DeLTA Center Interdisciplinary Research Grants Awarded

Apr 07, 2021

The DeLTA Center has selected four grants for funding through the DeLTA Center Interdisciplinary Research Grant program.

Congratulations to Jina Kim, Sara Maurer, John Muegge and Morgan Parr on being awarded this funding!

Proposal title: Language Inhibitory processing of Auditory Sentences.

Project Coordinator: Jina Kim

Abstract: To comprehend spoken sentences efficiently, listeners predict upcoming words depending on the sentence context. However, listeners’ predictions are not always correct. For example, in a sentence like, On sunny days, Jake visits the park to walk his monkey, the word monkey is a plausible completion, but it is highly unexpected. It has been proposed that in order to integrate the unexpected word and comprehend the sentence, listeners must inhibit the predicted and highly active word “dog” (e.g., DeLong & Kutas, 2020). However, this assertion is largely speculative. The major aim of this research is to present empirical evidence that listeners dampen activation for a predicted word when their prediction is violated. We use a modified version of a cross-modal lexical decision task (LDT). Participants will hear auditory sentences and make binary (word, nonword) decisions on a visually presented stimuli before and after an unexpected word. We will compare LDT reaction times (RTs) for predicted words (e.g., dog) and unrelated words (e.g., table). We hypothesize that predicted LDT RTs will be faster than unrelated RTs before the unexpected words, whereas after the unexpected word, RTs for predicted and unrelated words will be the same, or perhaps unrelated RTs will be faster.

Proposal Title: Female accelerated neuronal development after prenatal stress: a role for IL-6

Project Coordinator: Sara Maurer

Abstract: Depression is a disorder that impacts females more than males. Clinical evidence suggests that prenatal stress is a contributing actor to the sex disparity in depression. Previous data in our lab’s mouse model of prenatal stress indicates that female but not male neuronal development in utero is accelerated compared to controls. This accelerated neurodevelopment may contribute to female susceptibility to depression. This proposal seeks to address this broad hypothesis by looking further at developmental gene expression in the brain. First, we will determine the sufficiency and necessity of interleukin-6, a cytokine previously shown to be of critical importance in prenatal stress, to induce advanced neurodevelopment in females. Expression of genes previously observed to be increased in female fetal brains after prenatal stress will be quantified in the brains of female fetuses exposed to interleukin-6, or with interleukin-6 blockade during stress. Second, we will determine if female accelerated neurodevelopment persists over time. We will examine gene expression in female brain at two later time points. These findings will be critical to understanding the underpinnings of depression susceptibility; by understanding the molecular correlates and the developmental time course of prenatal stress’ effects on females, further therapies for sex-specific disorders can be achieved.

Proposal Title: Examining the Role of Proficiency and Cognitive Control in Second Language Processing

Project Coordinator: John Muegge

Abstract: Much of the research done on second language processing has used fluent bilinguals, who learned their languages early in life. With second language (L2) learning on the rise across the globe, the majority of which happens in schools, it is more important than ever to understand how language processing differs for L2 learners. In this proposed study, we plan to build upon previous research examining how L2 learners develop their new lexicon, as well as how they integrate new and native lexica. We plan to use eye tracking and the visual world paradigm to measure the on-line processing of speech perception. Additionally, we plan to use a measure of inhibitory control to better understand the role of cognitive control in the management of those lexica. Developing a broader picture of L2 learning could be particularly informative for classroom practices, but may also provide insight into the basic processes of language.

Proposal Title: The Role of Executive Functioning Skills in Predicting Individual Differences in Children’s Performance in Simple and Complex Motor Timing Tasks

Project Coordinator: Morgan Parr

Abstract: Motor timing skills involve performing an action at precisely the right time and place in order to achieve a specific goal. Previous research has shown that children with ADHD are at particular risk for poor motor timing skills (Toplak, Dockstader, & Tannock, 2006). Executive functioning plays a key role in motor timing, and deficits in executive functions are common in children with ADHD (Barkley & Fischer, 2019). However, little is known about how individual differences in children’s executive functioning skills are related to individual differences in their motor timing. The goal of the current investigation is to better understand the mechanisms underlying motor timing deficits commonly seen in children with ADHD symptoms. Specifically, we will examine whether behavioral measures of processing speed, working memory, inhibitory control, and sustained attention are uniquely and jointly related to performance on simple and complex timing tasks, and whether parent-reported measures of inattention and EF add significantly to behavioral measures of EF in predicting individual variation in children’s performance on motor timing tasks. This project will inform our understanding the mechanisms that underlie motor timing skills, and how these skills develop along typical and atypical trajectories.