Prof. Miriam Faust is Vice Rector at Bar-Ilan University and a Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center. Work in her lab focuses on the brain and language, and includes projects that investigate language processing in the left and right cerebral hemispheres, developmental language disorders, word retrieval, language production, and the processing of metaphorical language in normal and clinical populations.
Additional work in the lab addresses the brain and cognitive processes involved in creativity, as well as the psychology of reading and reading disabilities.
Faust and her team use a variety of research techniques—including behavioral methods, magnetoencephalography (MEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and event-related potentials (ERP)—to study the intact brain as well as various clinical groups.
Faust and her team have explored the link between sound and language impairments in language-based disorders such as dyslexia and have demonstrated how “word finding” problems can stem from difficulty in retrieving sounds from long-term memory.
The team works on identifying the cognitive mechanisms involved in verbal creativity as well as in creative processing in related brain areas. Another major research project in the lab focuses on the cognitive and neurolinguistic processes involved in acquiring foreign languages.
Although scientists have long understood that the left hemisphere houses the brain’s language center, recent studies have provided evidence of the right brain’s role in certain language processing situations, specifically those involving metaphors, idioms, humor, irony, ambiguity, connotations, and finding the solution to insight problems.
In one project, Faust and her team investigated which side of the brain is responsible for interpreting poetic metaphor. By combining the traditional observational approach with the measurement of real-time brain activity, they discovered that when metaphors were presented separately to each brain hemisphere, the left brain often interpreted as nonsensical what the right brain saw as meaningful.
The converging evidence from behavioral, ERP and fMRI experiments suggests that the right hemisphere plays a unique role in processing novel metaphoric expressions taken from poetry, and that in terms of brain activity, prose and poetry are significantly different from one another. This is consistent with theories that postulate a predominantly right hemisphere processing of distant semantic relationship and nonsalient meanings.
In addition, the results of research conducted in Faust’s lab may have some implications for the right hemisphere’s contribution to specific processes underlying verbal creativity. For example, one aspect of creative thinking involves associating remote elements (“imagination” and “caves”) into a novel but useful (interpretable) combination.
Faust and her team plan to continue to investigate how different individuals and populations process the language of metaphor and poetry. They aim to explore how the brain understands entire sentences and sections of poetry, and whether previous exposure to poetic expressions (and/or changing them to more familiar expressions) can affect the brain regions typically engaged in their comprehension.
Another research project will focus on the brain differences between persons who are successful and unsuccessful foreign language learners.