The Brain Research Lab headed by Prof. Nira Mashal of the School of Education is using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and behavioral measurements to study language processing both in the healthy brain and in special populations such as schizophrenics and autism.
Her studies have demonstrated that the right hemisphere has a special role in understanding novel metaphoric language and in processing non-salient meanings of conventional idiomatic expressions. In addition, her findings suggest that the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (PSTS) is part of a unique brain network that may be selectively involved in verbal creativity.
Furthermore, applying fMRI to investigate the neural bases of metaphoric language processing in schizophrenia has revealed that contrary to healthy controls, patients with schizophrenia activate inferior frontal areas bilaterally, in addition to extended activation in bilateral prefrontal cortex, suggesting loss of normal functional brain asymmetry.
Parents and educators are sometimes unaware of the fact that some children suffer from attention deficit disorder.
These children often do not display hyperactive or impulsive behavior and therefore their learning difficulties are not fully attended to, or in some cases their diagnosis is delayed. One of the aims of Mashal’s work is to develop an ADD diagnostic tool that will be based on physiological inputs.
Furthermore, individuals with ADHD often suffer from difficulties in inhibition irrelevant information. Mashal’s team is currently developing a behavioral test to determine whether or not individuals with ADHD display specific difficulties in suppressing irrelevant linguistic information during non-literal language processing.
Pragmatic aspects of language are important modes of human communication. In everyday communication some verbal messages convey meanings that go beyond the straightforward word-by-word analysis of the message (i.e., the literal meaning).
A deficit in the processing of non-literal language may enhance the social isolation experienced by many individuals on the autism spectrum and may affect the academic achievements of children with learning disabilities.
A central focus of Mashal’s work is to develop an intervention program for improving the communication deficits associated with non-literal language comprehension in children with autism and learning disabilities.
Aphasia is a language impairment characterized by decreased ability to comprehend and formulate language due to acquired damage of the central nervous system.
One of the most common linguistic deficits in aphasia, regardless of the clinical type or anatomical lesion, is dramatically lower ability to name pictures or objects (“Anomia”). Mashal’s team uses transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to study the effects of brain stimulation on the naming abilities of patients with chronic aphasia.