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Info for Research Participants

Current Studies:

  1. Neurodevelopmental Basis of Speech Perception. We invite monolingual (English) and bilingual (Spanish-English) parents with children ages 3 months to 10 years old, as well as bilingual English & Spanish-speaking adults (ages 21 – 40) who learned English either before age 5 or after age 18, to participate. Call Christina Padron at (212) 817-8833 or

  2. The Effects of Attention on the Mismatch Response in Infants. We invite parents and infants 4 – 10 months old, to participate. Call Karen Garrido at (212) 817-8858 or Christina Padron at (212) 817-8833 or

  3. ERP Processing of Speech Processing in Bilinguals. We invite bilingual speakers of English and Spanish (18-40 years old). Contact Karen Garrido at (212) 817-8858 or, or Miwako Hisagi at 212-817-8820 or

  4. Intensity Study. We invite adults 19 - 40 years old and parents with infants 6-12 months old of any language background to participate. Call

  5. Miwako's Dissertation.

  6. Yael & Arild's study.


What's it like to be in a study?

The initial 10 to 15 minutes will be devoted to fitting the electrode net onto the head of the participant. An additional 5- to 15-minutes will be devoted to ensuring that the participant is comfortably seated, understands of the purpose of the electrode cap, and is maximally comfortable while wearing the electrode net. Adult participants will be seated upright in a soft, vinyl chair in a sound and electrically-shielded room in the Developmental Neurolinguistic Lab at CUNY Graduate Center. Child participants will sit upright in a child's chair. Infants will sit on their guardian's lap, or in a highchair.

The electrode net hangs over the chair from a height-adjusting, wall-mounted bracket. This bracket, rather than the participant's head, bears the weight of the electrode net.

Prior to fitting the net, the experimenter(s) will provide a description of the purpose of the net, what the participant should expect to feel when the cap is positioned, and a demonstration of the technique used to position the electrode net.

When the participant is seated, the electrode net is adjusted on the head of the participant so that the electrodes make contact with the scalp. The end of each electrode is fitted with a soft sponge that has been soaked in a sterile saline solution.

The purpose of the saline solution is to improve the contact and electrical conductivity between the scalp and each electrode. The purpose of the sponges is to hold the saline solution, and make the cap more comfortable to wear.

The electrode net consists of 65 small electrodes that, when in place, rest lightly at positions around the sides, top, and back of the head. The adult nets and nets for the older children also have two electrodes that rest against the cheeks of a subject, about 2 cm below the center of the eyes. These electrodes pick of eye movements.

Participants may experience a light, non-painful tactile sensation at each electrode point, along with the sensation of cold and/or wet at each point as a result of the damp sponges. Scalp electrodes pose no threat of personal injury.

They are safe clinical and research tools that have been used with the adult population for over 50 years and with the infant population for at least 30 years.

The design of the electrode net used in this study is an improvement over previously used electrode caps and scalp electrodes, because it does not required rubbing the scalp to improve contact.

After the electrode net has been fitted, the participant will be asked whether the cap is comfortable or whether adjustments should be made. As noted above, 5- to 15- minutes will be devoted to ensuring that the participant is comfortable wearing the electrode cap after it has been positioned.

After the fitting is complete, the older participants will receive verbal instructions about the listening experiment.

Only adults and children older than 4-years of age will be asked to respond to a target. The target is used to determine whether the participant is listening to the stimuli. The older participants are asked to fixate his/her eyes on a position directly ahead to minimize eye movements.

The participant is free to stop the experiment at any time without prejudice or negative consequences. Young children and infants will be observed by the experimenters and child's caregiver to determine whether the infant/child is experiencing discomfort.

The session will be stopped immediately if the participant so requests, or if the experimenter(s)/caregiver observe that the participant is demonstrating signs of discomfort or non-compliance.

The goal is to make the experience as comfortable as possible for the participant, so as to ensure their health and safety, as well as to ensure that the results of their participation are of the highest quality.

After the instructions are provided, test tones and recorded utterances, and any visual pictures will be presented to the participant for familiarization with the task and to ensure comfortable loudness settings of the output apparatus.

Participants will listen to the verbal stimuli over speakers positioned several feet to the side and front of the chair in which they are seated. The visual stimuli will be presented on a video screen one meter in front of the participant, at eye level.

The verbal stimuli in each listening task will be segmented into three- to five-minute units. A break lasting several minutes will be taken between segments. During presentation of the verbal stimuli, ERP measurements will be taken. The listening task for each experiment will take approximately 25 - 30 minutes.

Results will be saved to disk, labeled (see Confidentiality and Anonymity), and stored for analysis.

After the session, participants will have access to facilities to wash, dry, and style their hair. Participation of parents/caregivers.

The parent/caregiver of infants, up to 3 years of age, will be asked to fill out the MacArthur questionnaire. These forms will be sent home with the parent, along with a stamped addressed envelop.

The parent will be asked to fill the questionnaire out within the next week and return it to the lab. The questionnaire takes less than 30 minutes to complete.

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What is it like for your child to be in a study?

Step 1 Lab Welcome

  1. One of our helpers will describe the study to you after you arrive.

  2. The researchers will play with your child. This will make your child feel more comfortable with the researcher.

  3. The research methods we use are comfortable for you and your child and have no known potential for harming your child either physically or mentally. They are safe methods that have been used with adults for over 50 years and with infants and children for over 30 years.

Step 2 Putting on the Sensors

  1. We will measure your child's head using a paper tape measure.

  2. A net of sensors that fits your child's head will be soaked in water mixed with a special salt and a drop of baby shampoo. The soft sponges on the net soak up this water solution to improve conductivity and also make the net more comfortable to wear.

  3. The net is patted dry with paper towel to prevent water from dripping into your child's eyes when putting the net on.

  4. One researcher will gently ease the net onto your child's head. A second researcher will entertain your child with toys.

  5. The researcher will check the sensors to make sure they are in the correct place.

Step 3 Listening to Sounds

  1. Your child will watch a video or DVD with the sound turned off.

  2. Sounds are played over speakers in the room.

  3. You will wear headphones and listen to a CD of your choice so you can't hear the sounds. The sounds are simple speech sounds like "bip" or "ba."

Step 4 Clean-up

  1. The net will be removed gently from your child's head.

  2. Your child 's hair will be a little bit wet from the salt solution that the net was dipped in.

  3. Simply rinsing or washing their hair when you get home will take out the solution.

  4. There are no known allergic reactions to the salt solution.

Step 5 What to Bring to the Lab

  1. Bring snacks that you know your child likes. We have cheerios, pretzels, crackers and juice.

  2. Bring your child's favorite video or DVD to watch during the study. You can also choose from a selection of videos at our lab if you choose not to bring one.

  3. Clean hair (no hair spray or gel) works best.

Dear Parents,

We are looking for parents and children who are interested in taking part in studies of child language learning of English and other languages (for example, Spanish).  We study children from birth to ten years of age. If you are interested in finding out more about our studies or would like to take part, then contact us.
The goal of our lab, The Developmental Neurolinguistics Laboratory, is to understand how language is learned from infancy through adulthood. We have several ongoing studies using different methods to look at language learning.
Some of the studies in our lab include:

How Does Attention Affect Learning of Speech Sounds in Infants?
This study looks at what infants pay attention to when speech sounds and visual images are played to them.  Knowing what grabs their attention will help us understand why some children, who seem less interested in speech sounds, have difficulty learning language. This study may also help us identify which infants are at risk for certain disorders like autism.

How Does the Brain Respond to Speech In infants and Children?
The ability to tell words apart that sound similar (for example "bear" from "pear") is necessary to learn language.  We are studying how infants and children differentiate speech sounds (for example "b" versus "p") and  words ("lock" and "luck").  We also want to see how learning two languages (for example Spanish and English) affects children's ability to tell words apart.  For example, the vowel difference between "lock" and "luck" is difficult for Spanish speakers to hear because these vowels are not used in Spanish.  These studies may help us identify infants and children who are at risk for delayed language acquisition and will help us understand bilingual language learning.

What Do Mothers Say to Their Infants?
A parent's language is quite important for the baby learning to speak. Our studies aim to look more closely at what parent's say to babies to learn more about how this affects the baby's language. The mother and baby are videotaped in the home for about 30-40 minutes by one of the researchers in our lab.   These studies may help us to develop better ways to teach a child to learn a second language.

How Do We Answer These Questions?
We use several methods in our lab to answer these questions. In one method, we can use what an infant looks at to tell us that they understand a word. For example, we can say the word "bear" while we show a picture of a bear on one screen and a picture of a pear on another screen, and see if the child looks longer at the bear or the pear picture.   These studies can help us understand how children who are not yet speaking learn and hear words.

In another method, called electrophysiology, we look at the brainwaves of the child. This brainwave activity occurs naturally in everyone.  Electrophysiology uses the electroencephalogram or EEG.  The EEG is used as a safe clinical test in hospitals. We use specially-designed sensors wrapped in soft sponges to look at the child's brainwaves in response to some stimulus (for example, a speech sound).  The net (which looks like a hair net) is fast to put on and comfortable to wear. Our sensors are designed to pick up the brain activity.  This activity is sent to an amplifier (like an amplifier on a stereo system) and then into a computer where we can study it.   There are no known adverse reactions to an EEG.

Our lab's long-term goal is to be able to use the findings of our studies to understand more about language development in infants and children who have language disorders. Children with Specific Language Impairment, Autism, and Attention Deficit Disorder are just a few who experience difficulty in using language. If we can discover how infants learn language, how they hear speech sounds, and what other abilities affect learning, then we might be able to identify and treat children with language disorders early on.

We encourage you to bring your child into our lab to take part in a study. We are looking for infants and children between the ages of birth and 10 years of age with or without language impairment. You will be paid for your time.

If you have any further questions, are interested in participating in a study, or would like to come visit our lab to see the set up and meet us, please contact us.

We are located at:
The Graduate School and University Center-CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY  10016
Seventh Floor, Room 7392

Our telephone numbers are: (212) 817-8833 or (212) 817-8858
You can email us at: 


Valerie L. Shafer, PhD
Associate Professor, Program in Speech and Hearing Sciences
Director, Developmental Neurolinguistics Laboratory

Confidentiality and Anonymity

Several safeguards will be put into place to ensure the confidentiality and anonymity of each study participant.

For example, pseudonyms will be used on all documents and labels, and in all experimenter discussions to protect the identity of each participant. In the event that aspects of this research are published or presented publicly, pseudonyms will also be used. Only those individuals named as the principal investigator and co-investigators on the application form will have access to data and documentation prior to, during, and after the study.

Correspondence between the study participants and experimenter(s) will be direct, so as to avoid contact with other individuals within the Graduate Center, including secretarial staff, who might later be able to identify the participants.

After completion of the study, all data and documents identifying the participant will be stored in a locked cabinet to which only the principal investigator will have immediate access.

Additional copies of data, forms, or other documents will be shredded or otherwise destroyed with any identifying information masked with dark ink.

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Directions to the Developmental Neurolinguistics Lab

We are located at The Developmental Neurolinguistics Lab (Room 7392), The Graduate Center, CUNY. (Google Map & Driving Directions)

The Graduate Center (housed in the historic B. Altman building) is located at 365 Fifth Avenue, between 34th and 35th Streets, diagonal to the Empire State Building.

Travel within NEW YORK CITY:
The closest SUBWAY station, located at 34th Street and Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave), is served by the B, D, F, V, N, R, W and Q trains.

PENN Station, with an entrance at 7th Avenue, is served by the 1,2,3, and 9 IRT trains. One block west, the 8th Avenue station is served by the A, C, and E lines.

Buses: Take the M34 to 34th Street Herald Square and walk east to 5th Avenue. Take the M2, M3, M4, M5, Q12, x23, or x24 to 34th or 35th street and 5th avenue.

Travel from NEW JERSEY by Public Transportation:
You can take the NJ Transit or PATH train to the NY Penn Station and walk 3 avenues east to 5th Avenue and 2 streets north to 34th Street.

Parking: The closest parking garages are on 34th, and 35th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues. If driving, keep in mind that you cannot turn left from 35th and 5th Ave. We will be glad to give you specific directions if you ask us over the phone.

When you enter 365 Fifth Avenue, sign in at the book by the guard's area and take the elevator to the 7th floor.  Follow signs to the Speech and Hearing Sciences main office and ask for Dr. Valerie Shafer.

Electrophysiology and Event-Related Potentials (ERPs)

The brain consists of billions of neurons and connections (axons and synapses) between these neurons. Neurons communicate with each other via electrochemical events.

Electrical changes caused by the activity of the neurons can be recorded at the scalp using electrodes. The signals are very small (on the order of 1 to 100 millionths of a volt) and must be amplified. Specialized amplifiers and computer software has been designed to record this electrical activity, which is called the electroencephalogram, of EEG.

The EEG has been used to examine brain activity in infants, children and adults for over 30 years. It is a safe, non-invasive method.

In our laboratory, a net of 65 electrodes is placed on the scalp. Each electrode is made of tin and makes contact with the scalp via a sponge soaked in a solution of water and salt.

During a study the infant or child listens to, and/or watches some stimulus (e.g., speech sounds, or pictures of animals). These stimuli are called events, and the electrical activity associated with these events are called ERPs.

Electrical activity from the brain is recorded to a number of these events. Consistent electrical changes to a category of events can be seen by averaging together the electrical activity from 15 or more of these events.

This activity is seen as a series of positive and negative-going deflections, and shown in figure 1 below in section 3.

The timing and size of these deflections, and the location of this activity on the scalp is used to make inferences about the time-course of processing in the brain and the location of the source of this activity.

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Specific Language Impairment (SLI)

SLI is a developmental language disorder in the absence of frank neurological, sensori-motor, non-verbal cognitive or social emotional deficits (see Watkins, 1994).

Children with SLI lag behind their peers in language production and language comprehension, which contributes to learning and reading disabilities in school.

One of the hallmarks of SLI is a delay or deficit in the use of function morphemes (e.g., the, a, is) and other grammatical morphology (e.g., plural -s, past tense -ed). They omit function morphemes from their speech long after age-matched children with typical language development show consistent production of these elements.

Some researchers claim that SLI children's difficulty with grammatical morphology is due to delays or difficulty in acquiring a specific underlying linguistic mechanism. For example, Mabel Rice and Ken Wexler suggest that children with SLI have difficulty acquiring the rule that verbs must be marked for tense and number ("he walks", not "he walk"; Rice, 1994).

A second hypothesis is that these children have a deficit in processing brief and/or rapidly- changing auditory information, and/or in remembering the temporal order of auditory information. For example, Paula Tallal has found that some children with SLI have difficulty reported the order of two sounds when these sounds are brief in duration and presented rapidly (Tallal, et al., 1985). Laurence Leonard suggests that these deficit may underlie difficulties in perceiving grammatical forms (e.g., "the", "is"), which are generally brief in duration (Leonard et al., 1997).

A third hypothesis is that children have poor short-term memory for speech sounds (e.g., Gathercole, 1998). Children with SLI perform worse than children with typical language skills on repeating nonsense words (for example, "zapanthakis"). In a number of recent studies short-term memory for speech sounds has been shown to correlate highly with vocabulary acquisition and speech production . This has led to the hypothesis that a primary function of this memory is to facilitate language learning.

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Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)

The Developmental Neurolinguistics Lab is currently working on research to assess the information processing skills of a subset of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) who have no functional expressive language and do not demonstrate evidence of understanding oral language by traditional means of responding by looking, referencing, pointing or following directions. This group is often characterized as "low functioning" because their level of performance cannot be determined by using standard assessments of cognition and language. Therefore, their cognitive level and capacity for learning have not been comprehensively assessed. Passive electrophysiological tasks will be run and findings will allow us to identify and begin to quantify linguistic and cognitive capabilities of this difficult to assess group of children with autism. (Acknowledgement: this research is supported by Autism Speaks) Information about the definition and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of complex neuro-developmental disabilities characterized by communication deficits, impaired social interaction, and unusual behaviors or interests (National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, 2008; Bakare & Ikegwuonu, 2008). ASDs typically are first observed in early childhood and affect approximately 1 in every 150 children born in the U.S (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009;).

ASDs are "spectrum" disorders, meaning that there is a range or "spectrum" of impairments that have varying degrees of severity from person to person. The three main types of ASD are: Autism Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – not otherwise specified.

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Language Development in Infants

Perception and Comprehension

Infants are active learners of language from before birth. While still in the womb, the infant becomes familiar with the melody and rhythm of the mother's voice.

At birth, infants can discriminate speech sounds found in any of the world's languages.

By 6 months of age, babies show that they are learning which vowel sounds are important in the language(s) used by their caretakers (for example "e" of "bed" in English, or "oi" in "moi" in French).

Babies begin to comprehend their first words around 9 months of age.

By 10 months of age, infants show that they are learning which consonant sounds are important in the language(s) used by their caretakers (for example "th" in English, or trilled "r" in Spanish). They also learn which sequences of sounds are allowed (for example, "str" in English, and "vl" in Dutch).

By 12 months of age, babies are becoming familiar with basic patterns of grammar, such as the word order of the language.

Babbling and Word Production

Newborn babies cannot make adult-like consonant and vowel sounds because their breathing mechanism is higher in the throat so that they can't choke (It is set-up like a chimpanzee!). The noises you hear a newborn make are primarily associated with feeding (for example, burping and sucking), and crying.

Around 2 months of age, the wind pipe (trachea) drops. The sounds infants make are often called cooing or gooing. Most of these sounds are somewhat resonant (like singing). Squeals, giggles, and shrieks are gradually added up to 4 months of age.

At 4 the infant begins making sounds that are like simple adult syllables (for example [ba] or [ga].

By 6 months the infant has begun reduplicating these sylables ([baba], [didi]).

Around 8 months of age the infant begins producing a variety of syllable types (for example ([badi] [goki]), with lots of intonational variation.

Between 10 and 12 months of age, infants will often produce their first words. These words are usually unlike the adult form (for example, [ba] for bottle). We call them words because the infant consistently produces the form in appropriate contexts (asking for the bottle, pointing at the bottle, dropping the bottle).

More adult-like word forms develop between 2 and 3 years of age.

Brain Development

At birth the infant brain is still quite immature. This immaturity appears to be important for learning how to cope with the surrounding world. Some brain areas (for example those dealing with vision or audition), need exposure to the appropriate information (for example, environmental sounds and speech sounds for audition) to develop properly. This is why it is so important to get your child's hearing screened during infancy. If you notice any apparent problems with your child's hearing, then contact (add ASHA link). Talking to your child, playing music, and allowing them to listen to the typical sounds of your environment will allow proper development of the auditory regions.

The sensory brain regions develop earlier than regions involved in higher level cognitive processing (for example, memory regions in the frontal brain regions). Thus, what a child can learn at a particular age is constrained by brain development. You will not be able to teach your baby difficult memory tasks when they are infants because their brains are not yet ready.

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