Nijmegen, Netherlands

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics a research institute situated on the campus of Radboud University Nijmegen located in Nijmegen, Gelderland, the Netherlands. Founded in 1980, it is the only institution in the world entirely dedicated to psycholinguistics, and is also one of only three among a total of 90 within the Max Planck Society to be located outside Germany. The Nijmegen-based institute currently occupies 5th position in the Ranking Web of World Research Centers among all Max Planck institutes . It currently employs about 135 people. Wikipedia.

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Devanna P.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Molecular Psychiatry | Year: 2017

Understanding the genetic factors underlying neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders is a major challenge given their prevalence and potential severity for quality of life. While large-scale genomic screens have made major advances in this area, for many disorders the genetic underpinnings are complex and poorly understood. To date the field has focused predominantly on protein coding variation, but given the importance of tightly controlled gene expression for normal brain development and disorder, variation that affects non-coding regulatory regions of the genome is likely to play an important role in these phenotypes. Herein we show the importance of 3 prime untranslated region (3'UTR) non-coding regulatory variants across neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. We devised a pipeline for identifying and functionally validating putatively pathogenic variants from next generation sequencing (NGS) data. We applied this pipeline to a cohort of children with severe specific language impairment (SLI) and identified a functional, SLI-associated variant affecting gene regulation in cells and post-mortem human brain. This variant and the affected gene (ARHGEF39) represent new putative risk factors for SLI. Furthermore, we identified 3′UTR regulatory variants across autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder NGS cohorts demonstrating their impact on neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. Our findings show the importance of investigating non-coding regulatory variants when determining risk factors contributing to neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. In the future, integration of such regulatory variation with protein coding changes will be essential for uncovering the genetic causes of complex neurological disorders and the fundamental mechanisms underlying health and disease.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 14 March 2017; doi:10.1038/mp.2017.30. © 2017 The Author(s)

News Article | May 25, 2017

Reading is such a new ability in human evolutionary history that the existence of a 'reading area' could not be specified in our genes. A kind of recycling process has to take place in the brain while learning to read: Areas evolved for the recognition of complex objects, such as faces, become engaged in translating letters into language. Some regions of our visual system thereby turn into interfaces between the visual and language systems. "Until now it was assumed that these changes are limited to the outer layer of the brain, the cortex, which is known to adapt quickly to new challenges," says project leader Falk Huettig from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. The Max Planck researchers together with Indian scientists from the Centre of Bio-Medical Research (CBMR) Lucknow and the University of Hyderabad have now discovered what changes occur in the adult brain when completely illiterate people learn to read and write. In contrast to previous assumptions, the learning process leads to a reorganisation that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem. The relatively young phenomenon of human writing therefore changes brain regions that are very old in evolutionary terms and already core parts of mice and other mammalian brains. "We observed that the so-called colliculi superiores, a part of the brainstem, and the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex," says Michael Skeide, scientific researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and first author of the study, which has just been published in the magazine Science Advances. "These deep structures in the thalamus and brainstem help our visual cortex to filter important information from the flood of visual input even before we consciously perceive it." Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities. "We, therefore, believe that these brain systems increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading," the neuroscientist explains further. "This could explain why experienced readers navigate more efficiently through a text." The interdisciplinary research team obtained these findings in India, a country with an illiteracy rate of about 39 percent. Poverty still limits access to education in some parts of India especially for women. Therefore, in this study nearly all participants were women in their thirties. At the beginning of the training, the majority of them could not decipher a single written word of their mother tongue Hindi. Hindi, one of the official languages of India, is based on Devanagari, a scripture with complex characters describing whole syllables or words rather than single letters. Participants reached a level comparable to a first-grader after only six months of reading training. "This growth of knowledge is remarkable," says project leader Huettig. "While it is quite difficult for us to learn a new language, it appears to be much easier for us to learn to read. The adult brain proves to be astonishingly flexible." In principle, this study could also have taken place in Europe. Yet illiteracy is regarded as such a taboo in the West that it would have been immensely difficult to find volunteers to take part. Nevertheless, even in India where the ability to read and write is strongly connected to social class, the project was a tremendous challenge. The scientists recruited volunteers from the same social class in two villages in Northern India to make sure that social factors could not influence the findings. Brain scans were performed in the city of Lucknow, a three hours taxi ride away from participants' homes. The impressive learning achievements of the volunteers do not only provide hope for adult illiterates, they also shed new light on the possible cause of reading disorders such as dyslexia. One possible cause for the basic deficits observed in people with dyslexia has previously been attributed to dysfunctions of the thalamus. "Since we found out that only a few months of reading training can modify the thalamus fundamentally, we have to scrutinise this hypothesis," neuroscientist Skeide explains. It could also be that affected people show different brain activity in the thalamus just because their visual system is less well trained than that of experienced readers. This means that these abnormalities can only be considered an innate cause of dyslexia if they show up prior to schooling. "That's why only studies that assess children before they start to learn to read and follow them up for several years can bring clarity about the origins of reading disorders," Huettig adds.

Hagoort P.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics | Hagoort P.,Radboud University Nijmegen | Indefrey P.,Radboud University Nijmegen | Indefrey P.,Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf
Annual Review of Neuroscience | Year: 2014

A hallmark of human language is that we combine lexical building blocks retrieved from memory in endless new ways. This combinatorial aspect of language is referred to as unification. Here we focus on the neurobiological infrastructure for syntactic and semantic unification. Unification is characterized by a high-speed temporal profile including both prediction and integration of retrieved lexical elements. A meta-analysis of numerous neuroimaging studies reveals a clear dorsal/ventral gradient in both left inferior frontal cortex and left posterior temporal cortex, with dorsal foci for syntactic processing and ventral foci for semantic processing. In addition to core areas for unification, further networks need to be recruited to realize language-driven communication to its full extent. One example is the theory of mind network, which allows listeners and readers to infer the intended message (speaker meaning) from the coded meaning of the linguistic utterance. This indicates that sensorimotor simulation cannot handle all of language processing. © Copyright ©2014 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.

Levinson S.C.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics | Levinson S.C.,Donders Institute for Brain
Trends in Cognitive Sciences | Year: 2016

Most language usage is interactive, involving rapid turn-taking. The turn-taking system has a number of striking properties: turns are short and responses are remarkably rapid, but turns are of varying length and often of very complex construction such that the underlying cognitive processing is highly compressed. Although neglected in cognitive science, the system has deep implications for language processing and acquisition that are only now becoming clear. Appearing earlier in ontogeny than linguistic competence, it is also found across all the major primate clades. This suggests a possible phylogenetic continuity, which may provide key insights into language evolution. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.

Dediu D.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2011

Language is a hallmark of our species and understanding linguistic diversity is an area of major interest. Genetic factors influencing the cultural transmission of language provide a powerful and elegant explanation for aspects of the present day linguistic diversity and a window into the emergence and evolution of language. In particular, it has recently been proposed that linguistic tone-the usage of voice pitch to convey lexical and grammatical meaning-is biased by two genes involved in brain growth and development, ASPM and Microcephalin. This hypothesis predicts that tone is a stable characteristic of language because of its 'genetic anchoring'. The present paper tests this prediction using a Bayesian phylogenetic framework applied to a large set of linguistic features and language families, using multiple software implementations, data codings, stability estimations, linguistic classifications and outgroup choices. The results of these different methods and datasets show a large agreement, suggesting that this approach produces reliable estimates of the stability of linguistic data. Moreover, linguistic tone is found to be stable across methods and datasets, providing suggestive support for the hypothesis of genetic influences on its distribution. © 2010 The Royal Society.

Levinson S.C.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Topics in Cognitive Science | Year: 2012

Classical cognitive science was launched on the premise that the architecture of human cognition is uniform and universal across the species. This premise is biologically impossible and is being actively undermined by, for example, imaging genomics. Anthropology (including archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology) is, in contrast, largely concerned with the diversification of human culture, language, and biology across time and space-it belongs fundamentally to the evolutionary sciences. The new cognitive sciences that will emerge from the interactions with the biological sciences will focus on variation and diversity, opening the door for rapprochement with anthropology. © 2012 Cognitive Science Society, Inc..

Cronin K.A.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Animal Behaviour | Year: 2012

Researchers have struggled to obtain a clear account of the evolution of prosocial behaviour despite a great deal of recent effort. The aim of this review is to take a brief step back from addressing the question of evolutionary origins of prosocial behaviour in order to identify contextual factors that are contributing to variation in the expression of prosocial behaviour and hindering progress towards identifying phylogenetic patterns. Most available data come from the Primate Order, and the choice of contextual factors to consider was informed by theory and practice, including the nature of the relationship between the potential donor and recipient, the communicative behaviour of the recipients, and features of the prosocial task including whether rewards are visible and whether the prosocial choice creates an inequity between actors. Conclusions are drawn about the facilitating or inhibiting impact of each of these factors on the expression of prosocial behaviour, and areas for future research are highlighted. Acknowledging the impact of these contextual features on the expression of prosocial behaviours should stimulate new research into the proximate mechanisms that drive these effects, yield experimental designs that better control for potential influences on prosocial expression, and ultimately allow progress towards reconstructing the evolutionary origins of prosocial behaviour. © 2012 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Konopka A.E.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Journal of Memory and Language | Year: 2012

The scope of linguistic planning, i.e., the amount of linguistic information that speakers prepare in advance for an utterance they are about to produce, is highly variable. Distinguishing between possible sources of this variability provides a way to discriminate between production accounts that assume structurally incremental and lexically incremental sentence planning. Two picture-naming experiments evaluated changes in speakers' planning scope as a function of experience with message structure, sentence structure, and lexical items. On target trials participants produced sentences beginning with two semantically related or unrelated objects in the same complex noun phrase. To manipulate familiarity with sentence structure, target displays were preceded by prime displays that elicited the same or different sentence structures. To manipulate ease of lexical retrieval, target sentences began either with the higher-frequency or lower-frequency member of each semantic pair. The results show that repetition of sentence structure can extend speakers' scope of planning from one to two words in a complex noun phrase, as indexed by the presence of semantic interference in structurally primed sentences beginning with easily retrievable words. Changes in planning scope tied to experience with phrasal structures favor production accounts assuming structural planning in early sentence formulation. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.

Le Guen O.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Cognitive Science | Year: 2011

In previous analyses of the influence of language on cognition, speech has been the main channel examined. In studies conducted among Yucatec Mayas, efforts to determine the preferred frame of reference in use in this community have failed to reach an agreement (Bohnemeyer & Stolz, 2006; Levinson, 2003 vs. Le Guen, 2006, 2009). This paper argues for a multimodal analysis of language that encompasses gesture as well as speech, and shows that the preferred frame of reference in Yucatec Maya is only detectable through the analysis of co-speech gesture and not through speech alone. A series of experiments compares knowledge of the semantics of spatial terms, performance on nonlinguistic tasks and gestures produced by men and women. The results show a striking gender difference in the knowledge of the semantics of spatial terms, but an equal preference for a geocentric frame of reference in nonverbal tasks. In a localization task, participants used a variety of strategies in their speech, but they all exhibited a systematic preference for a geocentric frame of reference in their gestures. © 2011 Cognitive Science Society, Inc..

Hagoort P.,Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Current Opinion in Neurobiology | Year: 2014

Current views on the neurobiological underpinnings of language are discussed that deviate in a number of ways from the classical Wernicke-Lichtheim-Geschwind model. More areas than Broca's and Wernicke's region are involved in language. Moreover, a division along the axis of language production and language comprehension does not seem to be warranted. Instead, for central aspects of language processing neural infrastructure is shared between production and comprehension. Three different accounts of the role of Broca's area in language are discussed. Arguments are presented in favor of a dynamic network view, in which the functionality of a region is co-determined by the network of regions in which it is embedded at particular moments in time. Finally, core regions of language processing need to interact with other networks (e.g. the attentional networks and the ToM network) to establish full functionality of language and communication. © 2014 .

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