Research Topics

1.  Neural bases and hemispheric differences in processing pragmatics in neurotypicals and people with ASD, schizophrenia, ADHD,  Dyslexia, Intellectual disabilities and Learning disabilities.

2. Using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to enhance figurative language and cognitive control in individuals with typical development.

3. Enhancing reading comprehension in learning disabilities using tDCS.

3. Developing cognitive intervention programs to enhance figurative language comprehension in ASD, schizophrenia, learning disabilities and intellectual disability.

4. Verbal creativity; metaphor generation.

5. Social anxiety and shame in ASD.

6. Enhancing verbal creativity using training program and tDCS.

7. Brain lateralization.

8. Using  tDCS  to enhance naming ability in aphasia.

 

Most of these topics are divided into three domain of

knowledge research topics: Pragmatics, Creativity,

Executive functioning:

 

Pragmatics

Pragmatic aspects of language are important modes of human communication. In everyday communication some verbal messages convey meanings that go beyond the straightforward word-by-word analysis of the message (i.e., the literal meaning). Figurative language, as part of pragmatics, consist the different aspects of figurative language including metaphors, irony, idioms and humor. These forms of language are common in everyday discourse, nevertheless, individuals with ASD, dyslexia and schizophrenia experience difficulty in comprehending these forms of non-literal language (e.g., Saban-Bezalel, Coral, & Mashal, 2018).

A deficit in the processing of non-literal language may enhance the social isolation experienced by many individuals with ASD and schizophrenia and may affect the academic achievements of children with learning disabilities. A central focus of Mashal’s work is to develop intervention programs for improving the communication deficits associated with non-literal language comprehension in these clinical populations using brain stimulation techniques and developing cognitive intervention programs (e.g., Saban Bezalel, & Mashal, 2015).

Recently we have shown that a brief intervention can improve comprehension of irony in adults with ASD (Saban Bezalel, & Mashal, 2015). Specifically, adults with ASD who participated in our intervention, showed significant improvement in irony comprehension relative to adults with ASD who did not participate in the intervention( i.e. ASD control). Second, the intervention induced hemispheric changes in the ASD study group; whereas no difference in response times between the ironic and the literal stimuli was observed within each hemisphere prior to the intervention, following the intervention, the ASD study group demonstrated faster responses for ironic targets relative to literal target words when stimuli were presented to the left visual field/ Right hemisphere.

 

Creativity

 

One approach to the study of creative thinking is studying metaphoric language generation. Examining figurative language, especially metaphor generation, is a powerful method to assess linguistic innovation and generation of new ideas. The use of metaphors is considered a verbal form of creative thinking that enables individuals to describe a vast range of emotions and in a vivid and original fashion. Previous studies found that metaphor generation relies on different cognitive and executive processes, such as working memory, vocabulary, inhibition of irrelevant information, divergent thinking, and non-verbal intelligence.

 

 

The generation of novel ideas is a complex process that involves several brain networks: the Default Mode Network (DMN), responsible for spontaneous idea generation, and the Executive Control Network (ECN), required for evaluation of these ideas. It has been suggested that creative people have flexible cognitive control that gives them the ability to switch from an automatic, highly associative process to a sustainable, goal-directed process.Interestingly, our results demonstrate that despite the well know difficulties with mental flexibility in ASD, adults and children with ASD generated more creative novel metaphors than individuals with typical development (TD).

 

The Brain & Language Lab tests the relationship between creativity and different types of attentional functions, cognitive abilities, personality and motivation among individuals with ASD, learning disabilities and dyslexia. Furthermore, Mashal’s lab aims to develop intervention programs to enhance creative thinking. We also aim to examine the effects of exposure to a rich stimulant environment (e.g., art) on creative thinking.

 

Executive functioning

Executive function is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, attention, planning, and suppression of actions or thoughts to respond correctly and self-control. These skills are used for learning, working, focusing our attention, handling emotions and managing daily life. One important ability termed Cognitive control includes a set of functions serving to configure the cognitive system for the performance of specific tasks, especially in challenging and non-routine situations. A major constituent process of cognitive control involves cognitive inhibition. The term cognitive inhibition refers to the ability to control or suppress irrelevant responses and to adopt relevant responses in place of irrelevant ones.

Accumulated evidence from neuroimaging studies supports the role of a brain network including the DLPFC, anterior cingulate cortex, and the parietal cortex (PC) in cognitive control. Mashal’s lab studies the capacity to detect and filter out irrelevant semantic information within a stimulus set, with the aim to test the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on improving cognitive inhibition (Metzuyanim-Gorlick & Mashal, 2016).

Furthermore, The Brain & Language Lab investigates the link between early attentional processes and creativity, a link that is still not well understood. We study the association between divergent thinking and selective attention using ERP and statistical models (Menashe et al., 2020).

The Science & 

Mathematics University

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