Language and Cognition

Our expertise focuses on language at multiple levels from phonemes to literacy, and cognition from behavioural regulation to embodied cognition, and beyond.

Group Leader

Tom Beesley

Dr Tom Beesley

Senior Lecturer

Language and Cognition, Perception and Action

C13, C - Floor, Fylde College


The neural basis for sensorimotor control: A TMS study
01/01/2020 → 31/12/2021

The ESRC International Centre for Language
01/11/2019 → 31/10/2024

H2020: LANGBOOT: Language bootstraps cognitive complexity
01/06/2017 → 31/05/2022

Why Johnny doesn't write secure software? Secure Software development by the masses
01/04/2017 → 31/12/2021

If it Looks Like a Duck: Emergent Categorical Structure in the Human Conceptual System
01/04/2016 → 31/10/2018

LUSTRE: Student training in data management and open science
01/02/2016 → …

Doctoral Scholarship Programme in Interdisciplinary Research on Infant Development
01/09/2015 → 31/12/2021

fEC Code: LUCID: The ESRC Centre for Language and Communicative Development
01/10/2014 → …

LUCID: Centre for Language and Communicative Development
01/09/2014 → 31/05/2020

Language Specific and Language General Influences on Reading Comprehension Development: Comparisons Between and Alphabetic and Morphographic Script
01/10/2013 → 31/03/2015

Understanding Reading Difficulties in Children with Rolandic Epilepsy
01/10/2013 → 31/12/2014

Replicating WIlliams and Bargh
01/07/2013 → 30/06/2014

ESRC centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science - CASS
31/03/2013 → 30/03/2018

Developing reading comprehension in the classroom: analysis and assessment of methods and best practice.
01/01/2013 → 31/03/2015

Opportunities for bilingualism in preschool and school age children with developmental disabilities
01/09/2012 → 29/03/2015

Use of iPads for communication by children with special needs
01/02/2012 → …

ESRC studentship James Stone
03/10/2011 → 30/09/2014

ESRC studentship Blything
01/10/2011 → 30/09/2015

The Language Bases of Reading Comprehension
01/08/2010 → 31/07/2015

Do young Children Understand the flexibility of visual Symbols?
30/06/2008 → 01/07/2009

Variability in child language
01/04/2007 → …

Understanding complex working memory and its development
01/02/2005 → 31/07/2008

Research Activity

Our research addresses topics including:

  • cognitive processing in language and numeracy
  • the mental representation of written and spoken language
  • language and literacy development across the lifespan from preschool through to older adults
  • the effects of different writing systems on reading development
  • the role of embodiment in language processing

We study our research questions in different ways including offline and online behavioural methods (e.g., eye tracking, reading times), neuroscientific methods (e.g., ERPs), and computational modelling. Our work is incorporated in two ESRC Research Centres: The ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development and the Centre for Corpus Analysis in the Social Sciences.

Our Language and Literacy Research Group takes a multifaceted approach to investigating language in adults and children, including offline and online behavioural methods (e.g., eye tracking, reading times), neuroscientific methods (e.g., EEG/ERP), as well as computational modelling. Facilities to support this include a range of eye tracking systems and touchscreen computers, some of which can be taken offsite and a test library stocked with a wide range of psychometric assessments. We also have neurophysiological systems for EEG recording, and several cubicles for on-site computer-based research, each complete with desktop computers and a range of experimental software.


Embodied Cognition Laboratory

Dr Dermott LynottDr Louise Connell

We are interested in how people's linguistic, bodily and environmental experience shapes their mental representations and how this affects the way they process language and the world around them. Our research includes investigations of the grounded nature of concepts; the ability of language, body and environment to influence cognition and behaviour; and the interplay of linguistic and simulation systems in human cognition. Recent work has examined how modality-specific language (describing what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell) is processed, how perceptual attention during reading interacts with the perceptual basis of concepts, how ambient temperature influences people's prosocial behaviour, how information about space and time is represented, how people combine concepts to create new entities, and how statistical information from language influences our conceptual processing and formation of attitudes.

Embodied Cognition website
Embodied Cognition Laboratory

Individual Differences in Reading Laboratory

Dr Robert Davies

Reading involves the recognition of printed words, access to knowledge about the meanings, sounds, and spellings of words, and the construction of mental models for the interpretation of texts. We examine how reading processes vary across the population. We study the ways in which reading processes may be different or similar in comparisons between reading in English and Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Arabic and Mandarin. We are investigating the ways in which reading processes may vary in association with differences between individuals in age, across the lifespan. We are testing similarities and differences between individuals with typical or atypical reading development (as in dyslexia). We are examining the consequences of variation in language or reading skill in the comprehension of printed health information among patients and their carers.

Individual Differences in Reading Laboratory

Language and Literacy Development

Professor Kate CainNicola CurrieGillian FranceyDaphne BarkerSamantha RussellBethany WainwrightYazhi LiuLana Jago

The ability to understand what we read impacts on many aspects of our lives, including our education, employment, and recreation. We study the development of reading and listening comprehension and their relation to oral language skills, cognitive resources such as working memory, and the child’s environment to identify what makes a good comprehender and why, for some, comprehension breaks down.

We are particularly interested in the dynamics of comprehension. As we read or listen to a text, we construct a memory-based representation of the text’s meaning, a mental model. We use timed measures such as reading and listening times, eye tracking, and ERPs to study the moment-by-moment construction of meaning. These methods enable us to pinpoint the loci and causes of comprehension breakdowns in children and adults. We also study the dynamics of development across time.

This work includes longitudinal studies tracking children from preschool through to early adolescence to understand how oral language skills and the home environment influence reading development, and the effect of learning two languages on comprehension ability. Last, but not least, we seek to identify how best to support the classroom teaching of comprehension and those who struggle to understand adequately what they read.

Language and Literacy Development

Emotion and Communication Laboratory

Dr Francesca Citron

We are interested in how people process emotionally salient stimuli, e.g., how accurately do we recognise emotions from facial expressions? Is this ability affected by perceptual cues such as pleasant vs. sour or bitter taste, or individual differences such as ethnicity?

We are also interested in emotional language, e.g., are emotionally-laden words, sentences, or texts easier to read, understand and memorise? Emotion words have been shown to capture attention very quickly; they are also processed faster and more efficiently than neutral words. Emotional-verbal material may be specifically used to foster learning of a second language, to facilitate reading and learning of novel concepts, or to help the recovery of impaired language functions.

We are currently investigating the use of figurative language (FL), e.g., metaphors or idioms, which is pervasive in communication. Why do speakers prefer figurative over literal expressions? Recent research from our lab seems to suggest that FL engages the reader or listener more strongly at the emotional level. Hence, using FL may render communication more effective, may have stronger persuasive effects, but it may also evoke aesthetically pleasing experiences, such as the ones we have when we read poems or good novels.

Finally, we are interested in second language (L2) learning: which aspects of L2 do learners mostly struggle with? Do they show the same degree of effective and physiological responses to emotional or figurative language as native speakers do?

In order to investigate these and further research questions, we use a range of methods, spanning through questionnaires, behavioural experiments, physiological measures (pupil dilation, heart rate, skin conductance response), neural measures such as event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and reading measures such as eye-tracking.

Emotion and Communication website
Emotion and Communication Laboratory

Word Learning in Autism

Dr Calum HartleyProfessor Padraic MonaghanLaura Bird

Word learning is a vital aspect of children's language development. However, many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have enormous difficulty learning words and some are minimally-verbal. Our lab is exploring various word learning processes in order to isolate the source, or sources, of their difficulties.

We are currently investigating how children with ASD

  • identify the meanings of unfamiliar words
  • retain the meanings of words over time
  • generalise words to novel contexts

Building on our empirical data, we are also interested in building computational models of word learning processes in ASD.

Word Learning in Autism

Language and Communicative Development

Dr Katie AlcockProfessor Padraic MonaghanJacky ChanDr Ya-Ning ChangDr Kirsty DunnTony Trotter

We lead the Lancaster branch of the ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development where we investigate the early stages of language development. We are interested in determining the role of the environment in which children learn a language - not only from the language they hear but also the way that they hear it, the gestures and objects and other paraphernalia that surround them as they begin to understand the way in which language relates to the world. We are also investigating just how much about language children understand at the very early stages of acquisition - it is a lot more than we first thought.

We are also working on investigating the role of bilingualism in early language learning and how that makes acquisition very different for an additional versus a first language.

We are also working to develop practical tools for assessing early language development, such as some reliable measures of children's vocabulary development, differences in language learning cross-culturally, and effects of nutrition on early cognitive development.

We are also interested in how the design of children's reading books can influence their learning, and their school-readiness for literacy, and also how new media, such as apps on phones or tablets might influence learning.

Language and Communicative Development

Positive Effects of Sleep

Dr Jude LunnProfessor Padraic MonaghanChloe NewburyJohn Shaw

In our sleep research, we are interested in the positive effects of sleep on learning, memory, problem-solving, and creativity. We are discovering the ways in which sleep is vital for promoting cognitive performance: in some cases, we have found it can actually double people's performance.

We conduct overnight and nap studies, using polysomnography and actigraphy measures of sleep, and have a sleep laboratory in the Department. We are also developing new and innovative techniques for recording sleep at home that will be suitable even for young children and may reduce the need for some patients to stay overnight at a sleep clinic or hospital.

In terms of memory and learning, we investigate the impact that sleep has on people's ability to memorise new material and coordinate their recent experience with their long-term knowledge. We also look at the effect of emotion on memory - whether sleep assists in remembering negative or positive emotional material more effectively. We are also investigating sleep in adolescence: We know sleep patterns change during adolescence and we are looking at how this is related to both social and emotional development.

We also conduct research to determine the effect of sleep on different aspects of language learning - for instance, acquiring vocabulary and grammar - and problem-solving and creativity.

Positive Effects of Sleep

Mental Control and the Shaping of Thought

Kate CainTrevor CrawfordRebecca IversenCharlie LewisJohn TowseJessica Wang

We are interested in a range of theoretical and applied issues. Our team focus on the one hand on the control of the cognitive process and on the other hand, the psychological processes driving key cognitive capacities such as working memory and perspective-taking that shape decisions and skills, from numerical cognition to reading comprehension. The work draws on a range of (often complementary) evidence from developmental psychology, experimental research among adults, psychological changes with ageing and statistical modelling, and encompasses both cognitive science, and social situations.

Our research on mental control attempts to understand and illuminate psychological terms such as executive functioning, exploring both theory and applications across childhood and the ageing process, including work on Alzheimer’s. Our group is also leading innovative work that advances an understanding of how perspectives taking can influence thought processes and how task sharing changes and shapes cognitive processes in the individual, in partnership with colleagues across the UK and the world.

Mental Control and the Shaping of Thought
The Alzheimer's laboratory