Research & Scholarly Achievement
at Gallaudet University

Brain and Language Laboratory (BL2)

The state-of-the-art Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2), led by Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto (Scientific Director, and Founder), functions much more as a Gallaudet University Center, and a national resource, on early brain development underlying language, reading, bilingualism and sign language processing. BL2 is a member of the NSF Science of Learning Center at Gallaudet University, Visual Language and Visual Learning, VL2. The team studies language and bilingualism, reading and literacy, including the important role of Visual Sign Phonology in successful reading in young deaf children. They are further committed to powerful innovative translation and to providing meaningful knowledge to society, spanning parents, teachers, and educational policymakers. The team seeks to uncover the biological foundations and environmental influences underlying linguistic, reading and cognitive processing in monolingual and bilingual infants, children, and adults. A wide range of methods (behavioural, neuroimaging, genetic), languages (signed, spoken) and populations (infants, children, and adults, both monolingual and bilingual, deaf and hearing, and cochlear implant users) are used to understand the fascinating processes by which infants discover the basic building blocks of their language as well as the most optimal conditions of learning language, reading, and literacy. Another important goal of BL2 is to provide state-of- the-art training to Gallaudet students in the world’s most advanced neuroimaging. We are especially proud to be the neuroimaging training home for Gallaudet’s pioneering PhD in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) program - the site where all PEN students receive their foundational neuroimaging and Cognitive Neuroscience training in methods and theory. BL2 also features one of the world’s most advanced brain imaging systems, called functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), which, remarkably, is made available to undergraduate and graduate student training, leading to new career and post-graduate study opportunities. The lab also houses an advanced Thermal IR Imaging system to study higher cognitive functions involving emotional arousal and attention in learning, whereupon its integration with fNIRS and Eye-tracking is further being pioneered (with unique student participation and training). The lab also has as an Infant Habituation Lab, Video-Recording, and Editing studios, Video-Conferencing facilities, Cognitive Neurogenetic analysis studio, Experimental and Observation Chambers, State-of-the-art Tobii Eye-Tracking studio, Library, and Student Research Brain/Behavioral Analysis Work Stations, and more. BL2 provides laboratory tours and presentations of our research to visitors of Gallaudet University and the VL2 center. This year (October 1, 2016 - September 30, 2017) more than 200 people have visited the Laboratory from more than 9 countries. BL2 has undergraduate, graduate students, and doctoral students from multiple programs and departments across the university (e.g. psychology, interpretation, education, linguistics, hearing speech & language sciences), and particularly, has 5 doctoral students from the PhD in Educational Neuroscience program. Further, we enjoy PEN MOU’s with over 22 Universities. Our BL2 students have traveled to some of the universities and representatives from outside universities come here.

Dr. Laura Ann Petitto, Cognitive Neuroscientist and Scientific Director, BL2


The effects of early visual language exposure on deaf children's linguistic and non-linguistic visual processing: An Eye-Tracking and fNIRS brain imaging investigation of emergent readers

ID: 2750
Status: Ongoing
Start date: September 2013

Description

How do young children learn to read when using contemporary learning tools such as reading apps? How do young deaf children use, visually examine, and process complex visual information on a moving screen—especially involving early reading apps for the young deaf reader? For these questions, no studies exist, and our present studies are the first of their kind. We examine whether differences in early life visual language experience (AoE) impact visual attention and allocation in young deaf and hearing emergent readers. Early visual language experience affords enhanced visual gaze-shifting and visual attention in the young deaf visual learner which subsequently impacts book-sharing and literacy behaviors in toddlers and yields linguistic, reading, and cognitive benefits. We examine whether differences in AoE impact visual attention and allocation in the young emergent reader. If early visual language is a significant factor in task performance in early sign-exposed children, it may suggest that select visual properties at the heart of visual sign phonology selectively enhances visual sight word recognition in ways that positively impacts those children's acquisition of English reading. Also, it will provide insights into what age young deaf children are best exposed to sign languages as to promote bilingual mastery and enhancements to English reading acquisition. Results from the present study have begun to provide first-time research-based insights into all young children's visual attention to linguistic and non- linguistic visual information in dynamic moving scenes, as are commonly used in today's e-literacy technology.

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Cochlear implants and the brain: The biological basis for language and cognition in infants, children, and adults with cochlear implants

ID: 2061
Status: Ongoing
Start date: September 2011

Description

Controversy abounds regarding the impact of differences in language experience on the acquisition of spoken language in deaf individuals with cochlear implants (CIs). Noteworthy is that early exposure to a signed language causes deviance to auditory language tissue development. Related claims are that young children with CIs should not receive early exposure to a signed language for fear that the tissue devoted to auditory processes will be "taken over" by signed language processing. We ask whether early exposure to a visual signed language impacts negatively and/or causes neural deviance or abnormality to classic left-hemisphere spoken language tissue development in deaf individuals with early cochlear implantation, including left Inferior Frontal Gyrus (LIFG) and Superior Temporal Gyrus. We find that early exposed deaf CI individuals showed entirely normal activation in classic LIFG. By contrast, late exposed deaf CI individuals showed greater activation in the right-hemisphere. This supports the hypothesis that early signed language exposure facilitates normal language processing and does not cause neural deviance or abnormality to classic left-hemisphere language tissue. Strong evidence of neural plasticity was not at work—auditory processes were not "taken over" by signed language processing in early-sign exposed individuals with CIs. Instead, their language tissue activity was entirely normal. Rather than neural plasticity, findings suggest that aspects of left hemisphere language tissue thought to be "auditory" is not, but dedicated to processing highly specific patterns in natural language. We conclude that early, not later, exposure to a signed language supports typical, healthy, and normal language development.

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The RAVE Revolution for Children with Minimal Language Experience During Sensitive Periods of Brain and Language Development

ID: 2922
Status: Ongoing
Start date: October 2015

Description

In this NSF INSPIRE grant, Petitto (PI), leads an international team to create and explore new methods to promote early learning gains for populations of children who would otherwise be at a lifelong disadvantage, especially infants with minimal or no early language exposure. We expand the boundaries of traditionally separate sciences, and unite synergistically interdisciplinary science teams to create a transformative learning tool and research platform called the Robot AVatar Thermal-Enhanced learning tool (RAVE), which makes available multiple components of human language in socially interactive and conversational ways to young children during critical periods of human brain and behavior development vital for lifelong strength in reading and language learning. To overcome such devastating early language exposure barriers that vast numbers of children face, RAVE is intended to be augmentative for young deaf visual learners during vital early-life critical/sensitive periods of development, and inclusive of many other children. RAVE is to be placed near a baby's high-chair, so as to augment and lift young infants who would otherwise have only minimal language input into a honed sensitivity to, and integrated use of, multiple linguistic cues at the core of human language structure. RAVE has the potential to provide a new aid to children with minimal or no early language input; provide the nation with a competitive science and technological edge; train students from multiple disciplines in interdisciplinary science; advance involvement of under-represented groups in STEM, and train young deaf scientists in the advancement of scientific knowledge with transformative translational significance for all of society.

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Scholarship and creative activity

2017

Stone, A., Manini, B., Kartheiser, G., Malzkuhn, M., Langdon, C., Merla, A., & Petitto, L.A. (April 2017). Detecting the rhythmic temporal patterning of language: Infants' neural, physiological, and behavioral sensitivity. Symposium conducted at Society for Research on Child Development, Austin, TX

Stone, A., Bosworth, R., Petitto, L.A. (January 2017). Sonority in Lexicalized Fingerspelling: Perception Studies With Infants and Adults. Symposium at the Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America. Austin, TX.

2018

Stone, A., Manini, B., Kartheiser, G., Malzkuhn, M., Langdon, C., Merla, A., & Petitto, L.A. (April 6, 2017). Detecting the rhythmic temporal patterning of language: Infants' neural, physiological, and behavioral sensitivity. Symposium Paper presentation at the Society for Research on Child Development, Austin, TX.

Scassellati, B., Traum, D., Tsui, K., Shapiro, A., Petitto, L.A. (April, 6 2017). The RAVE: Designing technology-based interactions for deaf infants. Symposium Paper presentation at the Society for Research on Child Development, Austin, TX.

Petitto, L.A. (April 6, 2017). Discoveries about infant language learning and 'readiness to learn' from integrated fNIRS, thermal IR, robot, and avatar sciences. Symposium Paper presentation at the Society for Research in Child Development. Austin, TX.

Manini, B., Kartheiser, G., Stone, A., Merla, A., & Petitto, L.A. (November, 2017). Evidence of maturational processes in linguistic brain (fNIRS) and psychological emotional (Thermal IR) responses in hearing infants to signing virtual humans. Poster Presentation at the Society for Neuroscience, Washington, DC.

Stone, A., Bosworth, R., & Petitto, L.A. (January, 2017). Sonority in lexicalized fingerspelling: Perception studies with infants and adults. Paper presented at the Symposium conducted at the meeting of the Linguistics Society of America, Austin, TX.

Scassellati, B., Brawer, J., Tsui, K., Nasihati Gilani, S., Malzkuhn, M., Manini, B., Stone, A., Kartheiser, G., Merla, A., Shapiro, A., Traum, D., & Petitto, L.A. (2017). Teaching Language to Deaf Infants with a Robot and a Virtual Human. Published Proceedings of the 2018 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems/CHI (pp.553; 1-553:13). New York, NY, USA: ACM. ISBN 123-4567-24-567/08/06. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.475/123_4.

Kartheiser, G. & Petitto, L.A. (November, 2017). The impact of age of language exposure on spatial working memory using fNIRS neuroimaging. Poster Presentation at the Society for Neuroscience, Washington, DC.

Scassellati, B., Brawer, J., Tsui, K., Nasihati Gilani, S., Malzkuhn, M., Manini, B., Stone, A., Kartheiser, G., Merla, A., Shapiro, A., Traum, D., & Petitto, L.A. (April, 2018). Teaching Language to Deaf Infants with a Robot and a Virtual Human. Symposium Paper Presentation at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Manini, B., Tsui, K., Stone, A., Scassellati, B., Traum, D., Merla, A., & Petitto, L.A. (April 6, 2017). Physiological and behavioral correlates of babies' social engagement with robot and virtual human artificial intelligence agents. Symposium Paper presentation given at the Society for Research on Child Development, Austin, TX.

Stone, A., Petitto, L.A., & Bosworth, R. (2017). Visual sonority modulates infants' attraction to sign language. Language Learning and Development, 1-19. doi:10.1080/15475441.2017.1404468.

2016

Petitto, L. A. (2016, September 9). Universals of literacy & the brain as revealed through the eyes. Presented at the USAID International Literacy Day Forum, Washington, DC.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, July 20). Impact, innovation and integrity. Panel discussion at the Science of Learning Center. University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Petitto, L. A., Stone, A., Andriola, D., & Langdon, C. (2015, October 18-20). Age of sign- speech bilingual language exposure and syntactic processing in deaf individuals with cochlear implants using functional near infrared spectroscopy. Poster session presented at the Society for Neuroscience, Chicago, IL.

Petitto, L. A. & Merla, A. (2016, January 14). Thermal infrared imaging and fNIRS integration. Presented at the Winter Institute Workshop, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Petitto, L. A., Langdon, C., Cochran, C., Andriola, D. Stone, A., Kartheiser, G. (2016). Visual sign phonology: Insights into human reading from a natural soundless phonology. WIREs Cognitive Science. Retrieved from doi:10.1002/wcs.1404

Petitto, L. A. (2016, July 20). What are these sister disciplines, and why do they matter to schools and families?. Presented at the SummerFest, Science of Learning and Educational Neuroscience. University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, February 9). VL2, the science of learning and 21st century directions: Can we get there?. Presented at the NSF Evaluation iSLC. National Science Foundation. Arlington, Virginia.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, July 14). Vision building: A lab and a center. Workshop, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, May 9). Presented at the Visual Language & Visual Learning 1st Annual Knowledge Festival, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, January 12). Children's discovery of bilingualism and the bilingual brain. Presented at the ISF Bilingual Academy, Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, January 21). Grand challenge: Learning & assessment in the digital citizenship in the 21st century. Presented at the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, February 8). Universals of learning and the brain as revealed through the eyes: How we learn?. Presented at the NSF Evaluation iSLC, National Science Foundation. Arlington, Virginia.

Petitto, L. A. (2015, November 21). The impact of multiple language learning on children's brain development. Presented at The World Bank, Washington, DC.

Petitto, L. A. (2016, March 16). Universals of early language, reading and the brain as revealed through the eyes. Presented at the Neuroscience American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Washington, DC.

Kovelman, I., Salah-Ud-Din, M., Berens, M., Petitto, L. A. (2015). "One glove does not fit all" in bilingual reading acquisition: Using the age of first bilingual language exposure to understand optimal contexts for reading success. Cogent Education. 2(1). Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2015.1006504

Stone, A., Kartheiser, G., Hauser, P. C., Petitto, L. A., & Allen, T. E., (2015). Fingerspelling as a gateway into reading fluency in deaf bilinguals. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0139610

Petitto, L. A. (2016, January 15). Revolutionary science, robots, avatars, and changing the nature of learning for meaningful translation to society. Presented at the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Jasinska, K. K., Petitto, L. A. (2016). Age of bilingual exposure changes the contribution of phonological and semantic knowledge to successful reading development. Child Development. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2013.06.005

Petitto, L. A., (2016, September 28). "New scientific understandings and directions from the National Science Foundation and Gallaudet University Science of Learning Center for Visual Language and Visual Learning, VL2." Presented at the Gallaudet University Presidential Inauguration, Washington, DC.

Stone, A, Bosworth, R., Petitto, L. A. (2016, January). Perceptual sensitivity to sonority in visual language: Native signers & naïve infants. Presented at the 12th Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR), Melbourne, Australia.

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