I am a linguist and cognitive neuroscientist. I started my scientific trajectory studying the language contact, bilingualism, and second language acquisition. During my PhD I investigated the cognitive neuroscience of linguistic prediction. In my most recent research, I collaborate with other scientists, artists, and educators in an effort to explore non-conventional approaches to investigating the neuroscience of naturalistic social interactions.

My work is currently supported by the National Science Foundation, the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research, the Netherlands Creative Industries Fund and the Hersenstichting. I have research affiliations with Utrecht University and New York University, and I am part of an artist collective with Matthias Oostrik.

prediction & language processing

How is it possible that it takes the brain only a few hundred milliseconds to know that a sentence like the grass was blue is strange?

In this series of studies, we investigate the role that prediction plays in explaining the efficiency of language processing.

I also wrote my dissertation on the topic. It’s entitled Predicting and Parsing Language in Time and Space, and my committee consisted of Liina Pylkkӓnen (chair; NYU), Alec Marantz (NYU), Brian McElree (NYU), Chris Barker (Linguistics, NYU), and Colin Phillips (University of Maryland)

linguistic predictions & sensory processinglinguistic predictions & brain-to-brain synchrony


linguistic predictions & sensory processing

with hugh rabagliati, liina pylkkänen and thomas farmer

How is rapid and efficient language processing supported by the brain?

Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), we found that brain regions dedicated to low-level sensory analysis are sensitive to seemingly high-level properties of words (syntax and lexical-semantics) as early as 100 ms after the presentation of a word. This result was surprising: it seems unlikely that sensory regions perform linguistic analysis proper and ‘know’ something about the meaning or syntactic role of words. In a series of follow-up experiments, we showed that our findings can be explained within the context of a Sensory Hypothesis: visual and auditory cortex are sensitive to linguistic predictions that have been translated into form feature estimates prior to the onset of a predicted word or syntactic category.

For this research, Hugh and I won a Cognitive Neuroscience Society Graduate Student Present Award

We published our findings in Psychological Science, Cognition, and Brain and Language.

Dikker, S. & Pylkkänen, L. (2012). Predicting language: MEG evidence for lexical preactivation. Brain and Language, DOI:10.1016/j.bandl.2012.08.004

Dikker, S. & Pylkkänen, L. (2011). Before the N400: effects of lexical-semantic violations in visual cortex. Brain and Language, 118, 23-28.  

Dikker, S. Rabagliati, H. & Pylkkänen, L. (2010). Early occipital sensitivity to syntactic category is based on form typicality. Psychological Science, 21(5), 629-634.  

Dikker, S.. Rabagliati, H. & Pylkkänen, L. (2009). Sensitivity to syntax in visual cortex. Cognition, 10(3), 293-321.  

Back to top

linguistic predictions & brain-to-brain synchrony

with jason zevin, uri hasson, and lauren silbert

Schermafbeelding 2015-10-21 om 23.13.08.png

At the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill-Cornell Medical College, we investigated the mechanisms that drive brain-to-brain synchrony between speakers and listeners.

We used an intersubject correlation approach in fMRI to test the hypothesis that a listener's ability to predict a speaker's utterance increases neural coupling between speakers and listeners and found that the temporal profile of listeners' brain activity was significantly more synchronous with the speaker's brain activity for highly predictive contexts. This effect was localized to left posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG), an area previously associated

Listeners additionally showed stronger BOLD responses for predictive images before sentence onset, suggesting that highly predictable contexts lead comprehenders to preactivate predicted words. This finding is in line with our previous research on the role of prediction in language processing.

This study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The publication received some attention from the press and I was profiled in NYU Stories

Back to top

outside of the lab

This series of studies explores the interface of performance art and neuroscience in an effort to understand the brain basis of human social interaction. The experiments are executed outside of traditional laboratory settings, such as schools and museums.

Watch Out of The Lab for a description of some of our recent projects.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research, de Hersenstichting and the Netherlands Creative Industries Fund.

science + art | science + art + education 

Back to top

brain-to-brain synchrony

What is the neurobiological basis for the experience of being ‘on the same wavelength’ with another person?

An increasing number of labs are taking a ‘multi-brain’ approach to the investigation of human cognition. It has proven to be a very fruitful methodological tool, allowing researchers to present naturalistic stimuli, and we are learning more and more about the contexts that drive correlated brain activity between individuals. However, the exact mechanisms that drive our brains to be ‘on the same wavelength’ with each other remain unclear. The goal of this series of studies is to characterize not only the conditions that facilitate synchronized brain activity between multiple individuals, but also the mechanisms that underlie such correlated activity.

Our studies are conducted both on dyads and groups.

Representative output: Journal of Neuroscience, Chicago Ideas Week: Edison Talks.

interactive brain installations/experiments | dynamic classroom interactions | linguistic predictions & brain-to-brain synchrony | does language make our minds resonate in synchrony?

Back to top

does language make our minds resonate in synchrony? 

with jos van berkum, marijn struiksma and others

Language provides an invaluable tool to communicate our individual belief systems, experiences, and expectations. We know quite a lot about what happens to our brains when faced with violations of such expectations or when confronted with expressions that go against our beliefs. But the goal of language comprehension is not to detect words or grammatical structures we didn’t expect to hear: The linguistic signal has communicative, affective meaning, providing us with cues as to how we can adapt our own behavior to that of others.  

We know little to nothing about the brain basis of this process of mutual adaptation: Does a positive communicative experience through a shared linguistic code make our brainwaves oscillate in synchrony? Do people with a cooperative attitude share more brain activity? And: can we facilitate brain-to-brain synchrony if we let people directly experience their internal efforts to connect to each other via a neurofeedback environment?

This research is supported by a VENI Talent Award from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research under the affiliation of Utrecht University Institute of Linguistics

the neuroscience of dynamic classroom interactions

with david poeppel, mingzhou ding, lu wan, lisa kaggen, soha ashrafi, michael rabadi, ido davidesco, shaista dhanesar, jay van bavel, students and teachers of Trevor Day School

uitleg school.jpg

In 2014-2015, we worked with a high school in New York City to investigate the factors that drive brain-to-brain synchronization during teacher-student interactions. High school students were involved in the design and execution of this research project, and participated as experimental subjects throughout the 2014-2015 school year. Concurrently, a team of NYU psychologists and neuroscientists provided neuroscience education to the students.

In 2015-2016, we extended the program to other high schools in the New York City area.

Supported by the National Science Foundation INSPIRE Track 1