Associate Professor Narly Golestani

Narly Golestani heads the Brain and Language Lab at the Cognitive Science Hub of the University of Vienna, Austria, and at the Department of Psychology at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
Narly is Associate Professor at the Vienna Cognitive Science Hub.

Current research themes include:

  1. Auditory cortex anatomy – relationships with auditory, language and music processing.  
  2. Multilingualism and language control.
  3. Language aptitude. 
  4. Computational modeling approaches for modeling different levels of language processing in the brain.
  5. Dyslexia remediation.

Narly Golestani heads the Brain and Language Lab at the Cognitive Science Hub of the University of Vienna, Austria, and at the Department of Psychology at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. She obtained her PhD in Clinical Psychology from McGill University (Montreal, Canada), and then did post-docs at INSERM (Orsay, France), and at the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL (London, UK).

Her research makes use of a wide range of methods, including functional and structural imaging, computational modelling of brain function, computational morphometry, machine learning, advanced statistical procedures and neuropsychology, along with more conventional experimental psycholinguistics and psychophysics approaches. These approaches are used to advance our understanding of the brain and language processing at low (i.e. auditory, phonetic) to high (e.g. multilingualism, language control) levels of processing, in the context of healthy individual differences, language and auditory expertise, and language disorder.

Brain and Language Lab

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Auditory cortex anatomy – relationships with auditory, language and music processing:

We and others have previously shown that variation in auditory cortex size and shape is related to linguistic and to musical abilities. For example, a larger left Heschl’s gyrus is related to better foreign speech sound perception skills, and also phonetics experts tend to have more gyri in left Heschl’s gyrus. Such differences in shape may constitute an intermediate phenotype for domain-specific aptitude, predisposing people for fine auditory processing abilities. We have recently developed 2 toolboxes allowing the segmentation of the auditory cortex in structural MRI scans, and to extract features such as volume, surface area, thickness and also shape. We are also extending these approaches to novel, spectral shape descriptors. We are applying these toolboxes to a wide variety of data, in the context of lifespan data, gene discovery, brain behavior relationships, musicianship, multilingualism, dyslexia, aphasia to understand relationships with behavior, and to address the relative roles of predisposition versus of experience-dependent plasticity on variation in the anatomy of the auditory cortex and beyond.

Multilingualism and language control:

The lab has a strong and longstanding interest in multilingualism research. We aim to understand brain functional and structural differences underlying bi- and multilingualism, at different levels of language processing (i.e. phonological, lexico-semantic, syntactic), and also with respect to the executive control of language, not only in polyglots but also in language experts (e.g. in simultaneous interpreters). In the last years we have worked on functional and structural plasticity associated with training to become simultaneous interpreters, i.e. experts in ‘extreme language control’. We are planning a longitudinal study to explore cognitive and neural changes associated with L2 learning, beyond the purely linguistic domain.  In our work, we characterize bi/multilingual language experience as a continuum, weighing not only the amount of experience, age of acquisition, and usage of each language continuously, but also taking into account typological distance between the language spoken, and this with respect to phonology, lexico-semantics and syntax. We strive towards replication of findings across independent data-sets, and together with international collaborators are seeking to bring a larger body of data together with the view of a larger scale meta-analysis effort.
    

Language aptitude:

Related to the above, in the context of the Evolving Language NCCR-funded work package entitled ‘Aptitude’ (co-PIs: Raphael Berthelé [University of Fribourg] and Narly), we are performing a broad exploration of linguistic but also non-linguistic, domain-specific and domain-general skills that contribute to aptitude for language, at specific levels of processing (i.e. phonetic, lexico-semantic, and syntactic). The study will be performed in people having diverse language skills and/or experience (i.e. in monolinguals, poly- and hyperpolyglots, and in individuals with dyslexia). In this exploratory project we are assessing a wide range of behavioral measures, including measures of phonological, lexico-semantic and morphosyntactic skills, but also executive skills, different components of memory, arithmetic skills, and fine motor skills, in order to identify the main dimensions that might underlie specific aspects of language aptitude. We will also perform brain functional and structural imaging to explore the neural underpinnings of individual differences in aptitude. You can hear more about this WP here from Narly, and in Irene’s SNL 2021 presentation.


Computational modeling approaches for modeling different levels of language processing in the brain:

Another main research theme involves the use of computational modeling approaches to shed light on the mechanisms underlying the processing of specific levels of information in the speech signal. For example, recent work using 7T fMRI has shown that the auditory cortex ‘amplifies’ the very acoustic features that are relevant for processing linguistic (e.g. phonetic) and paralinguistic (e.g. speaker) information on identical speech input. We are extending this work to dyslexia, to test whether the encoding of rapidly changing temporal information may be altered in this reading disorder, and we are extending these approaches to higher levels of information (i.e. phonetic features). Finally, within a second NCCR-funded WP entitled ‘ProsodyToMeaning’ (co-PIs: Martin Meyer [University of Zurich] and Narly), we are using computational modeling to understand how prosodic features may assist speech comprehension, via potential boosting of syntactic features; see Giulio & Narly’s Leipzig Lectures on Language on this project (09/21).  

Dyslexia remediation

Together with Frank Scharnowski (University of Vienna), we are planning a real-time fMRI neurofeedback training study to improve phonological and/or reading deficits in dyslexic adults.

Peer-reviewed conference papers

Maghsadlagh, S., Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Benner, J., Schneider, P., Golestani, N. & Behjat, H. (Oct 31-Nov 4, 2021). A discriminative characterisation of Heschl's Gyrus morphology using spectral graph features. Conference paper, 43rd Annual International Conferences of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biological Society (EMBC) 2021.

 

Peer-reviewed Conference Contributions

  • Degano, G., Rampinini, A., Donhauser, P., Merlo, P. & Golestani, N. (Oct 5-8, 2021). Cortical signatures of the interaction between prosody and syntax during naturalistic language processing. Talk to be presented at the Society for the Neuroscience of Language meeting 2021.   
  • Balboni, I., Rampinini, A., Kepinska, O., Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Berthele, R. & Golestani, N. (Oct 5-8, 2021). Language Aptitude: behavioural and neural markers. Talk to be presented at the Society for the Neuroscience of Language meeting 2021
  • Schneider, L.M., Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Price, C.J & Golestani, N. (Oct 5-8, 2021). Greater gyrification of right Heschl gyrus is related to better auditory language comprehension in patients with left hemisphere stroke. Talk to be presented at the Society for the Neuroscience of Language meeting 2021.   
  • Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Marie, D., Rutten, S. & Golestani, N. (Oct 5-8, 2021). Anatomical differences in Heschl’s gyrus in dyslexia, and relation to working memory and phonological skill. Talk to be presented at the Society for the Neuroscience of Language meeting 2021
  • Maghsadlagh, S., Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Benner, J., Schneider, P., Behjat, H. & Golestani, N. (Oct 5-8, 2021). 'Characterization of Heschl’s Gyrus subtypes using Morphology-Encoding Graphs. Talk to be presented at the Society for the Neuroscience of Language meeting 2021.
  • Schneider, L.M., Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Price, C.J & Golestani, N. (July 15-16, 2021). Greater gyrification of right Heschl gyrus is related to better auditory language comprehension in patients with left hemisphere stroke. Abstract presented at the Salzburg Mind Brain Annual meeting 2021.
  • Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Marie, D., Rutten, S. & Golestani, N. (July 15-16, 2021). Anatomical differences in Heschl’s gyrus related to dyslexia. Abstract presented at the Salzburg Mind Brain Annual meeting 2021.
  • Maghsadlagh, S., Dalboni da Rocha, J.L., Benner, J., Schneider, P., Behjat, H. & Golestani, N. (July 15-16 2021). Differentiation of Heschl’s Gyrus subtypes Using Spectral Graph Features. Abstract presented at the Salzburg Mind Brain Annual meeting 2021.

 

Invited lectures

  • Upcoming talk: Invited speaker at the Multilingual Minds seminar series, on ‘'Language processing in the healthy, multilingual and expert brain', Jan 18th 2022, online (https://www.multilingualmind.eu/lecture-series, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBuA5EkcwEY1yBj7MZaRlpQ), University of Reading, Reading, UK.
  • Upcoming talk: Invited speaker at Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL) seminar series, on ‘Language processing in the healthy, dysfunctional and expert brain’, Nov 18th 2021, online/San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain.
  • Invited speaker at workshop on individual differences in language learning, title: ‘Individual differences in language learning’, Oct 15th 2021, online/Fribourg, Switzerland. 
  • Invited speaker at University of Vienna Cognitive Science Hub seminar series, title: ‘Brain and Language’, Sep 29th 2021, online/Vienna, Austria (https://cognitivescience.univie.ac.at/activities/brownbag-sessions/ ).  
  • Invited speaker at Leipzig Lecture Series, title: ‘Combining prosodic and syntactic information in the brain during listening to naturalistic speech’, Sep 15th 2021, online/Leipzig, Germany (https://www.cbs.mpg.de/1745620/degano-golestani, link to talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8wskIw-OSE&t=1517s)
  • Invited speaker at St Jude Research Hospital, Dept of Diagnostic Imaging Seminar on ‘Speech and language processing in the healthy, dysfunctional and expert brain’, Sep 10th 2021, online/Memphis, USA
  • Invited plenary speaker at Leon Levy mini-symposium on ‘Audition as a window into neural processing’, talk title: ‘Speech sound processing and auditory cortex in the healthy, dyslexic, aphasic and expert brain’, Aug 5th 2021, online/NYU