Chris Heffner to UConn on NSF postdoc

Congratulations to Chris Heffner, who heads to UConn with two years of NSF support for Identifying a Common Mechanism for Phonetic Learning and Phonetic Adaptation, a project with Emily Myers and Peter Molfese in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, and Psychological Sciences, at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, as well as Vincent Gracco at Haskins.

Chris's project centers on plasticity in speech perception: the ability to change behavior based on input from the environment. There are substantial individual differences in phonetic learning of new speech sound categories, as happens when learning a new language, and also in phonetic adaptation of known speech sound categories, as occurs when encountering an accented talker. Despite the parallels between phonetic learning and phonetic adaptation, these two domains remain only weakly connected. In this project, a series of studies are designed to test whether a single, unified mechanism underlies plasticity for speech sound learning of non-native categories and plasticity for speech sound adaptation to unusual variants embedded in native language speech. The project reflects a search for common behavioral and neural correlates of plasticity for learning and plasticity for adaptation. This search will be undertaken using a combination of (1) finding intercorrelations between two tasks of phonetic learning and two tasks of phonetic adaptation that vary in task demands, (2) probing for correlates of those tasks in structural MRI, resting-state MRI, and DTI measures, and (3) assessment of causal mechanisms of phonetic plasticity by way of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). These experiments will be used to test a proposed model of phonetic plasticity with specific behavioral and neural predictions.