Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

What happens in the brain when we hear a sentence or form one? Why is it that children and adults can all learn languages, but children are usually far more successful at it – or is that a false impression? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Dutch city of Nijmegen are getting to the bottom of questions like these in the course of their work. They are also interested in how language and thinking affect one another, what role the cultural environment plays in this. The five areas of Language Development, Neurobiology of Language, Psychology of Language, Language and cognition, and Language and Genetics define the Institute’s scientific framework. These areas are heavily interconnected through close collaboration between departments and research groups, in line with the interdisciplinary nature of this research field.

Contact

Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen, Niederlande
Phone: +31 24 3521-911
Fax: +31 24 3521-213

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS for Language Sciences

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

How do you successfully develop a long-term strategy for a diverse and inclusive culture? The MPI for Psycholinguistics has set up a local working group to tackle this challenge

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16 new high-quality reference genomes from vertebrates are published, advancing comparative biology, conservation, and health research

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First six reference-quality bat genomes released and analysed.

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DNA fragments from Neandertals in the human genome shed light on brain evolution

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From a research perspective, reading and writing is a fascinating phenomenon. After all, the first writing systems date back less than 6,000 years – the blink of an eye in the timescale of human evolution. How the human brain is nonetheless able to master this complex task is a key question.

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Synesthesia is one of the most fascinating phenomena in psychology and the neurosciences. But only very slowly are its scientific mysteries being uncovered. Research in this field is gathering momentum, thanks to the studies being conducted by Simon Fisher from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Dutch city of Nijmegen.

For us, it appears natural that children should start to speak at some point. Yet learning language is a major feat, which is still not fully understood even today. The Departments led by Caroline Rowland at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and Angela Friederici at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig are using a wide range of methods to investigate how children learn this complex system of communication with seemingly no effort.

Scientists from 100 countries work at the Max Planck Institutes. Here they write about their personal experiences and impressions. Julia Misersky, doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, recently started her maternity leave. Here she introduces her research topic, explains how she plans to juggle her doctoral studies with motherhood, and talks about her commitment to improving conditions for young parents.

Our bodies, our behavior and even our brains are anything but symmetrical. And this seems to be an important factor in the seamless functioning of our thought, speech and motor faculties. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen are currently searching for genetic clues to this phenomenon. They want to decode the fundamental molecular biological mechanisms that contribute to asymmetry in the brain, and to identify possible causes for neurological disorders.

During everyday conversations, we often begin to speak before we have decided exactly what we want to say. Antje Meyer and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen are investigating how we plan sentences and what obstacles may stand in the way. To this end, the researchers test volunteers on a treadmill, construct virtual environments and travel to India to study whether illiterate individuals process language differently.

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Costs and Benefits of Word Prediction

2021 Mante S. Nieuwland

Cognitive Science Linguistics

The ability of continuous prediction of words is considered the reason why we can follow quickly spoken language. But how does our brain manage to predict the content? And what are the costs and benefits of this approach? With our research on prediction, we want to pave the way to a better understanding of language comprehension.

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From sound to spoken language: How is meaning generated in the human brain? 

2020 Kaufeld, Greta; Meyer, Antje S.

Cognitive Science Linguistics

When comprehending spoken language, we combine acoustic information with our learned linguistic knowledge. At the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, we have investigated in more detail what happens in the brain when we extract meaning from an acoustic signal: Brain signals “synchronize” with the signal in specific frequency bands. 

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Brain waves synchronize to the speed of talking, influencing the way we hear words

2019 Bosker, Hans Rutger

Cognitive Science Linguistics

Even though we typically have little trouble having a spoken conversation with someone else, speech in everyday communication is a noisy and highly variable signal. The same word can be pronounced in very different ways. It is therefore quite remarkable that listeners have little trouble understanding speech with all its variation. The present study has revealed a neurobiological mechanism that helps listeners understand speech produced at different speech rates, involving brainwaves synchronizing to the rhythm of speech, in turn influencing how we perceive the words in the speech signal.

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How does the brain build a language?

2018 Rowland, Caroline F.

Cognitive Science Linguistics

How does the human brain acquire a language? And why do some of us learn language earlier and faster than others?  In our research, we work to answer these questions by studying how children build a language system from the speech they hear in childhood. Our aim is to understand what drives language acquisition by discovering what differences exist in the brain’s learning mechanisms, how these differences arise, and why they affect the trajectory of learning so substantially.

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Chatty bats and the biology of language

2017 Vernes, Sonja C.

Cognitive Science Linguistics

How the capacity for human language evolved and is encoded in our biology is one of the great unanswered questions. Studying language relevant abilities in animals, such as the ability to learn new vocalisations, will make it possible to decipher the basis of these traits. By studying the genetics, neurobiology and behaviour of bats we will advance our knowledge about the origins of mammalian vocal communication and may ultimately gain insight into the biological encoding and evolution of human speech and langauge.

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