Monday, October 15, 2018

Ph.D. training opportunities at BCBL, San Sebastian, Spain

Dear colleagues,

The Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities has published the call for PhD Students 2018. The application period is from 09/10/18 to 29/10/18 at 15:00h.

The call offers up to 4 PhD Student positions to join the BCBL within the Severo Ochoa accreditation (SEV-2015-0490). 

The PhD students will join RESEARCH LINE “Language, reading and developmental disorders” and will work under the supervision of Prof. Carreiras, Dr. Lallier and Dr. Molinaro respectively and RESEARCH LINE "Neurodegeneration, brain damage and in healthy aging: Language and Cognition(Language and Memory Control)" under the supervision of Dr. Paz-Alonso
For more information:

Please, should you be interested in the position, do not hesitate to contact Ana Fernández (, Project Manager of the BCBL. She will be very pleased to support you in the submission process.

Dear colleagues,

The Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities has published the call for PhD Students 2018. The application period is from 9/10/18 to 29/10/18 at 15:00h.

The call offers up to 1 PhD Student position (4-year contract ) to join the following Research Funded Project:

PSI2017-82941-P- REFO – Phonemic retuning induced by reading acquisition – PI Dr. Clara Martin
Key words: Reading acquisition, Phonemic retuning, Phoneme-grapheme conversion, Dyslexia, Word perception and production 
Summary of the project: 
Learning to read changes the way one perceives spoken words and boosts performance in phonemic tasks. In fact, in expert readers, spoken words with inconsistent phonemes (i.e., phonemes that have many spellings) are recognized slower and less accurately than those with consistent phonemes (i.e., that have only one possible spelling; “orthographic consistency effect”). Plus, reading acquisition induces a boost in phonemic awareness (i.e., ability to distinguish and manipulate the minimal sounds of speech). Here, we make the claim that those consequences of reading acquisition (RA) can be explained by a unique and common phenomenon, which is the recalibration of phonemic representations (PRs) by literacy acquisition. More specifically, we claim that (1) PRs (in perception and production) become more stable (less dispersed) when learning to read, accounting for the phonemic awareness boost during RA. We also argue that (2) this recalibration varies with the consistency of the reading system (i.e., (in)consistency of phoneme-to-grapheme conversions), which would in turn explain the “orthographic consistency effect”. We will explore such recalibration by means of the first longitudinal cross-linguistic study examining the position and dispersion of PRs, together with processing speed (both in perception and production of phonemes and words). We will compare Spanish and French children on target phonemes that are shared by the two languages but that do not systematically follow the same phoneme-to-grapheme conversion rules (e.g., the phoneme /b/, consistent in French -always spelled ‘b’- and inconsistent in Spanish -spelled ‘b’ or ‘v’-). Children will be tested in a longitudinal design before and after RA in order to explore the developmental pattern of phonemic recalibration during literacy acquisition. By comparing dyslexic children with their matched controls, we will also test the hypothesis that (3) stabilization of PRs during RA is impaired in dyslexic patients. Such result would account for the (previously reported) lack of phonemic awareness boost and “consistency effects” in this population. This proposal provides the first systematic investigation of phonemic recalibration during literacy acquisition, which is highly relevant for the fields of language development and impaired reading acquisition, enabling better detection of risks of dyslexia and the creation of remediation tools. 

Individuals interested in the PhD position should have:
  •  Strong theoretical and methodological background in cognitive neuroscience or experimental psychology with a special focus on psycholinguistics and/or neighboring cognitive neuroscience areas.
  •  Good level of written and spoken English.
Research experience in the domain of speech perception and production, especially with acoustics/phonetics analysis techniques, will be an asset. Possession of a Master degree in the area of psycholinguistics or cognitive sciences (or any other related area) is highly recommended and will be positively valued. Speaking Spanish and/or French would also be a plus to facilitate preparation of stimulus materials and running experiments with Spanish and French native participants.

For more information:
Please, should you be interested in the position, do not hesitate to contact Ana Fernández (, Project Manager of the BCBL. She will be very pleased to support you in the submission process.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

ECoG Post-doc opportunities with Nitin Tandon, Stan Dehaene, Nathan Crone, Xaq Pitkow & me


Postdoctoral research positions are available in the lab of Nitin Tandon at Houston. This position is funded by a BRAIN Initiative U01 grant funded project that uses electro-corticographic (ECoG) recordings and fMRI on a large cohort (n=80) to evaluate psycholinguistic models of reading and speech production to create network level representation of language. Collaborators on the project include Greg Hickok, Stanislas Dehaene, Nathan Crone and Xaq Pitkow; the post-doc will benefit from a close interaction with these experts in the fields of reading, semantics, speech production and computational neuroscience.
The selected individuals are expected to be a highly motivated, team players with a passion to study cognitive processes using imaging, direct recordings and closed-loop cortical stimulation in humans. They will be responsible for
1)    data collection in the epilepsy monitoring unit and in the MRI scanner
2)    ECoG data analysis using an analysis pipelines existent in the lab and via the development of innovative analytic strategies including machine learning and AI approaches
3)    data presentation at conferences and manuscript preparation.
The selected individual must have a Ph.D. in one or more of the following: neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, mathematics, electrical engineering or computer science. Previous experience in neural time series data analysis, functional imaging studies of language, or studies of speech production are desirable – but not crucial. They must possess the ability to independently code in any or all of the following: MATLAB, R or python.

Given the multiple unpredictable variables and privacy issues around data collection in human patients, the individual must possess high ethical and professionalism standards, be able to adapt to a changing environment, reorganize schedules dynamically, and work with short deadlines. A strong publication record and excellent academic credentials are highly desirable.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The neural basis of word deafness: a frequency analysis

There are two competing theories regarding the neural basis of word deafness.  Empirically we know that it can occur following unilateral left or bilateral lesions in and around auditory cortex (STG).  

The unilateral theory says that the relevant speech perception network is left dominant.  Unilateral lesions cause word deafness by simultaneously disconnecting acoustic input from ascending auditory pathway AND by disconnecting callosal fibers from the intact right hemisphere.  Bilateral lesions do the same but clip the right hemisphere inputs at their source. 

The bilateral theory says that the relevant speech perception network is bilateral.  Bilateral lesions disrupt the speech perception network, therefore causing word deafness.  Unilateral cases are anomalies, perhaps reflecting atypically strong left dominant language organization.  

Here's an argument in favor of the bilateral account based on probability distributions.  Note that there are several simplifying assumptions here, but I believe these bias things in favor of the unilateral theory.

According to the CDC (as of September 6, 2017), 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year, 610,000 of which are first time strokes.  From these numbers, and assuming a 50/50 chance of having a left or right hemisphere stroke, we can estimate the following in a given year:

·      Number of people with first-time left hemisphere strokes: 610,000 * .5 = 305,000
·      Number of people who have a second (or 3rd or 4th…) stroke: 795,000 – 610,000 = 185,000
·      Number of people whose second stroke is in the opposite hemisphere from their first stroke: 185,000 * .5 = 92,500
·      Number of people with either a left hemisphere stroke or a bilateral stroke: 305,000 + 92,500 = 397,500

Now, with the three bolded numbers, we can calculate expected proportion of a single left hemisphere stroke compared with a bilateral stroke in this sample of 397,500 with one or the other:

·      Proportion of single left hemisphere strokes: 305,000/397,500 = .767
·      Proportion of bilateral strokes: 92,500/397,500 = .233

With these proportions we can estimate the expected frequency of word deaf cases with unilateral versus bilateral strokes, assuming an equal frequency of occurrence for either etiology for a given sample size.  Here we use a sample of 59 cases with confirmed lesions, as discussed by Poeppel (2001).  The expected frequencies are 45.3 (59 * .767) cases with unilateral left hemisphere lesions and 13.73 (59 * .233) cases with bilateral lesions. The actual frequencies are 17 cases with left hemisphere lesions and 42 cases with bilateral lesions. We can then plug these numbers into a binomial probability calculation--assuming a biased coin flip with the bias equal to .767 in favor of unilateral--to determine the probability of getting such an actual outcome. When we do this, we find that the observed outcome is extremely unlikely and would be expected to occur by chance only 1 time in 1 million samples (p = 0.000001). 

This seems like pretty strong evidence in favor of the bilateral theory.