Chris Heffner

PhD, Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, University of Maryland, College Park
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Connecticut

If you've ever used an automated voice recognition system, like the ones that process you through customer support on the phone, you have a sense of how hard it is to understand the speech of someone else. If we can't teach a machine to do it, how is it that we humans can understand sentences spoken at a rate of about 300 words per minute? As if life couldn't get more challenging, speech changes, too. Speaker-by-speaker and dialect-by-dialect, people don't all speak in the same way. My research focuses on plasticity in speech perception. In particular, I look at learning and adaptation. We learn new phonetic categories when we learn a new language. We adapt to variation in the speech of others in our native language. These two processes require our brain to be plastic, to change with experience. I study how it does that, and whether people who are good at learning things about new languages are also good at understanding people with an unfamiliar dialect, or people speaking quickly.

Much of my research involves behavioral tasks. Basically, I bring people into the lab and have them do simple tasks where they learn new categories or write down sentences. Here at UConn, I am picking up brain scanning techniques, primarily ones that use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

© 2010-2018 Chris Heffner; Updated 2018-12-01