Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

How does our brain perceive or produce sentences? 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, in the role cultural environment plays in this and in the contribution of visible expressions  (hands, body, and face) to our understanding of the human language faculty. The Institute’s scientific framework is defined by the five areas of Language Development, Multimodal Language, Neurobiology of Language, Psychology of Language, and Language and Genetics. These areas are heavily interconnected through close collaboration between departments and research groups, in line with the interdisciplinary nature of this research field.


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.

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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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Judith Holler, Marlijn ter Bekke, Linda Drijvers

2023 Holler, Judith; Drijvers, Linda; Bekke, Marlijn ter

Cognitive Science Linguistics

In face-to-face communication, recipients need to rapidly integrate a plethora of auditory and visual signals coming from many different bodily articulators. The information in the speech stream may either slow down language processing or result in multimodal facilitation. Our research provides evidence of a multimodal facilitation effect in human communication: participants were faster in shadowing words when seeing multimodal messages compared with only audio. We propose that the multimodal facilitation effect may contribute to the ease of fast face-to-face conversational interaction.


How genetic variants shaped the structure of the human brain over evolutionary history

2022 Molz, Barbara; Alagöz, Gökberk

Cognitive Science Evolutionary Biology Genetics Linguistics

Human brain anatomy has undergone distinct changes during hominin evolution, accompanied by the emergence of complex cognitive functions. Despite recent advances in comparative genomics, we still have only limited insight into how genetic factors contributed to this reshaping of the brain. We addressed the question by using large-scale neuroimaging genomic data from present-day humans to reveal associations between various evolutionary annotations of the human genome and aspects of cortical anatomy and connectivity, spanning a range of periods over the last 30 million years. 


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.


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. 


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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