PhD student in linguistics receives a scholarship from an international organization | MSUToday

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Brittany Finch, a doctoral student in second language studies at Michigan State University, was recently named the 2022 recipient of the Jeanne S. Chall Fellowship speak International Literacy Association. She received this honor for her research proposal on “The Effect of Literacy on Predictive Processing in the Brain: An Eye Tracking and EEG Study”.

“I worked on this project for the last three years of my PhD, and it was amazing to receive a grant that really validated the potential I know of the project,” Finch said. “I am really delighted to be able to use the scholarship money to complete my thesis. Receiving this fellowship was also rewarding in that it showed that I was able to successfully communicate my research and its purpose to relevant stakeholders. For the International Literacy Association to believe in my research enough to provide me with this scholarship has been truly amazing.

Finch’s project will examine how literacy development affects the brain and the prediction process. Prediction, Finch explained, is a cognitive process where “your brain anticipates upcoming words and phrases while listening or reading based on years of accumulated linguistic experience. When we’re reading a book, for example, and we get halfway through a sentence and have to turn the page, we can usually guess what the next words might be.

The researchers assumed that the prediction process happened automatically when understanding natural language. Recent debates, however, are whether everyone is predicting when using natural language or whether it is a skill that develops during literary development.

Finch plans to explore the prediction process in the brains of individuals with low or no literacy and literate adults of different levels of education. To measure the prediction, Finch will use eye-tracking electrodes to examine participants’ eye movements and neural activity as they listen to phrases. These measurements will allow Finch to determine whether or not people with low or no literacy can make predictions about future words based on what they have already heard in a sentence.

To learn more about Finch, visit cal.msu.edu.

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