Research & Scholarly Achievement
at Gallaudet University

PhD in Educational Neuroscience (PEN)

Students in our pioneering PEN program gain state-of-the-art Cognitive Neuroscience training in how humans learn, with a special strength in the neuroplasticity of visually guided learning processes. While Cognitive Neuroscience includes studies of learning and higher cognitive processes across the lifespan, its sister discipline, Educational Neuroscience, includes intensive study of five core domains that are crucial in early childhood learning, including language and bilingualism, reading and literacy, math and numeracy, science and critical thinking (higher cognition), social and emotional learning, and includes study of action and visual processing. PEN students become expert in one of the world's cutting-edge neuroimaging methods in the discipline of Cognitive Neuroscience (e.g., fNIRS, EEG, fMRI, and beyond), study Neuroethics, gain strong critical analysis and reasoning skills in science, and develop expertise in one of the core content areas of learning identified above. While becoming experts in both contemporary neuroimaging and behavioral experimental science, students also learn powerful, meaningful, and principled ways that science can be translated for the benefit of education and society today.

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, Chair, PEN Steering Committee
Dr. Thomas Allen, Program Director, PEN
Dr. Melissa Herzig , Assistant Program Director, PEN


Foundations of Learning from Signing Avatars

ID: 3319
Status: Ongoing
Start date: October 2017
End Date: September 2018

Description

The cognitive underpinnings of action perception are well understood, and much progress has been made in how the brain allows for communication using a visual-only modality, as in the case of signed languages. One emerging challenge for the future of this field concerns the use of signing avatars. While interest in avatar-based communication is increasing, we do not know how signing avatars can best convey movement-based visual-spatial language to deaf populations. The proposed study would be the first step toward investigating action and language processing during the perception of signing avatars. In this study, we investigate what features of an avatar are most critical for clear perception of the signed language (e.g., fidelity of hands, fidelity of face). We will use motion capture recordings of deaf fluent signers to create novel motion-capture signing stimuli. We will then use these stimuli in a cognitive behavioral experiment in Gallaudet University’s Action & Brain Lab to examine preliminary questions about what features of a signing avatar will be most important for perception. This behavioral experiment will pave the way for a set of cognitive neuroscience experiments that will examine activity in attentional, sensorimotor, and language-related brain networks during perception of signing avatars.

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Investigating movement imagery in sign language users.

ID: 3382
Status: Ongoing
Start date: September 2016

Description

The Test Assessing Movement Imagery (TAMI) is a standardized, quantifiable test of a person's ability to accurately imagine bodily movement. We hypothesize that adults who have used sign language for many years may have an increased ability to perform movement imagery, due to their years of experience producing, percieving, and imagining complex bodily movements. This study will improve our understanding of the impact of a visual-spatial language and how it impacts visual processing and imagery in the brain. If it can be shown that there is a neural, cognitive, or other impact of communicating using sign language, we will provide further empirical evidence supporting the need to encourage sign language exposure in all levels of development.

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