Psychology of Language Understanding (PSYL10144)

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Psychology of Language Understanding (PSYL10144)

Semester 2, Friday 11:10am-1:00pm

BPS core areas - Biological Psychology, Cognitive Psychology


What will be covered?

This course aims to cover the main current research areas in the psychology of language comprehension, aiming for breadth, but going into depth in some selected topics. We will start by discussing the neural foundations of language processing, drawing on evidence from aphasia and from brain imaging. We then go on to consider language processing at successively higher levels, starting with the perception of single words, and going on to discuss the comprehension of whole sentences, and then multi-sentence texts, paying attention to how the language comprehension system is supported by related cognitive processes, such as prediction, and memory encoding, storage and retrieval. Having established these foundations, we then discuss the role of language in social cognition, taking gender stereotype inferences as a test case. We will cover applications of language processing research, focusing on the communication of quantity and risk, and on the perception of brands. Finally, we consider how language processing relates to other cognitive domains such as music and mathematics, taking evidence from both brain imaging and behavioural studies.

How will it be delivered?

The course will be mainly lecture-based. However, there will also be an opportunity for some more interactive activities. Students will be given readings for each lecture on the Learn site. Multiple choice quizzes will be given throughout the course (summary of electronic responses will be displayed and discussed in class).

Lecture recording policy: Lectures will be recorded.

What skills will be gained?

The course encourages students to develop skills of critical analysis, and how to structure arguments to evaluate theories, leading to an understanding of the nature of the evidence for those theories. The course also allows students to understand how psychological research can be applied to real-world problems.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Understanding of the main theories of language comprehension.

2. Ability to evaluate theories of language comprehension based on empirical evidence.

3. Understanding of the main experimental techniques used to study language comprehension.

4. Critical analysis.

5. Structuring of written work.


30% Mid-term Essay (submission deadline Thursday 27th February, 12.00 noon)

1000 word essay. Choice from 3 topics. Students will receive feedback on the mid-course assessment to feed forward to the end of course assessment.

70% Final Essay (submission deadline Thursday 9th April, 12.00 noon)

3000 word essay. Choice from five topics.

Relationship Between Assessment and Learning Outcomes

The assessments will require students to use empirical evidence to evaluate theories that are introduced during the lectures. Students can choose from a pre-specified list of topics, each of which will correspond with a lecture or a group of lectures.

Reading resources

Indicative reading:

Brennan, J., (2016). Naturalistic Sentence Comprehension in the Brain.

Language and Linguistics Compass, Volume 10, Issue 7

Cook A.E. & O'Brien, E.J., (2017). Fundamentals of inferencing during reading. Language and Linguistics Compass, Volume 11, Issue 7

DeLong, K.A., Troyer, M., and Kutas, M. (2014). Pre-Processing in Sentence Comprehension: Sensitivity to Likely Upcoming Meaning and Structure. Language and Linguistics Compass, Volume 8, Issue 12

Gibson E, Tan C, Futrell R, Mahowald K, Konieczny L, Hemforth B, Fedorenko E (2017). Don't Underestimate the Benefits of Being Misunderstood. Psychological Science 28(6):703-712

Vitello, S., & Rodd, J.M. (2015). Resolving Semantic Ambiguities in Sentences: Cognitive Processes and Brain Mechanisms. Language and Linguistics Compass, Volume 9, Issue 10

Resources list:

Readings will become available on learn before the course begins.

04/08/2019 - 4:55pm