two words are encoded separately, informing the mental representation of sentence structure.  Mis-remembering seeing a picture of one dog after seeing another shows that we generalize from one token to the broader concept.

How linguistic structure shapes orthographic transparency and orthographic transparency shapes how we read

Alastair Smith, Padraic Monaghan (Lancaster University, U.K.) & Falk Huettig

Within this study we perform the first quantitative investigation of whether phonological structure determines orthographic transparency in an analysis that includes over 350 languages. This, analysis is then combined with computational modelling to explore the impact of variation in orthographic transparency on the emerging reading system. Using a simple triangle model of reading we examine how processing and representations are shaped by differences in orthographic transparency across the world’s writing systems.



Classical behavioural experiments e.g. picture naming, picture word interference, picture matching, recognition memory tests, lexical decision, semantic and/or phonological priming

Eye tracking

Individual difference studies

Artificial and novel word learning experiments

Statistical & Computational modelling



Last checked 2018-10-23 by Alastair Smith
Psychology of Language

Street address

Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:  +31-24-3521336
Fax:      +31-24-3521213


Director: Antje Meyer