Recent news

New member joins ILCB’s International Advisory Board

ILCB is delighted to welcome Prof. Justine Cassell, PhD, as a new member of its International Advisory Board.

Justine Cassell

Prof. Justine Cassell is SCS Dean’s Professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). She is currently on leave from CMU to hold the founding international chair at PRAIRIE Paris Institute on Interdisciplinary Research in AI, and to hold the associated position of researcher at INRIA Paris. In January 2021, Cassell was named a member of the 21 person French governmental committee Conseil National du Numérique (CNNUM) – the Council on the Future of Digital in France.

A language-ready brain in baby monkeys?

Figure: A language-ready brain?
(A) MRI images of 10-day-old baby baboon brain. The Planum Temporale, an area essential for language in humans, is larger in the left hemisphere than in the right hemisphere (green) in (B) a majority of newborn baboons, and (C) in a quasi-identical proportion to human babies. (D) Longitudinal measures in an older age class (7-10 months) show that the strength of individual PT asymmetry increases with age.

Up to now, this early cerebral asymmetry has been considered as an anatomical marker of the human baby brain’s predisposition to rapidly acquire language as soon as they are exposed to it. This result suggests the hypothesis of a common language-related feature associated to PT asymmetry between monkeys and humans.

Becker et al. (2021) NeuroImage.

Early Left-Planum Temporale Asymmetry in Newborn Monkeys (Papio Anubis): A Longitudinal Structural MRI Study at Two Stages of Development.

Yannick Becker, Julien Sein, Lionel Velly, Laura Giacomino, Luc Renaud, Romain Lacoste, Jean-Luc Anton, Bruno Nazarian, Cammie Berne & Adrien Meguerditchian

NeuroImage, Volume 227, 15 February 2021, 117575

The “language-ready” brain theory suggests that the infant brain is pre-wired for language acquisition prior to language exposure. As a potential brain marker of such a language readiness, a leftward structural brain asymmetry was found in human infants for the Planum Temporale (PT), which overlaps with Wernicke’s area. In the present longitudinal in vivo MRI study conducted in 35 newborn monkeys (Papio anubis), we found a similar leftward PT surface asymmetry. Follow-up rescanning sessions on 29 juvenile baboons at 7-10 months showed that such an asymmetry increases across the two ages classes. These original findings in non-linguistic primate infants strongly question the idea that the early PT asymmetry constitutes a human infant-specific marker for language development. Such a shared early perisylvian organization provides additional support that PT asymmetry might be related to a lateralized system inherited from our last common ancestor with Old-World monkeys at least 25–35 million years ago.


From Psychoacoustics to Brain Waves: A Longitudinal Approach to Novel Word Learning

Mylène Barbaroux, Arnaud Norena, Maud Rasamimanana, Eric Castet & Mireille Besson

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2021) 33 (1): 8–27.

Musical expertise has been shown to positively influence high-level speech abilities such as novel word learning. This study addresses the question whether low-level enhanced perceptual skills causally drives successful novel word learning. We used a longitudinal approach with psychoacoustic procedures to train 2 groups of non-musicians either on pitch discrimination or on intensity discrimination, using harmonic complex sounds. After short (approximately 3 hr) psychoacoustic training, discrimination thresholds were lower on the specific feature (pitch or intensity) that was trained. Moreover, compared to the intensity group, participants trained on pitch were faster to categorize words varying in pitch. Finally, although the N400 components in both the word learning phase and in the semantic task were larger in the pitch group than in the intensity group, no between-group differences were found at the behavioral level in the semantic task. Thus, these results provide mixed evidence that enhanced perception of relevant features through a few hours of acoustic training with harmonic sounds causally impacts the categorization of speech sounds as well as novel word learning. These results are discussed within the framework of near and far transfer effects from music training to speech processing.

Olivier David, research director at Inserm

Olivier David is newly installed at INS since January.

Olivier David is a neurophysiologist that specializes in transcranial, cortical and deep brain stimulations. He has led a research team for more than 10 years in Grenoble. He has long been a member of the steering committee of the Structure Fédérative de Recherche “Grenoble Cognition” directed by Jean-Luc Schwartz.

With the arrival of Olivier David, the INS can now count on a new robotic TMS/EEG stimulation system. This new system, managed in collaboration with Mireille Bonnard, will be open to the community for the implementation of collaborations.

Projets :



Continuous developmental change explains discontinuities in word learning

Abdellah Fourtassi, Sophie Regan & Michael C. Frank

Developmental Science (2021) 24:e13018.

Cognitive development is often characterized in terms of discontinuities, but these discontinuities can sometimes be apparent rather than actual and can arise from continuous developmental change. To explore this idea, we use as a case study the finding by Stager and Werker (1997) that children’s early ability to distinguish similar sounds does not automatically translate into word learning skills. Early explanations proposed that children may not be able to encode subtle phonetic contrasts when learning novel word meanings, thus suggesting a discontinuous/stage‐like pattern of development. However, later work has revealed (e.g., through using more precise testing methods) that children do encode such contrasts, thus favoring a continuous pattern of development. Here, we propose a probabilistic model that represents word knowledge in a graded fashion and characterizes developmental change as improvement in the precision of this graded knowledge. Our model explained previous findings in the literature and provided a new prediction – the referents’ visual similarity modulates word learning accuracy. The models’ predictions were corroborated by human data collected from both preschool children and adults. The broader impact of this work is to show that computational models, such as ours, can help us explore the extent to which episodes of cognitive development that are typically thought of as discontinuities may emerge from simpler, continuous mechanisms.

Adrien Meguerditchian was awarded the CNRS bronze medal 2021

Adien Meguerditchian


Congratulations, Adrien!

Adrien is interested in the properties of the modes of communication of our cousins the primates and their links with certain properties of human language. In particular, he explores the role of gesture in communication systems, and its implication in the evolution of language and the predominance of right-handed people. Read more about Adrien’s research on his webpage.

Aline Frey

Aline Frey

Aline Frey was recently awarded the Prix Départemental pour la Recherche en Provence. Congratulations Aline!

Aline works at the LNC (Laboratoire de neurosciences Cognitives) – INSPE of the Aix-Marseille academy -She conducts research in cognitive psychology, experimental psychology and neuropsychology. One of her main areas of interest is the effects of music training on speech perception.