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Dr. Kuhl’s research focuses on language acquisition and language processing by the brain. She has played a major role in demonstrating how infants’ abilities to track the statistical properties of language input alters the mechanisms of perception, increasing native-language speech perception and decreasing foreign-language speech perception. Her work also shows that language processing involves many senses, including vision, both in early infancy and in adulthood.
Because infants are born with the capacity to learn any language but become “language specialists” by the first year of life, Kuhl has proposed the Native Language Magnet Model, expanded (NLM-e) to account for this dramatic developmental change. NLM pulls together diverse research interests into a single model that integrates auditory processing skills, cognitive skills, links between speech perception and production, statistical learning, and social factors that affect learning. Kuhl's lab is using event-related potentials (ERPs), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and magnetoencephalography (MEG) to investigate how the infant and adult brains process speech. This research has broad implications, extending to psychology and biology for its identification of critical periods in development; to linguistics and education for its applicability to bilingual education and atypical language development in children with autism; to neuroscience for its implications for brain mapping of complex information; and to engineering for its implications concerning how computers might be programmed to respond to spoken language.
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