University of Cambridge
Centre for Speech, Language and the Brain

Centre for Speech, Language and the Brain

Department of Psychology

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Welcome to the CSLB

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The Centre for Speech, Language and the Brain, headed by Professor Lorraine K Tyler, is part of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge. Our interdisciplinary research covers a wide range of issues in the cognitive neuroscience of language, object processing, semantics, the ageing brain and cognition. We integrate behavioural experimental and neuroimaging studies on healthy people, together with similar research on brain-damaged patients.

Postgraduate students

The CSLB welcomes applications from postgraduate students for 2015 entry.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of our research, we particularly welcome applicants with a background in scientific computing, statistics, machine learning and/or signal processing methods. For more information click here.

News from the CSLB

  • 20 April 2015

    Professor Tyler featured in BNA Bulletin

    BNA Bulletin Spring 2015 "Through hearing, vision and our other senses, we constantly receive sensory inputs from the outside world. One of the brain's most remarkable properties is its ability to process and make sense of this information - to know that a series of auditory stimuli is someone asking us if we want a cup of tea, or that a complex visual input is a picture of a dog. Focusing on language and visual recognition of objects, Professor Lorraine K. Tyler in Cambridge is identifying some of the neural mechanisms underlying these remarkable feats."

    Read the full article here. Reproduced with kind permission of the British Neuroscience Association.

  • 09 February 2015

    New publication in Neuropsychologia:
    Paul Wright, Billi Randall, Alex Clarke, Professor Lorraine K. Tyler show how the perirhinal cortex (PRC) contributes to semantic cognition. The anterior temporal lobes (ATL) have become the focus of much research concerning the neurobiology of semantic memory. However the ATL is a large and diverse set of sub-regions, and so understanding the functioning of the ATL requires investigations that test between different sub-regions. Here, we show that the PRC, in the medial aspects of the ATL, provides a critical function for the disambiguation between semantically confusable concepts (e.g. a lion and a tiger). By comparing individuals with brain-damage including the PRC - and other ATL sub-regions, against two control groups, we show that damage to the PRC results in impaired performance in identifying concepts that are more semantically confusable. This was shown using a number of different measures of semantic confusability and different tasks. Critically, we also show that an individuals’ degree of impairment was correlated with the extent of damage to the PRC, which was not consistently seen for other sub-regions. These results provide important converging evidence for the role of the human PRC in semantic cognition in supporting fine-grained semantic distinctions between concepts.

    Check out the journal website.

  • 20 November 2014

    New publication in Science:
    Everyone worries about what effect their aging brain will have on their cognitive abilities as they get older. A growing number of scientists are using cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques to demonstrate that the brain remains dynamic and responsive across the lifespan. In a recent special issue of the journal Science on “The Aging Brain” Cambridge scientists Dr Meredith A. Shafto and Professor Lorraine K. Tyler review the latest evidence for how the aging brain affects one of most crucial and complex cognitive skills, producing and understanding language. Both behavioural and neuroimaging evidence suggest that while normal aging impairs specific aspects of language production, most core language processes are robust to brain aging. In their review the authors provide a novel integration of a range of findings from studies of both brain and performance, and argue that both younger adults and older adults maintain good language abilities via flexible neural responses to linguistic demands. Although the authors highlight reasons for specific age-related declines in language, their review ultimately supports a growing view that neurocognitive aging is not all downhill, and that older adults can maintain dynamic and responsive neural systems, including those underpinning language.

    Check out the journal website (Science 31 October 2014: Vol. 346 no. 6209 pp. 583-587).

  • 17 October 2014

    New publication in Cerebral Cortex:
    Alex Clarke, Barry Devereux, Billi Randall and Lorraine K. Tyler showed that semantic category information is represented in neural activity before semantic information about specific objects. Using a computational model of vision and semantic information, they quantified the visual and semantic content of hundreds of objects, and learned how this information is related to neural activity recorded with magnetoencephalography (MEG). They showed that this information can accurately reconstruct the time course of neural activity for new objects. Crucially they showed that the early reconstructed activity, based only on semantic content, was reliably different for objects from different semantic categories (e.g. a lion and a hammer) but could not distinguish between objects from the same category (e.g. a lion and a tiger). Only later in time could the reconstructed activity reliably distinguish between objects from the same semantic category. This research shows the essential contribution of semantic knowledge during object recognition and how semantic information emerges and changes over time.

    You can also check out the journal website or the full article as a PDF.

  • 07 October 2014

    New publication in Neuropsychologia:
    Simon Davis, Jie Zhuang, Paul Wright, and Lorraine K. Tyler showed how age differences in brain activity may emerge simply as a function of how the same stimuli are tested. Subjects either listened to syntactically ambiguous phrases placed within a naturalistic sentence, or instead responded in a trial-wise fashion to each sentence, mirroring many cognitive tasks used today. While the left frontotemporal language network was reliably activated across naturalistic and task conditions, a number of networks emerged only during the task condition; it was in fact these networks that showed differences across the lifespan. Furthermore, when examining individual differences in brain structure, they found that the volume of grey matter predicted whether or not a subject might show these task-related brain activity patterns. This research highlights that many common patterns of “over-activation” typically observed in aged populations may be due to factors extraneous to the cognition being tested.

    You can also check out the journal website or the full article as a PDF.

Major themes cross-cutting our research

Neurobiology of spoken language in healthy and brain-damaged populations:

  • Working with healthy people, we develop accounts of the functional relationships between the anatomically distributed regions involved in language processing.
  • Working with brain-damaged patients (in both the acute and chronic phases), we investigate issues of reorganisation and plasticity following brain damage.
Learn more ...

Neurocognitive accounts of conceptual knowledge:

  • How is meaning represented and processed in the mind and brain? We develop cognitive models of conceptual knowledge and investigate how conceptual knowledge is processed in both the healthy and damaged system.
Learn more ...

The ageing brain and cognition:

  • We study language function in normal healthy ageing to determine the relationship between preserved function and neural change.
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Funding initiatives

  • Major new study in brain ageing (Cam-CAN)

    Cam-CANResearch efforts to understand how the brain changes with age, from early to late adulthood, have been given a major boost by a new £5M grant from the BBSRC. The funding has been awarded to a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge Departments of Psychology, Public Health, Psychiatry, Clinical Neurosciences and Engineering, and from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. This team, working as the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN), brings together world-leading expertise and cutting edge methods to understand how brain ageing in healthy people affects abilities like language, attention, emotion and memory.

    The ageing process does not have a uniform effect across the brain. Older people often struggle, for example, to recall the right word in a conversation, but can continue to expand their vocabulary throughout old age. Understanding what structures in the brain account for this variation will be a crucial first step in allowing more people to retain a range of mental abilities throughout their lives. Professor Lorraine K Tyler, who heads the research team, said "Our mental abilities don't suddenly start to decline as we enter retirement. In fact, many are retained right into our eighties and we are often too quick to attribute normal lapses like forgetfulness to the effects of age. Understanding the complexities of how ageing affects the brain will be crucial for older people to be able to live fulfilled lives and contribute fully to society."

    The study is unique in recruiting 3000 people aged 18-88 years, drawn from the general population, to create a library of information on how healthy brain ageing affects mental abilities to different degrees. Not only will this help identify older people who might be helped by therapies, but will also provide a lasting resource for future researchers to draw on. The research will establish a virtual "brain and behaviour" database which will hold behavioural, MRI and MEG data from a population-representative sample of 700 healthy adults. This will be a valuable, open-access resource for scientists interested in ageing, and a basis for longitudinal study of how our brain and our cognitive abilities change as we grow older.

  • ERC Advanced Investigator grant

    ERCAn ERC Advanced Investigator Grant has been awarded to Professor Lorraine K Tyler. This 5-year programme will support her research programme 'PERCEPCON', investigating how the brain processes visual inputs as meaningful objects.

More about us

The Centre is directed by Professor Lorraine K Tyler, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Fellow of Clare College. Researchers at the CSLB come from various academic fields such as cognitive psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive science, and computer science. We collaborate with scientists at the Department of Psychiatry, the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, Johns Hopkins University, Pomona College, and University Hospital Basel.

The Centre, formerly called the Centre for Speech and Language, is/has recently been funded by grants from