Plasticity in the neural representation of language: Insights from hearing infants with Deaf mothers

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10 July 2017

Presenter(s): Dr Evelyne Mercure
Time: 13.00 -14.00
Location: NHBRU, Meeting Room 1


Hearing infants with Deaf parents (HoD) have a very different experience of language to that of hearing infants with hearing parents (HoH). They are generally exposed to language both in the auditory and visual modality, and are likely to experience a reduction in auditory spoken language. This study investigates the impact of language experience on brain representation for spoken and sign language in infancy. Three groups of hearing infants (4-7 months) were recruited: 31 HoD infants, 34 monolingual HoH infants and 28 bilingual HoH infants. Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to study brain activation in response to sentences in infant-directed English and French (familiar and unfamiliar spoken languages), BSL and French Sign Language (familiar and unfamiliar sign languages). Results suggest strong activation to spoken language in the temporal cortex, which is influenced by language experience. In general spoken language elicit stronger/more left lateralised activation in monolinguals than HoD and HoH bilinguals, with a familiar language eliciting a stronger response than an unfamiliar language. Activation to sign language was found in a more restricted area of the cortex and was also influenced by experience. These results suggest early experience-dependent plasticity in the neural representation of language.


Evelyne Mercure is a research fellow at UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. She is interested in the early development of the brain representation for language and social perception. She is currently holding an ESRC Future Research Leader fellowship to investigate brain and cognitive development in hearing infants with a Deaf mother. She completed a PhD at Birkbeck with Mark H. Johnson and Fred Dick, as well as an MSc in Neuroscience and a BSc in Speech and Language pathologies from Universite de Montreal (Canada).