The Word Lab is currently researching the following specific questions:

  1. How do listeners use their recent and long-term experience with words to improve comprehension?

We have recently shown that listeners are highly skilled at using their recent experience with ambiguous word (e.g., BARK) to help them decide which meaning a speaker intends to convey (i.e. tree BARK vs. dog BARK; Rodd et al, 2013). We are currently exploring this phenomenon in more detail both within monolingual participants (Dr Becky Gilbert; Dr Garry Cai; Ms Hannah Betts) and bilingual participants (Ms Eva Poort).

  1. How do adults learn new meanings for words that they already know?

Adult participants are highly skilled at learning new meanings for words that they already know (e.g., the social media meanings of TWEET and POST). We have recently shown that this form of learning is strongly facilitated by our existing knowledge of the word meanings, and we find it surprisingly difficult to lean such meanings when there is no semantic link between the old and new meanings (Rodd et al., 2012). We are currently exploring this form of word leaning using naturalistic story materials, with particular focus on the role of sleep in consolidating these new meanings (Ms Rachael Hulme).

  1. What is the role of frontal brain regions in sentence comprehension?

We have previously shown using fMRI that the left inferior frontal gyrus shows consistently elevated activation for sentences containing ambiguous words (Vitello et al., 2014; Rodd et al., 2015). Together with Dr Joe Devlin we are currently using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to explore the extent to which this region is necessary  for comprehension of ambiguous words.