Dealing with digits

My overarching research area is disability research, with a specific interest in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive hearing science. This research discipline is interdisciplinary and involves the study of mechanisms viewed from different perspectives (biological, psychological and social) and the interaction between them. 

Digits are inevitable in a modern society. Individuals that experience difficulties in processing and usage of digits are severely hindered as digits exist everywhere; at the alarm clock, on traffic signs, in the mobile phone and on the price tags of groceries. Several studies have indicated that deaf signers have poorer skills that hearing individuals in several digit processing domains. This applies to for example both arithmetic and short term memory. In my doctoral thesis, which I defended in November 2014, I aimed to explore if differences in spoken and sign languages can explain why deaf signers perform at lower levels than hearing peers when dealing with digits.

To explore this aim I employed both behavioural and neuroimaging methods, in adult deaf signers and hearing non-signers, carefully matched on age, sex, education and nonverbal intelligence. We found that deaf signers performed better than expected and on a par with hearing peers on all arithmetic tasks, except for multiplication, possibly because the groups studied here were very carefully matched. However, the neural networks recruited for arithmetic and phonology differed between groups. During multiplication tasks, deaf signers showed an increased reliance on cortex of the right parietal lobe complemented by the left inferior frontal gyrus. In contrast, hearing non-signers relied on cortex of the left frontal and parietal lobe during multiplication. This suggests that while hearing non-signers recruit phonology-dependent arithmetic fact retrieval processes for multiplication, deaf signers recruit non-verbal magnitude manipulation processes. In conclusion, these findings suggest that language modality-specific differences between sign and speech in different ways can explain why deaf signers perform at lower levels than hearing non-signers on tasks that include dealing with digits.


Besides research I enjoy teaching neuroscience, quantitative method and disability research on a wide variety of courses and programmes, including psychology program, cognitive science program, speech and language pathology program and courses in disability research.

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