Mind, Technology, and Society Talk Series

Heather Bortfeld
University of California, Merced
Time/Date: 3-4:30 p.m. Monday, February 22, 2016


Tuning to a degraded signal: Insights from infants and cochlear implant users

Cochlear implants improve the ability of profoundly deaf children to understand speech by allowing a way for sound to be transmitted to the brain despite the lack of a working conduction system in the inner ear. Much of what we know about the course of auditory learning following cochlear implantation in young children is based on behavioral indicators that they are able to perceive sound. However, congenitally-deaf children have no concept of what sound is, and thus have highly variable behavioral responses when initially exposed to it. In recent work, my collaborators and I have been using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) as a tool to track changes in speech-evoked cortical activity following cochlear implantation in prelingually deafened infants and young children, as well as in post-lingually deafened adults. In another line of work, I have been testing whether typically developing infants are able to process degraded auditory speech given appropriate crossmodal support. Results from both lines of research have theoretical and practical implications for understanding how speech is processed in a multimodal world.

Heather Bortfeld’s Ph.D. is in Cognitive Psychology from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, where she worked with Susan Brennan. She received an NIH postdoctoral fellowship to train with Jim Morgan in the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Studies at Brown University, where she learned the finer points of conducting behavioral research with infants. Her first faculty position was in Cognitive Psychology at Texas A&M University. She took a position in Developmental Psychology at the University of Connecticut in 2009, followed by her recent move to UC Merced where she is a Professor in Developmental Psychology. Her research combines behavioral and neurophysiological measures to characterize how typically developing infants and young children tune to their ambient language(s). In collaboration with researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, she also works with pediatric and adult cochlear implant users.