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Review of  Research Methods in Psycholinguistics and the Neurobiology of Language: A Practical Guide

Reviewer: Zeynep Başer
Book Title: Research Methods in Psycholinguistics and the Neurobiology of Language: A Practical Guide
Book Author: Annette M. B. de Groot Peter Hagoort
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 30.3639

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The book entitled ''Research Methods in Psycholinguistics and the Neurobiology of Language: A Practical Guide'' aims to provide a comprehensive overview of various methods currently used in research on understanding the psycholinguistic and neurobiological aspects of the human language faculty. The book consists of 17 chapters, each of which focuses on a different method used in the field, although each has similar sections. More specifically, all the authors in the book explain the rationale of the method they introduce, the required apparatus, the process of data collection and analysis, what instruments and software programs are currently available and might be used, the procedure of the experiments, and the weaknesses and strengths of each method in comparison to related methods. They also present an exemplary study or provide a reference to other relevant studies for a more detailed explanation. Below is given a brief summary of each chapter.

In the first chapter, Fennell introduces the habituation techniques and their use in language acquisition studies. The method makes it simple to implement tasks with infants or very young children, from whom it is often challenging to collect language data. The rationale of using the method, the basics and the nature of the stimuli are explained with examples from the literature. Though measures such as heart rate and sucking can be also used in the habituation studies, Fennell mainly focuses on a relatively more advantageous one, looking time, which does not require any other material such as electrodes or pacifiers. He also provides a useful guide for methodological design by clarifying the important phases, and presents an exemplary study. Lastly, advantages and problems one might encounter in the implementation and interpretation are discussed.

In Chapter 2, the authors, Golinkoff, Soderstrom, Can, and Hirsh-Pasek, present visual preference techniques. They ultimately describe the Intermodal Preferential Looking Paradigm and the Head Turn Preference Procedure. The authors explain how these methods can be used in order to better understand the process of language acquisition in infants and very young children who cannot yet follow instructions or produce language. First, the authors present the Intermodal Preferential Looking Paradigm. Following a general overview and an example study, they give details about the variants of the paradigm, namely Interactive Intermodal Preferential Looking Paradigm, the Looking-While-Listening Paradigm, and Preferential Looking Paradigm without Language. Later, the Head Turn Preference Procedure and the variants of the procedure are also briefly mentioned. Visual preference techniques are also advantageous, as are the habituation techniques mentioned in Chapter 1, considering the fact that they make it easy to conduct studies with pre-linguistic children. On the other hand, children's behaviours might equally be driven by uncontrolled factors, as discussed in both chapters. Therefore, researchers should be careful especially in the interpretation of the data.

In Chapter 3, the authors, Marchman and Dale, focus on assessing receptive and expressive vocabulary in young children by making use of three types of methods: language sampling, parent report, and direct assessment. Introducing some core issues in studying and assessing vocabulary knowledge, the authors explain the ins and outs of each method. Furthermore, they name several tools such as CHILDES and ELAN for language sampling, Wordbank and some language development surveys for parent report, and vocabulary tests for direct assessment, all of which are currently available for studying vocabulary development in some languages.

In Chapter 4, Kliegl and Laubrock discuss the use of an eye-tracking record during reading. The nature of eye-tracking data, eye-trackers and experimental paradigms are introduced for beginners. Later, the authors explain eye-tracking measures and inferential statistics required for data analysis. The authors present an example study investigating the eye-voice span during oral reading. The technical details regarding simultaneous recording of eye movements and voice protocols as well as identification of word boundaries during oral reading are explained briefly. Lastly, after naming general practical issues related to eye-tracking during reading, the authors present brief descriptions of three research paradigms (lexical decision tasks, rapid serial visual presentation, and self-paced reading) used in reading experiments to limit the disadvantages of eye-tracking methodology.

Salverda and Tanenhaus explain the visual world paradigm and discuss the advantages of and concerns about the relevant experimental methods in Chapter 5. The visual world paradigm combines language processing and visual search. Participants' eye movements to objects or images are monitored while they listen to or produce language. Introducing the basics of the paradigm, the authors discuss general issues that need to be taken into consideration during the design, analysis, and interpretation stages such as speech-, task-, or vision- related factors. The authors suggest that the visual world paradigm has several advantages in psycholinguistic studies as follows: it can be used with a wide range of populations, it is a real-time measure, it is aimed at understanding the nature of speech processing, and it can be used to study interactive task-based communication. However, it is important to be aware of the limitations due to the assumptions and principles of the paradigm.

In Chapter 6 entitled ''Word Priming and Interference Paradigms, the authors, Shao and Meyer, describe word priming and interference studies to investigate the complex structure of the mental lexicon. Explaining the basics of the paradigms very briefly, the authors immediately present two exemplary studies for a better picture of conducting these studies. Later, they exemplify software packages such as E-prime and Praat, and discuss other important issues that ought to be taken into consideration while designing a priming experiment such as modality of primes and targets, properties of prime-target combinations, stimulus timing, and the choice of task and participants. After sharing some details about the data analysis procedure, the chapter ends with a final word on the contributions of word priming studies to psycholinguistics and their limitations.

Structural priming is the facilitation of processing which is observed when a sentence has the same structure as a preceding one. The relevant literature has shown that people's choices of a particular language structure is sensitive to structural priming, and many scholars have used the paradigm as a powerful tool for understanding the underlying mechanisms of sentence processing. In Chapter 7, Branigan and Gibb describe the structural priming paradigm. The authors provide detailed explanations about the design of structural priming experiments with famous examples from the literature. Furthermore, paradigms for studying priming in comprehension and production are presented separately so as to clarify differences in tasks of structural priming within or across modalities. The authors present a hypothetical study as a useful guide for experimental design and analysis, and later discuss main concerns and limitations of structural priming paradigms in general.

In Chapter 8 entitled ''Conversation Analysis'', Hoey and Kendrick describe the basics of conversation analysis, a method for understanding the nature of human social interaction. In the chapter, the authors mainly focus on four types of practices for conducting conversation. These include turn-taking, sequence-organization, turn design, and repair. The details of collecting and analyzing data are presented with clear examples. For this purpose, they introduce a candidate interactional practice they will identify as ''assessment-implicative interrogative phenomenon'' from real data extracts and examine it through the chapter demonstrating every step of how to define the boundaries of a phenomenon and provide a formal account. Besides, the authors touch upon the extent to which quantitative methods are also used in conversation analysis. The chapter ends with an exploratory discussion about the potential contributions of conversation analysis, from the study of social interaction to psycholinguistics, the study of cognitive processes in individuals.

Chapter 9 is about the use of virtual reality in psycholinguistic studies. The authors, Casasanto and Jasmin, mainly focus on the use of immersive virtual reality (iVR), in which individuals are expected to have the ultimate feeling of ''presence''. iVR can offer a compromise between high levels of experimental control and realism to language researchers. Parameters of the stimuli, including those of the agents and the environment, can be much more easily manipulated with the use of VR. The authors present the details and examples of such experimental manipulation. Later, they present an exemplary study investigating speech accommodation and the extent to which extralinguistic aspects of an interaction might play a role in accommodation effects. Furthermore, before negotiating the advantages and pitfalls of iVR, in order to discuss whether the conclusions of studies on conversation in immersive virtual reality might be generalized to real conversation between humans, the authors present a relevant study investigating the effect of syntactic priming when humans are interacting with other humans, human-like virtual interlocutors, and computer-like virtual interlocutors.

In Chapter 10 entitled ''Studying Psycholinguistics out of the Lab, the authors, Speed, Wnuk, and Majid present three ways through which psycholinguistic studies might be taken out of the lab, to the settings in which more diverse samples might be collected, or to the situations in which language is actually used in real life, thereby making it much more possible to generalize the results of the psycholinguistics studies to the real-world. The authors start with cross-cultural field studies, and highlight the importance of doing research with a larger diversity of languages in the field, considering the fact that manifold studies have been conducted with participants from similar backgrounds. Later, studies conducted online or in museums, which will enable researchers to reach a broader sample of participants, are discussed. Psycholinguistic experiments are typically administered in controlled settings so as to avoid confounding factors in the real-world context. However, the results obtained in these studies might not reflect actual language use in daily life which is shaped by many external factors. Therefore, lastly, the authors touch upon conducting studies in real-world settings. For each one of these three ways of taking psycholinguistics out of the lab, they present the rationale, practice, advantages and problems of the studies as well as noteworthy example studies.

In order to deal with and better understand complex interactions between confounding and target variables; however, one might often need to systematically manipulate target variables while keeping others under tight experimental control. Computational modeling offers researchers the flexibility in doing so. In Chapter 11 entitled ''Computational Modeling'', the authors, Li and Zhao argue the significant contribution of computational modeling to psycholinguistic studies. They provide an overview of two approaches: the probabilistic approach and the connectionist approach. Some basic probabilistic and connectionist algorithms are briefly discussed with a focus on their implementation. What's more, several existing tools for varying purposes are also introduced for those who are not familiar with computer programming. Lastly, the authors clearly present model examples (covering the architecture, stimulus representation, simulation and data analysis) for each approach without venturing into complex mathematical details.

Chapter 12 is about the relation between corpus linguistics and psycholinguistic studies. The authors, Brysbaert, Mandera, and Keuleers, mainly focus on how to use word frequency data and semantic similarity vectors in research. They build on the previous chapter by first touching upon the importance of traditional distributional models, HAL and LSA, and introducing new approaches. Chapter 12 also presents several software packages and a list of useful websites currently available to those who aim to use corpus linguistic tools in psycholinguistic studies.

In Chapter 13, the authors, Rommers and Federmeier focus on electrophysiological methods. They highlight the primary strength of EEG (Electroencephalogram) in temporal resolution, and explain some important ERP (Event-Related Potentials) components that have been used in language research such as N400, P600, LAN (The Left Anterior Negativity), LRP (Lateralized Readiness Potential), and MMN (The Mismatch Negativity). Introducing the basics of EEG systems, the procedures and important issues in data collection and analysis, the authors finally provide a comparison of EEG and MEG (Magnetoencephalography).

In Chapter 14, the authors, Willems and Cristia introduce hemodynamic methods, namely fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and FNIRS (Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy). Both methods are indirect, non-invasive and provide relatively high spatial resolution. The authors discuss advantages and disadvantages of fMRI and FNIRS separately due to their differences in the nature of the apparatus, and the procedure of data collection and analysis despite the fact that both methods ultimately rely on the change in oxygen use in the brain region activated. Furthermore, the authors briefly compare fMRI, a non-invasive, and PET (Positron Emission Tomography), an invasive method, and later fNIRS with other neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI, EEG and MEG in terms of their advantages and disadvantages in language research with a diverse sample of populations.

The authors, Forker and Catani, focus on the principles of structural MRI; particularly diffusion imaging and tractography in Chapter 15, along with their role in providing a better understanding of functional anatomy of language in healthy brain or clinical populations. Inadequate though the models are with low precision and accuracy of the measurements, the authors suggest that the advancements are promising and the data can be useful when meticulously analyzed with sufficient field knowledge and combined with those obtained from other imaging modalities.

Baldo and Dronkers discuss the importance of lesion studies in understanding the neural basis of language in Chapter 16. Upon a general introduction, the authors predominantly focus on more recent approaches to lesion analysis, namely voxel-based studies, in which a wide range of patients can be simultaneously analyzed without dividing them into groups by lesion site or clinical diagnosis.

In the last chapter, de Kovel and Fisher present the contributions of molecular genetics to language research. After introducing the basics of genetic architecture, sequencing and genotyping techniques, the authors discuss the extent to which inter-individual differences in language skills can be explained with genetic variations by studying monogenic and multifactorial traits.

To conclude, the book covers a great number of methods currently available, and it is definitely a useful guide for anyone who will conduct a study in the field, given the clear, concise, but comprehensive explanations it provides about each method.


Studying psycholinguistics and the neurobiology of language require an appealing interdisciplinary perspective. Over many years, there have been a myriad number of studies investigating the relation between language and mind, the underlying mechanisms of language processing, comprehension and production modalities, from a wide range of perspectives, from the very beginning of forming an utterance to successful comprehension and production of complex and abstract sentences, from pre-linguistic level to interactions with human-like agents, or monitoring computational models. Even though several crucial issues and controversies have arisen due to distinct scientific methods employed and theories put forward, no one can deny that our understanding of human language has advanced. To illustrate, the research on language in the brain has shed light on the fact that there is not actually a certain language faculty specifically and merely localized for controlling language processing as proposed previously, but a neural network consisting of temporal, parietal and frontal lobes, which are also functionally involved in the sequences of other cognitive events. However, we need to develop a richer understanding. Even though there seems to be a functional neuroanatomy of language; for instance, there is still no agreement on what kind of computation in the brain forms the basis for linguistic representations and operations. Many long-running debates have also remained unsolved yet. The ultimate factor appears to be the fact that language is so complex, and thus a wider perspective is needed to reveal what it actually involves. It will be only likely to make predictions on observable linguistic phenomena interconnecting different levels of analysis. The expectation is that creating a framework incorporating various tools will allow us to generate and test explicit predictions about how human beings acquire and process language(s). This book is a powerful collection of many methods, tools, software packages, seminal studies, and important references presented by the pioneering scholars in their fields. That's why, I believe that this book will be very useful for novice or experienced researchers, as a guide for them to conduct studies and to gain insights into different angles of language research.

With the book entitled ''Research Methods in Psycholinguistics and the Neurobiology of Language, the authors aimed to introduce the currently available methods used in the field. As mentioned in the Summary, the book consists of 17 chapters, each with a focus on different methods used in investigating the acquisition of language, the comprehension/production process, and the neural and genetic basis of language. Difficult though it might have been to guide the reader in the case of such variety, the book is successful in that it focuses on primarily behavioral, computational, and neurological methods and presents them in a logical order: the book starts with relevant research methods used with infants in order to understand language development, and later introduces others used in order to understand different aspects of human language processing. It is easy to read, and enables the reader to gain a general view of the rationale, basic procedures, and practical considerations of each method currently available to those in the field of psycholinguistics and the neurobiology of language. Thus, those who want to familiarize themselves with any of these methods can easily understand the goals, benefits and limitations of each method, and follow the outline of an example study presented in each chapter while designing their own research.
Zeynep Başer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Western Languages and Literature, Kırıkkale University, Turkey. She received her BA and MA in English Language Teaching from Middle East Technical University. She holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science (majors in Psychology & Linguistics). Zeynep does research in Psycholinguistics, Experimental Linguistics, Cognitive Science, and Foreign Language Education.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781119109846
Pages: 392
Prices: U.S. $ 99.95
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781119109853
Pages: 392
Prices: U.S. $ 49.95