Brain & Language Lab

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The Brain & Language Lab headed by Prof. Nira Mashal of the School of Education is using brain stimulation, behavioral measurements, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and ERPs and to study language processing both in the healthy brain and in special populations such as schizophrenics and autism. The governing purposes of Prof. Mashal research are studying language processing and in particular figurative language processing in the neurotypical brain as well as in the atypical brain. The aim of her studies is to develop intervention programs for improving individuals’ language comprehension, language production, cognitive functioning, executive functioning and verbal creativity.

Prof. Mashal's research involves investigating the ways to improve pragmatics, in typical and special individuals, including those on the autistic spectrum (ASD), those with schizophrenia, those with dyslexia, those with ADHD and those with intellectual disabilities. These special groups evince difficulties with pragmatics that may lead to communication difficulties and inefficient ways of dealing with social situations in which pragmatic understanding is required. The broad field of her research includes investigating the cognitive mechanisms that allow the proper processing of figurative language, using a wide variety of methods and techniques, including behavioral studies, brain stimulation (tDCS), ERP, and fMRI.

Intervention Programs for individuals with Autistic and Learning Disabilities: Pragmatic aspects of language are important modes of human communication. In everyday communication some verbal messages convey meanings that go beyond the straightforward word-by-word analysis of the message (i.e., the literal meaning).

A deficit in the processing of non-literal language (e.g., humor, sarcasm, irony, metaphors, idioms) may enhance the social isolation experienced by many individuals on the autism spectrum and may affect the academic achievements of children with learning disabilities.

A central focus of Mashal’s work is to develop an intervention program for improving the communication deficits associated with non-literal language comprehension in children with autism, ADHD and learning disabilities. Recently, Prof. Mashal combines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tools to investigate the efficiency of psychotherapy programs on social skills, pragmatics and emotion regulation in individuals with ASD and schizophrenia.

Creativity: My lab also focuses on verbal creativity throughout life span. . Creativity is the production of something that is novel, different, and innovative, yet at the same time useful, relevant, and appropriate to the task at hand. The spontaneous flow of ideas and images has been considered an important characteristic of a creative mind. The time course of creative thinking involves a dynamic interaction between different networks: default mode network (DMN) and frontalparietal control network (FPN). The spontaneous idea generation is associated with the DMN, that has been linked with internally-directed attention whereas the top-down control of spontaneous thought tends to recruit the FPN.

We investigate the ways to enhance verbal creativity in neurotypicals as well as in the atypical brains using behavioral and brain stimulation techniques. We also study the link between individual differences (personality traits, motivation and curiosity) and verbal creativity.

Aphasia: Aphasia is a language impairment characterized by decreased ability to comprehend and formulate language due to acquired damage of the central nervous system. One of the most common linguistic deficits in aphasia, regardless of the clinical type or anatomical lesion, is dramatically lower ability to name pictures or objects (“Anomia”). Mashal’s team uses transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to study the effects of brain stimulation on the naming abilities of patients with chronic aphasia.

Attention and ADHD: Attention accelerates the processing of attended information. Selective attention improves the recognition of high-priority stimuli as opposed to less relevant stimuli. In recent years, some scholars suggested that different stages of creative thinking might be relying on different attentional processes. Prof. Mashal's lab investigate the relationship between verbal creativity and selective attention.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder of childhood onset that persists into adulthood in approximately half of the cases. Prof. Mashal studied the hemispheric processing of metaphors in adults with ADHD compared to controls. The hemispheric processing was examined using a divided visual field paradigm with different kinds of metaphors as well as literal word pairs. The results showed that whereas control participants processed metaphors more efficiently in the RH than the LH, participants with ADHD demonstrated attenuated asymmetry of hemispheric processing.

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