Anna Ivanova Thesis Defense: The role of language in broader human cognition: evidence from neuroscience
Thursday, August 04, 2022 at 11:00am to 12:00pm
McGovern Institute Seminar Room, 46-3189
Join via Zoom: https://mit.zoom.us/j/91394810755?pwd=RFpLYS91RzRIL2FhN09xUXp1b0VTUT09 (password: meaning)
The role of language in broader human cognition: evidence from neuroscience
Many philosophers, psychologists, biologists, and linguists have argued that language processing serves as a foundation for human cognition. However, evidence from neuroscience has shown that language might rely on specialized cognitive mechanisms that are distinct from many aspects of human thought. In this thesis, I use cognitive neuroscience to test the limits of the brain’s functional specialization for language processing. In Chapter 1, I describe how evidence from neuroscience can illuminate the relationship between language and other cognitive functions. In Chapter 2, I investigate activity in the brain’s language network in response to computer code, an input that shares many structural similarities with natural language. In Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, I study the language network’s responses to pictures of objects and events during semantic tasks, which, like language comprehension, require access to conceptual information. In Chapter 5, I describe a set of brain regions that respond to semantic demand regardless of stimulus type (sentences vs. pictures). Finally, in Chapter 6, I discuss the implications of my work for a neuroscience-informed account of the mechanisms underlying human cognition and language use. My work establishes that language processing mechanisms are largely distinct from mechanisms that support the processing of non-linguistic structure and meaning, even for closely matched inputs, and helps further delineate the functional architecture of the human mind.
Advisor: Ev Fedorenko