A new Perception and Learning Laboratory geared to exploring just how the human brain handles language will put Lancaster University alongside leaders in the field.
The Electroencephalography (EEG) laboratory, funded by the University and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and housed in the Linguistics Department, was officially opened today by Professor Sigrun Skogly, the Vice-Dean of the University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
EEG, and its resulting Event-Related Potential (ERP), records peaks in electrical brain activity time-locked to a specific event. As a result, it provides an extremely sensitive, and extremely accurate, measure of online processing of language in the human brain.
The equipment enables research into the neural basis of language and, because it is non-invasive and requires no conscious response from participants, it enables ground-breaking progress in the testing/application of linguistic theory to a wider demographic range.
This may include, for example, babies, bilinguals operating in one language while unconsciously accessing the other, and children and adults with language disorders and other sensory impairments where behavioral testing alone may often mask underlying cognitive processing.
World-renowned linguist Professor Panos Athanasopoulos, of Lancaster University, said the new Lancaster laboratory presented an array of advantages.
“It will allow Lancaster University to be a major player in the cognitive neuroscience of language, attracting top class researchers,” he said. “One of our post-doctoral researchers from Switzerland was successful in attracting £90k of funding from the Swiss Science Foundation to conduct her research in the new lab.
“Research using these new facilities is inter-disciplinary and can reach audiences beyond the boundaries of linguistics and be published in general interest discovery journals with very high impact factors. This then makes language-related research at Lancaster more visible in both academia and society.
“The new lab is already attracting very high level PhD applications, the majority of which are externally funded.”
Managing the new laboratory is Dr Aina Casaponsa, a Lecturer in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. She will oversee the operation and facilitation of EEG/ERP research by staff and students.
Dr Casaponsa commented: “As a person brought-up in a bilingual society I have always been fascinated by the ability of the brain to understand, communicate and represent the world around us in different languages, without apparently much effort.
“The new laboratory will bring research in linguistics and cognitive neuroscience together, and will allow us to further investigate the links between cognition and language.”
Dr Casaponsa is part of a cohort of early career academics from a wide variety of disciplines that constitutes the 50th Anniversary Lectureship scheme of Lancaster’s 2020 Strategy.