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Prediction in language processing

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When we read or hear sentences, we do not passively wait for the input and process it as it comes. Instead our brains are constantly engaged in anticipating upcoming input, which can facilitate its processing.

I study the mechanisms of linguistic prediction, with much of my work focused on a distinction between pre-activation and pre-updating.​

Related work:

Ness, T. & Meltzer-Asscher, A. (2021). Love thy neighbor: facilitation and competition between parallel predictions.

Cognition, 207, 104509.​

Ness, T. & Meltzer-Asscher, A. (2021). From pre-activation to pre-updating: A threshold mechanism for commitment to strong predictions.

Psychophysiology, 58(5), e13797.​

Ness, T. & Meltzer-Asscher, A. (2021). Rational adaptation in lexical prediction: The influence of prediction strength.

Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 1166.​

Ness, T. & Meltzer-Asscher, A. (2018). Predictive pre-updating and working memory capacity: Evidence from event-related potentials.

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 30(12), 1916-1938.​

Lexical inhibition due to failed prediction: Behavioral evidence and ERP correlates.

Journal of experimental psychology: learning, memory and cognition, 44(8), 1269-1285.

Cognitive control in language processing

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Ambiguity at various levels of representation is highly prevalent in the language input we encounter in our everyday lives, yet we usually arrive at the intended interpretation rapidly and efficiently (often without even noticing much of these ambiguities).

I study how domain-general cognitive control aids us in resolving such ambiguities when conflicting cues point towards different interpretations.

Related work:

Ness, T., Nakar, H. & Meltzer-Asscher, A. (September 2021). Domain-general cognitive control and linguistic prediction: Cross-task adaptation.

Short talk given at AMLaP 2021.​

Ness T., Langlois V., Chow W.Y., Phillips C., Novick J. M., & Kim A. E. (November 2022). Cognitive control in thematic role assignment: Evidence from neural oscillations.

Talk to be given at the 63rd annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society.​

Link coming soon.

Language science at the meuseum

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I am part of the new Language Science Station at the Planet Word museum in Washington DC.


We recruit museum visitors to participate in our experiments,            with two main aims:

- Introducing language science to the public and getting people exited about our scientific work.

- Getting a more diverse pool of participants, extending our studies to children, older adults, second language learners, etc.

Hear about it on PBS news.

Read some more, on the Planet Word blog.

Follow the project on twitter

The processing of long-distance dependencies

Image by Ioana Ye

I study the processing of long-distance ("filler-gap") dependencies, such as: 'This is the book that John read _ last night'.

I ask what is maintained in working memory while a dependency is open, and what guides the 'active-filler' processing strategy.

Related work:

Ness, T. & Meltzer-Asscher, A. (2019). When is the verb a potential gap site? The influence of filler maintenance on the active search for a gap.

Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 34(7), 936-948.

Ness, T., & Meltzer-Asscher, A. (2017). Working memory in the processing of long-distance dependencies: Interference and filler maintenance.

Journal of psycholinguistic research, 46(6), 1353-1365.

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