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New cognitive-communication lab uses EEG to expand student research

With traumatic brain injury and strokes often headlining medical news, Baldwin Wallace's new psychology lab is putting students at the center of research opportunities that can help them understand the general cognitive and psycholinguistic mechanisms that support communication.

The new cognitive-communication lab utilizes an electroencephalogram (EEG) to help students detect the location and magnitude of brain activity involved in specific cognitive functions. Images are acquired by using electrodes that measure and record fluctuations in brain waves.

Detecting the Brain's "Ah-ha" Moment

According to lab director Dr. Patrick Ledwidge, assistant professor of psychology, the facility became fully functional in October and is in its initial phase of training student research assistants for its first study.

"Our first project will study the cognitive processes that help us read and dissect written passages. In real time, we will use the EEG to see changes in brain activity that show the moment when we achieve the understanding of a piece of text," he explained.

"As an example, when individuals are in conversation, the topic being discussed may not always be apparent at first," he noted. "A listener has to actively search for and identify the meaning of what is being communicated.

"Our study simulates this search and identification process. We're interested in the brain responses associated with specific words that, when read, lead individuals to understand the context of a narrative discourse," said Ledwidge.

Real-world Application to Aphasia, Concussion

Ledwidge said his lab is designed to be a collaborative space for individuals with shared research interests. In the future, he sees potential multi-disciplinary collaboration with students and faculty in other majors, including neuroscience and communication sciences and disorders.

Ledwidge also envisions the lab expanding its research focus to include aphasia and concussion, the latter has been the focus of his research over the past four years. Ledwidge recently co-authored two articles on the topic - one on the study of concussion protocols for college athletes (Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine) and another that charts the differences in the way a concussed brain handles working memory (International Journal of Psychophysiology).

"We know that the brain changes after a concussion and throughout the recovery process. However, we know very little about how these changes influence the language system," he acknowledged. "Faculty in the department of communication disorders and I are collaborating to investigate how concussions impact the brain activity underlying functional communication abilities."

Helping Students Succeed

Being not quite one year out from graduate school himself, Ledwidge is familiar with the types of skills graduate schools seek from undergraduate applicants. His goal is to give students strong technical, analytical, leadership, teamwork and communication skills that can give them a competitive edge for graduate school and career success.

"Students who graduate from BW and worked in this lab will be well equipped for research and clinical careers," he stated. "They would have experienced hands-on training in human subject research, computer programming, EEG data collection and processing, ERP (event-related potential) analysis, advanced statistics and writing. It is my hope that these skills will prepare them for any career, even those not directly related to the biomedical and behavioral sciences."

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