Themes, Facilities, & Impact

I. Research Themes

Auditory neuroscience and speech perception

Research projects in auditory neuroscience examine how the brain codes important acoustic cues and how attention and selective listening affect the neural responses. Currently active projects include

  • Auditory streaming of amplitude modulated sounds in normal listeners and cochlear implant users (Nie, Dissertation research with Peggy Nelson, University of Minnesota)
  • Selective listening of pitch information in mixed sounds (Rao, University of Minnesota)
  • Neural coding of duration (Imada, Tanaka, Kawakatsu and Nemoto, Tokyo Denki University)
  • Neural coding of amplitude modulation (Imada, Tanaka, Kawakatsu and Nemoto, Tokyo Denki University)
  • Perceptual asymmetry (Imada, Tanaka, Kawakatsu and Nemoto, Tokyo Denki University).
First language acquisition

Research projects in early language development investigate when infants start to show preference for native language over a foreign language and how their speech perception abilities change over the course of language development. Zhang Lab has a behavioral observation room to test infants' language preference. The EEG facilities can also be used for infant study. Currently active projects include

  • Language preference in infants
  • Speech perception and language development in infants
Second language acquisition and bilingualism

Research projects in neuroscience of language investigate experiential factors and brain plasticity associated with language learning. Currently active projects include

  • Infant MEG (Kuhl Lab at University of Washington)
  • Expressive language mapping using MEG (Wenbo Zhang, United Hospital, St. Paul)
  • Perception of Prototypical and nonprototypical speech
  • Neural markers of semantic and syntactic processing (Windsor)
  • Speech perception through hearing aid (Graduate Research Partnership Program with Sharon Miller)
  • Effects of language experience on duration perception (Undergraduate Research with Tess Koerner)
  • Relationship between speech perception and production (Cheng, Xi’an Jiaotong University)
  • Brain plasticity in speech training
  • Lexical tone perception – Chinese and Thai (Wang, Simon Fraser University; Shu, Beijing Normal University)
Speech and language in Autism

This project is funded by the Office of Research at the College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota.

  • Verbal and nonverbal representations in normal and autistic brains (CLA Brain Imaging Research Award Project 1)
  • Speech processing in autistic children: An MEG Study (CLA Brain Imaging Research Award Project 2)
Language and visual perception

Research projects in this area examine mechanisms that support biological motion perception and the role of language learning in spatial cognition. Currently active projects include

  • Spatial references in English and Japanese (Stevens, University of Minnesota)
  • Biological motion perception – local vs. global processing (He, Jiang, University of Minnesota)
Language and cognitive social neuroscience

Research projects in social signal processing examine mechanisms that govern social and linguistic factors in human communication. Currently active projects include

  • Developmental neuroscience of language and empathy (Decety, University of Chicago)
  • Perception of gender and emotion in spoken words (Imada, Kawakatsu, Nemoto, Tokyo Denki University)
  • Perception of exaggerated speech

II. EEG-MEG-MRI facilities for research in Zhang Lab

Modern neuroimaging and computational methods are critically instrumental in advancing our knowledge of the mind and brain, both well and ill in neurobehavioral development. Zhang Lab is well-equipped to conduct studies using modern neuroimaging and computational methods. The lab has student work space, one room space for infant preferential looking/listening, and an EEG and behavioral lab space with an acoustically and electrically treated sound booth and a control room.

Equipment and computers

Zhang Lab has the complete EEG/ERP setup using ASA-Lab with an optical electrode digitization system. There are currently 7 EEG caps of different sizes that are capable of testing subjects of all ages across the life span. The lab is also equipped for high-definition video recordings and professional audio recordings and analysis.

There are currently eight computers (including Mac Pro workstation) and a network storage server in the lab. The data acquisition and preparation computers have professional graphics and sound cards installed. There are also six USB backup hard drives.

Key software packages

Data analysis and graphics
ASA, Advanced Source Analysis by ANT
BESA, Brain Electric Source Analysis
Matlab based programs: EEGLAB, Fieldtrip, SPM8, Freesurfer, FSL, MNE, MCE, AFNI
Neuromag software
Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator; Corel Draw
Microsoft Office

Stimulus preparation, presentation, data acquisition
E-prime 2.0 professional
NBS presentation
Visual C++
Filemaker Pro
Final Cut Pro Studio
Sony SoundForge9
Klatt synthesizer
STRAIGHT - matlab-based speech analyzer and synthesizer

Local Sites for EEG, MEG, and MRI/fMRI studies
image1316.jpg RAs: Jason, Tess, Kayla cmrr_2005_ban5.jpg headsensor-full.jpg
EEG in Zhang Lab MRI at CMRR, University of Minnesota MEG at United Hospital

As of December 2008, Sharon, Liz, David, & Yang Zhang have received fMRI training and certification to run fMRI experiments in CMRR. Zhang Lab has also established MEG research partnership with the Magnetic Source Imaging Center at United Hospital in St. Paul.

International Sites for MEG, MRI/fMRI studies
shisetsu01.jpg shisetsu02.jpg megbaby.jpg
MEG at Research Center for Advanced Technologies, Tokyo Denki University, Japan MRI at RCAT, Tokyo Denki University, Japan Joint developmental neuroscience research with the Kuhl team at U of Washington and Biomag Laboratory, Helsinki, Finland

III. Significance and broader impact

Video presentation by Dr. Pat Kuhl on Early Learning, the Brain and Society
  • In this video presentation, Dr. Kuhl explains the importance and societal impacts of research on early learning and neuroscience of language. Dr. Zhang's MEG research with the Kuhl lab is featured in this online video.

Related Links

UMN Auditory Science Colleagues:
Mark Bee; Arlene Carney; Edward Carney; Heather Kreft; Robert Margolis; Christophe Micheyl; Ben Munson; David Nelson; Peggy Nelson; Andrew Oxenham; Bert Schlauch; Mark Stellmack; Neal Viemeister; Peter Watson; Magdalena Wojtczak

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