Projects

Candidates are highly recommended to write a proposal that fits into one of the following research lines and are recommended to contact the relevant supervisors when developing proposals. Other projects may be developed but the potential supervisors at the partner universities MUST be contacted prior to application.

New projects are added continuously, so please check this page regularly for new projects!

Navigating a noisy world: Speech perception in the brain

Supervisory team:

A/Prof. Mridula Sharma (Macquarie University; mridula.sharma@mq.edu.au)

Prof. Dr. Outi Tuomainen (Potsdam University; outi.tuomainen@uni-potsdam.de)

This project aims to investigate mechanisms underlying speech perception and comprehension and the impact of noise. The research will employ EEG and novel signal processing methods to identify components of natural speech that are compromised in noise. This methodology may be applied to older adults with hearing loss; children with reading disorders; or young adults from L2 background.

Motor learning in speech and other domains in patients with Parkinson’s disease

Supervisory team:

Prof. Martijn Wieling (University of Groningen, m.b.wieling@rug.nl)

Dr. Michael Proctor (Macquarie University, michael.proctor@mq.edu.au)

Dr. Roel Jonkers (University of Groningen)

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, affecting predominantly the elderly. Symptoms include several motor symptoms, such as resting tremor, slowness of movement, postural instability and rigidity, but also speech problems, such as imprecise articulations, slurring, reduced volume, and a monotonous tone of voice. It is unclear, however, whether these problems stem predominantly from problems with feedforward control (i.e., planning and learning movements) or with feedback control (i.e., monitoring the movements and integrating sensory feedback). This project will thus investigate PD patients’ ability for motor learning and feedback integration in speech and other domains (e.g., vision). This will deepen the understanding of how PD affects the ability to adapt and learn as well as advance our knowledge on how speech is connected to other motor domains. Students can choose to study speech using acoustic as well as several articulatory methods (electromagnetic articulography, ultrasound tongue imaging), and will have the new mobile laboratory of the Faculty of Arts at their disposal for data collection.

Morphological processing in patients with acquired dyslexia

Supervisory team leader:

Dr. Elisabeth (Lisi) Beyersmann (Macquarie University, lisi.beyersmann@mq.edu.au)

Supervisory team:

External supervisor: A/Prof. Simon Fischer-Baum (Rice University, Houston, US)

Supervisors from IDEALAB partner institution:

Dr. Janet Webster (Newcastle University, UK)

Dr. Julie Morris (Newcastle University, UK)

80% of words in the English language are morphologically complex; that is, they comprise multiple morphemes such as a stem (pack) plus an affix (un + pack or pack + ing) or two concatenated stems (back + pack). Morphological structure impacts how we process written words, with morphemes having different implications for meaning. Questions remain about where in the reading system morphological structure has its impact and how morphological parts are recognized in letter strings. This project investigates the influence of morphological structure in reading in a case series of patients with acquired dyslexia. The goal is to dissociate morphological processing from other reading mechanisms (e.g. lexical processing, phonological decoding) by investigating whether or not morphological processing can “survive” in reading impaired patients. Single word reading will be contrasted with reading within the context of phrases and sentences.

Building articulatory routines in more than one language

Supervisory team:

Dr. Ghada Khattab (Newcastle University, ghada.khattab@ncl.ac.uk)

Dr. Michael Proctor (Macquarie University, michael.proctor@mq.edu.au)

Prof. Felicity Cox (Macquarie University, felicity.cox@mq.edu.au)

This project examines acquisition of laterals by bilingual children using instrumental phonetic data. Laterals involve complex lingual articulations, and are typically acquired late and sometimes imperfectly. Because they are produced in different ways in different languages and by different speakers, laterals are also strong markers of social identity. Of particular interest are the articulation of the tongue tip, tongue body, and the co-ordination of these two gestures in patterns of lateral allophony along the continuum from ‘clear’ (palatalised) to ‘dark’ (velarized/pharyngealised) /l/. Lateral realisation is influenced by many factors, including prosodic and morphological conditioning, as well as dialectal and cross-linguistic systematic variation.

Syllables containing laterals require complex gestural co-ordination, and children must learn these coarticulatory patterns from an early age, along with their linguistic conditioning. Little is known about how these co-articulatory routines develop as a child acquires two languages with different types of laterals and different morpho-phonologies. Laterals differ in Arabic, German, Hindi, Mandarin, and English varieties, in ways that offer important insights into bilingual phonological acquisition. This project will investigate how bilingual or multilingual children come to acquire language- and dialect-specific gestural timing and articulatory routines for laterals in each of their languages, and how their acquisition patterns may compare with monolingual children acquiring these languages. The findings will advance our understanding of typical and atypical acquisition of gestural coordination across languages and multilingual contexts.

Using eye-tracking to understand and assess reading comprehension

Supervisory team leads:

Prof. Genevieve McArthur (Macquarie University, genevieve.mcarthur@mq.edu.au)

Prof. Erik Reichle (Macquarie University; erik.reichle@mq.edu.au)

Supervisory team:

Dr. Lili Yu (Macquarie University)

This project aims to investigate whether and how eye-movement measures can be linked to different aspects of reading comprehension, such as decoding and language comprehension. Previous research suggests that there may be a link between certain eye-movement measures and reading comprehension skills, such that decoding skills might be related to some measures. For example, fixation times on a word may be related to that word’s cloze probability, while other measures will be related to higher level processes, such that whole text reading time may be related to text difficulty. This project also aims to investigate whether group and individual differences can be studied with this method, and whether eye-movements may be used as a diagnostic tool for reading difficulties.

The relationship between language and literacy impairments and emotional health in children

Supervisory team:

Prof. Genevieve McArthur (Macquarie University; genevieve.mcarthur@mq.edu.au)

Dr. Carol Moxam (Newcastle University; carol.moxam@newcastle.ac.uk)

Dr. Faye Smith (Newcastle University; faye.smith@newcastle.ac.uk)

There is growing concern amongst educators, clinicians, and scientists that children with language and literacy difficulties suffer poorer emotional health than their typically developing peers – but we do yet fully understand why. In this project, we are working on theories, assessments, and interventions to support children who struggle with literacy, language, and emotional health – particularly anxiety. Thus far, we have discovered that poor reading is more reliably associated with anxiety and poor self-concept than depression; that poor reading is more closely related to some types of anxiety (reading and social anxiety) than others (generalised and separation anxiety); and that integrated reading and anxiety intervention can alleviate reading and anxiety problems to a significant degree. Further, we have found that poor readers with concomitant deficits in spoken language and attention are more likely to have poor self-concept than poor readers without these comorbidities. This suggests that children with broader constellation of deficits in oral and written language may be at even greater risk for emotional problems. It is these children that we wish to turn our attention to next in a joint IDEALAB PhD project. In this project we will bring together research evidence with cutting edge clinical practice to demonstrate the ecological validity of intervention approaches that target anxiety and literacy.

Acquisition of inflectional morphology by bilingual children 

Supervisory team:

Dr. Jae-Hyun Kim (Macquarie University; jae-hyun.kim@mq.edu.au)

Dr. Nan Xu (Macquarie University; nan.xu@mq.edu.au)

Prof. Dr. Outi Tuomainen (University of Potsdam; outi.tuomainen@uni-potsdam.de) 

This project aims to investigate the acquisition of inflectional morphology by bilingual children using a range of perception and production methods, including eye-tracking, to probe different levels of representations. This project will add to a growing knowledge base on typical bilingual development from diverse populations. The proposed project will therefore have implications for education (e.g., early literacy acquisition) and clinical practice (e.g., identifying bilingual children with developmental language disorder). There is scope to investigate factors that contribute to individual variation in performance such as the effect of language typological (e.g., Mandarin, Dutch, German), language input and use, etc. Potential candidates will ideally be a bilingual speaker of the languages under study and have experience(s) using the proposed method(s). Knowledge and skills in using advanced statistical modelling are preferred. Macquarie University will be one of the host universities. It is situated in Sydney, Australia, one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world. Macquarie University has state-of-the-art facilities for language acquisition research including child eye-tracking and production labs.  

Language decline in subjective cognitive impairment: Early detection of dementia

Supervisory team:

Dr. Branislava Ćurčić-Blake (University of Groningen; b.curcic@umcg.nl)

Prof. Roel Jonkers (University of Groningen)

Dr. Srđan Popov (University of Groningen)

Prof. Greg Savage (Macquarie University)

Subjective cognitive decline (SCD) is a form of cognitive impairment and one of the early predictors of Alzheimer’s disease, preceding objective mild cognitive impairment (MCI). SCD is a self-reported decline in cognition and memory without measurable objective cognitive impairment. In recent years SCD has been put in focus because it is important for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. While it is often possible to detect early AD using biomarkers, in order to avoid invasive and cumbersome tests (lumbar puncture and PET) it is important to find different, less invasive methods for early detection.

Language deficits have been reported for AD and aMCI. They include an impaired lexical access and restricted vocabulary range, reduced idea density, impaired semantic fluency and sentence level complexity, reduced discourse cohesion, “empty speech,” and paraphasias. Our project aims to investigate language deficits in people with SCD with a focus on deficits at the sentence level. We will integrate clinical linguistic findings with brain activation measured by fNIRS and eye-movement patterns measured by eye-tracking. This is a longitudinal study with a follow-up of 1 or 2 years. In this way, we plan to create a neurolinguistic profile of SCD using neuropsychological and neuroimaging data.

Digital assessment of dyslexia

Supervisory team:

Dr. Dörte de Kok (University of Groningen; d.a.de.kok@rug.nl)

Dr. Barry de Groot (University of Groningen)

tbd (Macquarie University)

In order to come to a proper diagnosis of dyslexia, clinicians depend on a purposeful selection of high-quality assessment materials. The resulting assessment procedures can be quite lengthy, and most available instruments only include limited online, i.e., “live” information about the reading and writing processes as such. For example, many standardized tests only take into account the total response times and/or number of items correct, possibly discarding any further qualitative information about specific pitfalls or relative strengths that could be highly relevant for individualized instruction and remediation strategies. By developing new dynamic digital assessment materials, we not only strive to make the diagnostic process more enjoyable for clients, but also more comprehensive and accurate, as well as more time-efficient to carry out. Using different modern techniques, many tasks can be scored automatically, yielding instant test results to be presented and implemented dynamically. Going beyond marginal test results, we can easily record and utilize the response times and accuracy of individual test items, but we could also monitor self-corrections, and many other aspects of the reading/writing process, e.g., phonological-articulatory (automatic speech recognition), visual-attentional (eye tracking), and emotive aspects (facial expressions). Based on such extended item information, we can, for example, identify which words were especially difficult for the participant, and determine which features these words share. This would make the identification of the underlying problem areas more secure. Most importantly though, we can generally try for a better fit of the assessment to the abilities of the client by using adaptive materials that adjust the level of difficulty depending on the actual performance during the task, rendering the test procedure more efficient. We welcome proposals focusing on the development, implementation, and evaluation of this kind of digital assessment tools focusing on dyslexic populations.