Sengupta, P , Burgaleta, M ,  Zamora-López, G ,  Basora, A ,  Sanjuán A ,  Deco, G ,  Sebastian-Galles, N (2019). Traces of statistical learning in the brain's functional connectivity after artificial language exposure. Neuropsychologia Vol. 124. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.12.001. 
Our environment is full of statistical regularities, and we are attuned to learn about these regularities by employing Statistical Learning (SL), a domain-general ability that enables the implicit detection of probabilistic regularities in our surrounding environment. The role of brain connectivity on SL has been previously explored, highlighting the relevance of structural and functional connections between frontal, parietal, and temporal cortices. However, whether SL can induce changes in the functional connections of the resting state brain has yet to be investigated. To address this question, we applied a pre-post design where participants (n = 38) were submitted to resting-state fMRI acquisition before and after in-scanner exposure to either an artificial language stream (formed by 4 concatenated words) or a random audio stream. Our results showed that exposure to an artificial language stream significantly changed (corrected p < 0.05) the functional connectivity between Right Posterior Cingulum and Left Superior Parietal Lobule. This suggests that functional connectivity between brain networks supporting attentional and working memory processes may play an important role in statistical learning.
Nacar, L, Guerrero-Mosquera, C, Colomer, M. & Sebastian-Galles, N. (2018). Evoked and oscillatory EEG activity differentiates language discrimination in young monolingual and bilingual infants. Scientific Reports.  doi:10.1038/s41598-018-20824-0
Language discrimination is one of the core differences between bilingual and monolingual language acquisition. Here, we investigate the earliest brain specialization induced by it. Following previous research, we hypothesize that bilingual native language discrimination is a complex process involving specific processing of the prosodic properties of the speech signal. We recorded the brain activity of monolingual and bilingual 4.5-month-old infants using EEG, while listening to their native/dominant language and two foreign languages. We defined two different windows of analysis to separate discrimination and identification effects. In the early window of analysis (150–280 ms) we measured the P200 component, and in the later window of analysis we measured Theta (400–1800 ms) and Gamma (300–2800 ms) oscillations. The results point in the direction of different language discrimination strategies for bilingual and monolingual infants. While only monolingual infants show early discrimination of their native language based on familiarity, bilinguals perform a later processing which is compatible with an increase in attention to the speech signal. This is the earliest evidence found for brain specialization induced by bilingualism.
Fort, M; Ayneto-Gimeno, A; Escrichs, A; Sebastian-Galles, N. (2017) Impact of bilingualism on infants' ability to learn from talking and non talking faces. Language Learning. doi:10.1111/lang.12273


To probably overcome the challenge of learning two languages at the same time, infants raised in a bilingual environment pay more attention to the mouth of talking faces than same-age monolinguals. Here we examined the consequences of such preference for monolingual and bilingual infants’ ability to perceive nonspeech information coming from the eyes or the mouth region of talking faces. Using a learning procedure, we recorded 15-month-olds’ and 18-month-olds’ gaze while watching, at each trial, a speaker producing a sentence systematically followed by a nonspeech movement (eyebrow raise vs. lip protrusion). Differences were obtained for infants in the eyebrow-raise condition. While 15-month-old monolinguals and 18-month-old bilinguals learned to anticipate the eyebrow-raise movement before its appearance, 15-month-old bilinguals did not (i.e., they continued to look at the mouth region). Thus, bilingualism appears to impact not only how infants explore talking faces but also how they learn from them.
Discover the world's research 

Fort, M.; Sebastian-Galles, N. (2018). Multimodal language learning: How to crack the speech code by ear and by eye. Language Learning.  doi:10.1111/lang.12279.
This Special Issue
The contributions to this special issue were selected with the intention of showcasing a great variety of approaches to tackle fundamental issues in audiovisual processing and learning. 
Schmitz, J., Bartoli, E., Maffongelli, L., Fadiga, L., Sebastián-Gallés, N. D'Ausilio, Alessandro (2018). Motor cortex compensates for lack of sensory and motor experience during auditory speech perception. Neuropsychologia. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.01.006.


Listening to speech has been shown to activate motor regions, as measured by corticobulbar excitability. In this experiment, we explored if motor regions are also recruited during listening to non-native speech, for which we lack both sensory and motor experience. By administering Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) over the left motor cortex we recorded corticobulbar excitability of the lip muscles when Italian participants listened to native-like and non-native German vowels. Results showed that lip corticobulbar excitability increased for a combination of lip use during articulation and non-nativeness of the vowels. Lip corticobulbar excitability was further related to measures obtained in perception and production tasks showing a negative relationship with nativeness ratings and a positive relationship with the uncertainty of lip movement during production of the vowels. These results suggest an active and compensatory role of the motor system during listening to perceptually/articulatory unfamiliar phonemes.

Schmitz, J., Díaz, B., Fernández Rubio, K., Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2017) Exploring the relationship between speech perception and production across phonological processes, language familiarity, and sensory modalities. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. doi: 10.1080/23273798.2017.1390142


Current speech perception models disagree over the role of speech production in speech perception. In the current study we aimed to characterise the relationship between speech perception and production by testing a large sample of early and highly proficient Spanish-Catalan bilinguals in a variety of speech perception and production tasks. Speech perception was measured for different phonological processes (sub-lexical and phono-lexical), different language familiarities (native, second, and unknown language), and different sensory modalities (auditory and audio-visual). Speech production ability was assessed in the second language. Non-linguistic auditory and sensory motor abilities were also measured. We used factor analysis to look at the relations between the variables. Results showed a tight relationship between speech perception and production measurements, which was present across phonological processes and language familiarities but was independent of audio-visual and non-linguistic (auditory and sensory-motor) skills.

Santamaria-Garcia H., Soriano-Mas C., Burgaleta M., Ayneto A, Alonso P, Menchon J., Cardoner N.,  Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2017.) Social context modulates cognitive markers in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Social Neuroscience. doi:10.1080/17470919.2017.1358211


Error monitoring, cognitive control and motor inhibition control are proposed as cognitive alterations disrupted in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD has also been associated with an increased sensitivity to social evaluations. The effect of a social simulation over electrophysiological indices of cognitive alterations in OCD was examined. A case-control cross-sectional study measuring event-related potentials (ERP) for error monitoring (Error-Related Negativity), cognitive control (N2) and motor control (LRP) was conducted. We analyzed twenty OCD patients and twenty control participants. ERP were recorded during a social game consisting of a visual discrimination task, which was performed in the presence of a simulated superior or an inferior player. Significant social effects (different ERP amplitudes in Superior vs. Inferior player conditions) were found for OCD patients, but not for controls, in all ERP components. Performing the task against a simulated inferior player reduced abnormal ERP responses in OCD to levels observed in controls. The hierarchy-induced ERP effects were accompanied effects over reaction times in OCD patients. Social context modulates signatures of abnormal cognitive functioning in OCD, therefore experiencing a social superiority position impacts over cognitive processes in OCD such as error monitoring mechanisms. These results open the door for the research of new therapeutic choices.

Ayneto, A., Sebastián-Gallés, N., (2017). The influence of bilingualism on the preference for the mouth region of dynamic faces. Developmental Science. doi:10.1111/desc.12446

Bilingual infants show an extended period of looking at the mouth of talking faces, which provides them with additional articulatory cues that can be used to boost the challenging situation of learning two languages (Pons, Bosch & Lewkowicz, 2015). However, the eye region also provides fundamental cues for emotion perception and recognition, as well as communication. Here, we explored whether the adaptations resulting from learning two languages are specific to linguistic content or if they also influence the focus of attention when looking at dynamic faces. We recorded the eye gaze of bilingual and monolingual infants (8‐ and 12‐month‐olds) while watching videos of infants and adults portraying different emotional states (neutral, crying, and laughing). When looking at infant faces, bilinguals looked longer at the mouth region as compared to monolinguals regardless of age. However, when presented with adult faces, 8‐month‐old bilingual infants looked longer at the mouth region and less at the eye region compared to 8‐month‐old monolingual infants, but no effect of language exposure was found at 12 months of age. These findings suggest that the bias to the mouth region in bilingual infants at 8 months of age can be generalized to other audiovisual dynamic faces that do not contain linguistic information. We discuss the potential implications of such bias in early social and communicative development.

Schmitz, J., Díaz, B., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2016). Attention modulates somatosensory influences in passive speech listening. Journal of Cognitive Psychology. 10.1080/20445911.2016.1206107


Previous studies showed that manipulating the speech production system influenced speech perception. This influence was mediated by task difficulty, listening conditions, and attention. In the present study we investigated the specificity of a somatosensory manipulation—a spoon over the tongue—in passive listening. We measured the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) while participants listened to vowels that differ in their articulation—the tongue height—and familiarity—native and unknown vowels. The same participants heard the vowels in a spoon and no-spoon block. The order of the blocks was counterbalanced across participants. Results showed no effect of the spoon. Instead, starting with the spoon enhanced the MMN amplitude. A second experiment showed the same MMN enhancement for starting with a somatosensory manipulation applied to a non-articulator—the hand. This result suggests that starting a study with a somatosensory manipulation raises attention to the task.

Ayneto, A. & Sebastian-Galles N. (2016). The influence of bilingualism on the preference for the mouth region of dynamic faces. Developmental Science. DOI: 10.1111/desc.12446


This study explores if the increased preference for the mouth region in bilingual infants when looking at talking faces is generalized to other dynamic faces, such as emotional faces. The results show that bilingual infants look longer at the mouth as compared to monolingual infants regardless of the linguistic content of the stimuli. This indicates that the adaptations resulting from learning two languages can be generalized to non linguistic faces.


Díaz, B., Mitterer H., Broersma M., Escera C., & Sebastian-Galles N. (2016).  Variability in L2 phonemic learning originates from speech-specific capabilities: An MMN study on late bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. DOI 10.1017/S1366728915000450


People differ in their ability to perceive second language (L2) sounds. In early bilinguals the variability in learning L2 phonemes stems from speech-specific capabilities (Díaz, Baus, Escera, Costa & Sebastián-Gallés, 2008). The present study addresses whether speech-specific capabilities similarly explain variability in late bilinguals. Event-related potentials were recorded (using a design similar to Díaz et al., 2008) in two groups of late Dutch–English bilinguals who were good or poor in overtly discriminating the L2 English vowels /ε-æ/. The mismatch negativity, an index of discrimination sensitivity, was similar between the groups in conditions involving pure tones (of different length, frequency, and presentation order) but was attenuated in poor L2 perceivers for native, unknown, and L2 phonemes. These results suggest that variability in L2 phonemic learning originates from speech-specific capabilities and imply a continuity of L2 phonemic learning mechanisms throughout the lifespan.


Burgaleta, M., Sanjuan A., Ventura-Campos N., Sebastian-Galles N., & Avila C. (2016).  Bilingualism at the core of the brain. Structural differences between bilinguals and monolinguals revealed by subcortical shape analysis. Neuroimage. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.09.073


Naturally acquiring a language shapes the human brain through a long-lasting learning and practice process. This is supported by previous studies showing that managing more than one language from early childhood has an impact on brain structure and function. However, to what extent bilingual individuals present neuroanatomical peculiarities at the subcortical level with respect to monolinguals is yet not well understood, despite the key role of subcortical gray matter for a number of language functions, including monitoring of speech production and language control -two processes especially solicited by bilinguals. Here we addressed this issue by performing a subcortical surface-based analysis in a sample of monolinguals and simultaneous bilinguals (N=88) that only differed in their language experience from birth. This analysis allowed us to study with great anatomical precision the potential differences in morphology of key subcortical structures, namely, the caudate, accumbens, putamen, globus pallidus and thalamus. Vertexwise analyses revealed significantly expanded subcortical structures for bilinguals compared to monolinguals, localized in bilateral putamen and thalamus, as well as in the left globus pallidus and right caudate nucleus. A topographical interpretation of our results suggests that a more complex phonological system in bilinguals may lead to a greater development of a subcortical brain network involved in monitoring articulatory processes. 


Soley, G., & Sebastian-Galles N. (2015).  Infants prefer tunes previously introduced by speakers of their native language. Child Development. Volume 86, Number 6, Pages 1685–1692 DOI 10.1111/cdev.12408

Abstract: Infants show attentional biases for certain individuals over others based on various cues.  However, the role of these biases in shaping infants' preferences and learning is not clear. Here, we asked whether infants' preference for native speakers (Kinzler, Dupoux, & Spelke, 2007) would modulate their preferences for tunes. We found that after getting equal exposure to two different tunes introduced by two speakers, 7-month-olds (N=32) listened longer to the tune that was introduced by a native speaker compared to the tune that was introduced by a foreign speaker. This suggests that the social/emotional context in which exposure to stimuli occurs influences auditory preferences, and that the early emerging attentional biases might have important ramifications regarding social learning in early infancy.


Brito, N. H., Sebastian-Galles N., & Barr R. (2015).  Differences in Language Exposure and its Effects on Memory Flexibility in Monolingual, Bilingual, and Trilingual Infants. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. 18, 670-682. DOI 10.1017/S1366728914000789

Abstract: Bilingual advantages in memory flexibility, indexed using a memory generalization task, have been reported (Brito & Barr, 2012; 2014), and the present study examines what factors may influence memory performance. The first experiment examines the role of language similarity; bilingual 18-month-old infants exposed to two similar languages (Spanish-Catalan) or two more different (English-Spanish) languages were tested on a memory generalization task and compared to monolingual 18-month-olds. The second experiment compares performance by trilingual 18-month-olds to monolingual and bilingual infants’ performance from the first experiment. The bilingual advantage in memory flexibility was robust; both bilingual groups outperformed the monolingual groups, with no significant differences between bilingual groups. Interestingly, an advantage was not found for infants exposed to three languages. These findings demonstrate early emerging differences in memory flexibility, and have important implications for our understanding of how early environmental variations shape the trajectory of memory development.


Santamaria-Garcia, H., Burgaleta M., & Sebastian-Galles N. (2015). Neuroanatomical Markers of Social Hierarchy Recognitionin Humans: A Combined ERP/MRI Study. Journal of Neuroscience. 35, 10843–10850. DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1457-14.2015

Abstract: Social hierarchy is an ubiquitous principle of social organization across animal species. Although some progress has been made in our understanding of how humans infer hierarchical identity, the neuroanatomical basis for perceiving key social dimensions of others remains unexplored. Here, we combined event-related potentials and structural MRI to reveal the neuroanatomical substrates of early status recognition. We designed a covertly simulated hierarchical setting in which participants performed a task either with a superior or with an inferior player. Participants showed higher amplitude in the N170 component when presented with a picture of a superior player compared with an inferior player. Crucially, the magnitude of this effect correlated with brain morphology of the posterior cingulate cortex, superior temporal gyrus, insula, fusiform gyrus, and caudate nucleus. We conclude that early recognition of social hierarchies relies on the structural properties of a network involved in the automatic recognition of social identity. 


Fort, M., Escrichs A., Ayneto-Gimeno, A, Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2015) You can raise your eyebrows, I don’t mind:
are monolingual and bilingual infantsequally good at learning from the eyes region of a talking face? In FAAVSP-2015, 7-11. FAAVSP - The 1st Joint Conference on Facial Analysis, Animation, and Auditory-Vis ual Speech Processing Vienna, Austria


Costa, A., & Sebastian-Galles N. (2014).  How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 15, 336–345. DOI 10.1038/nrn3709

Abstract: The ability to speak two languages often marvels monolinguals, although bilinguals report no difficulties in achieving this feat. Here, we examine how learning and using two languages affect language acquisition and processing as well as various aspects of cognition. We do so by addressing three main questions. First, how do infants who are exposed to two languages acquire them without apparent difficulty? Second, how does language processing differ between monolingual and bilingual adults? Last, what are the collateral effects of bilingualism on the executive control system across the lifespan? Research in all three areas has not only provided some fascinating insights into bilingualism but also revealed new issues related to brain plasticity and language learning.


Jin, Yu, Díaz Begoña, Colomer Marc, and Sebastian-Galles Nuria (2014) Oscillation Encoding of Individual Differences in Speech Perception, Plos One, Volume 9 DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0100901

Abstract: Individual differences in second language (L2) phoneme perception (within the normal population) have been related to speech perception abilities, also observed in the native language, in studies assessing the electrophysiological response mismatch negativity (MMN). Here, we investigate the brain oscillatory dynamics in the theta band, the spectral correlate of the MMN, that underpin success in phoneme learning. Using previous data obtained in an MMN paradigm, the dynamics of cortical oscillations while perceiving native and unknown phonemes and nonlinguistic stimuli were studied in two groups of participants classified as good and poor perceivers (GPs and PPs), according to their L2 phoneme discrimination abilities. The results showed that for GPs, as compared to PPs, processing of a native phoneme change produced a significant increase in theta power. Stimulus time-locked analysis event-related spectral perturbation (ERSP) showed differences for the theta band within the MMN time window (between 70 and 240 ms) for the native deviant phoneme. No other significant difference between the two groups was observed for the other phoneme or nonlinguistic stimuli. The dynamic patterns in the theta-band may reflect early automatic change detection for familiar speech sounds in the brain. The behavioral differences between the two groups may reflect individual variations in activating brain circuits at a perceptual level.


Book Chapter: 

Nuria Sebastian Galles. Becoming bilingual: Are there different learning pathways? The Cambridge Handbook of Bilingual Processing. Cambridge, UK. EDITOR: John W. Schwieter. 

How does a human acquire, comprehend, produce and control multiple languages with just the power of one mind? What are the cognitive consequences of being a bilingual? These are just a few of the intriguing questions at the core of studying bilingualism from psycholinguistic and neurocognitive perspectives. Bringing together some of the world's leading experts in bilingualism, cognitive psychology and language acquisition, The Cambridge Handbook of Bilingual Processing explores these questions by presenting a clear overview of current theories and findings in bilingual processing. This comprehensive handbook is organized around overarching thematic areas including theories and methodologies, acquisition and development, comprehension and representation, production, control, and the cognitive consequences of bilingualism. The handbook serves as an informative overview for researchers interested in cognitive bilingualism and the logic of theoretical and experimental approaches to language science. It also functions as an instrumental source of readings for anyone interested in bilingual processing.

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