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Joost Rommers defends PhD on November 25

When listeners anticipate that a word like "apple" will be mentioned next, what aspects of the apple do they predict? Joost Rommers, PhD in MPI's Psychology of Language Department, concluded that predictions can be specific and include visual aspects such as the roundness of the apple. Rommers defended his thesis 'Seeing what's next: Processing and anticipating language referring to objects' on November 25 at 13:00, in the Radboud University Aula. He graduated cum laude.
Joost Rommers defends PhD on November 25

November 22, 2013

Joost Rommers studied interactions between language and other cognitive functions as listeners and readers processed and anticipated language referring to objects. In one of his experiments, he noticed a rapid linking process between language and vision: as participants listened to sentences, their eye movements showed that they began mapping words onto objects at a visual level before they had even heard these words. In some sense, Rommers observed that predictive sentence contexts allow listeners to "see" what is coming next.

In another set of experiments, he showed that visual representations do not influence language processing performance equally in all tasks. The context is crucial for the activation of visual information.

Links between language, vision and attention

Rommers also looked at the underlying mechanisms and found that predictive language processing is supported in part by mechanisms that are not unique to language processing. "For instance, participants who predict strongly in sentence contexts also tend to rely strongly on predictive cues in a nonverbal task", Rommers notes. His findings do not confirm strong forms of theories that propose predictions during comprehension to be generated by covert language production, because the brain activity underlying reading predictable sentences is distinct from that of completing sentences out loud. "Prediction is likely to rely on multiple mechanisms", he concludes. "My thesis underscored context-dependent links between language, vision and attention."

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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.



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