Katrien Segaert

Neuroscience of language lab

How does ageing affect language processing?

Some aspects of language processing seem to be negatively affected by healthy ageing (e.g. naming, writing, grammar production), while other language processes (e.g. syntactic comprehension) seem more resistant to age-related decline. My main interest is in the neurobiological infrastructure that underlies the preservation versus decline of language processing. I am working on projects inverstigating the neural compensation that may take place to ensure that some language processes remain intact in ageing populations. I am also interested in identifying external factors that could counter age-related decline in language processing, such as fitness and regular exercise. If you would like to volunteer and participate in one of our projects, please see here.


In my most recent research project, I found that fitter older people are less likely to have tip-of-the-tongue moments than less fit older people (paper). I published an article about this work in The Conversation. The findings were covered by press worldwide, e.g. New York Times, The Telegraph, WebMD, MedicalXpress, Science Daily, Business Insider, Daily Mail, Reuters, etc.


I also research language processing in older adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment. Together with colleagues at the Univeristy of Birmingham and the University of California - Davis, I uncovered that during word reading there is a brain activity signature that is predictive of developing Alzheimer's disease (paper). This work was covered by press worldwide, e.g. The Independent, Science Daily, Gulf Times, New Zealand Herald, MedicalXpress etc.

How is syntactic and semantic processing instantiated in the brain?

Production and comprehension are often assumed to be two separated systems. I conducted several fMRI studies on sentence comprehension and sentence production, in which I showed that the neurobiological infrastructure for syntactic and semantic processing is shared for speaking and listening. I have also demonstrated how the brain implements syntactic binding through precisely timed oscillatory mechanisms (measured using EEG).

I am currently conducting studies using a combined EEG-fMRI approach to further investigate interregional communication in the brain network supporting syntactic and semantic processing (funded by The Welcome Trust).


Read more:

Segaert, K., Mazaheri, A., & Hagoort, P. (2018). Binding language: Structuring sentences through precisely timed oscillatory mechanisms. European Journal of Neuroscience, 1-12. doi:10.1111/ejn.13816. (PDF)

Segaert, K., Menenti, L., Weber, K., Petersson, K. M., & Hagoort, P. (2012). Shared syntax in language production and language comprehension — An fMRI study. Cerebral Cortex, 22, 1662-1670. (PDF)

Menenti, L., Gierhan, S., Segaert, K., & Hagoort, P. (2011). Shared language: Overlap and segregation of the neuronal infrastructure for speaking and listening revealed by functional MRI. Psychological Science, 22, 1173-1182. (PDF)

What drives syntactic priming effects?

Language processing is most often studied in experiments with one participant doing a language task. But of course, in daily life, language is most often used in a communicative setting with a conversation partner. My research has shown that core language processes, like syntax, are influenced by the communicative and social context in which they take place, possibly through a mechanisms of attention allocation.


Read more:

Segaert, K. (20180 Priming Effects. In: Zeigler-Hill V., Shackelford T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham. (PDF)

Heyselaar, E., Mazaheri, A., Hagoort, P. & Segaert, K. (2018) Changes in alpha activity reveal that social opinion modulates attention allocation during face processing. NeuroImage, 174, 432-440. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.03.034. (PDF)

Heyselaar, E., Hagoort, P., & Segaert, K. (2017) How social opinion influences syntactic processing - an investigation using Virtual Reality. PLoS One, 12(4): e0174405. (PDF)

Schoot, L., Heyselaar, E., Hagoort, P., & Segaert, K. (2016) Does syntactic alignment effectively influence how speakers are perceived by their conversation partner? PLoS One, 11(4): e015352. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153521. (PDF)

Schoot, L., Menenti, L., Hagoort, P., & Segaert, K. (2014). A little more conversation - The influence of communicative context on syntactic priming in brain and behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 5: 208. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00208. (PDF)


Syntactic priming is a paradigm often used in behavioural experiments on syntactic processing. I am interested in how syntactic preferences determine syntactic priming effects, and how priming effects in syntactic choices relate to priming effects in reaction times. The combination of these gives unique insights into how we generate sentences.


Read more:

Heyselaar, E., Wheeldon, L., & Segaert, K. (2017) Structural priming is supported by different components of non-declarative memory: Evidence from priming across the lifespan. bioRxiv 190355; doi: (PDF)

Segaert, K., Wheeldon, L. & Hagoort, P. (2016) Unifying structural priming effects on syntactic choices and timing of sentence generation. Journal of Memory and Language, (PDF)

Segaert, K., Weber, K., Cladder-Micus, M., & Hagoort, P. (2014). The influence of verb-bound syntactic preferences on the processing of syntactic structures.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(5), 1448-1460. doi:10.1037/a0036796. (PDF)




Does social context influence language processing?

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