Evan David Bradley

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    Personal profile

    Research interests

    Broadly speaking, I’m interested in information; specifically, the relationship between the information
    which exists in the world and that which exists in our minds. In order to understand any information processing system, we must consider its computational properties, algorithmic implementation, and physical instantiation. I am intrigued by interaction between these levels—how they influence, constrain, or optimize one another to perform cognitive tasks and produce behavior. My current work focuses on the learning and representation of sound information: how the perceptual system turns acoustic signals into linguistically and musically meaningful structures, and how this process is modified by experience. Sometimes this also involves examining linguistic and musical behavior separately. I examine these questions using behavioral and neurological techniques, and I have recently expanded my interests to include the social contexts in which such learning and performance takes place.


    Musical and Linguistic Learning

    Language and music are both complex systems of organized sound, but the degree to which they share mental representations and neural resources remains an open question. My primary goal is to define perceptual properties shared by music and language, and to use these to determine the scope of influence
    between experience with one or the other. The central thesis, informed by models of perceptual learning, is that perceptually-relevant elements of linguistic and musical structure recruit and tune general auditory mechanisms, and that this leads to predictable cross-domain influence when structural elements of language and music rely on similar acoustic properties. Accordingly, I seek to link phonetic properties tone languages with elements of musical structure, and vice-versa. In one thread, I am examining melody discrimination in native speakers of different languages (including contour tone, register tone, and nontone languages), and in speakers who are learning these languages in adulthood. I have found that melody perception is enhanced among native tone language speakers independently of musicianship, and these enhancements can be linked to the tonal properties of speakers’ languages.

    In the second thread, I am looking at crossover effects in the opposite direction by assessing the effects of
    musical training on English speakers’ learning of Mandarin lexical tones by administering laboratory based aural training to language students. Musicians are known to have an advantage in tone perception and learning compared to non-musicians, but differences between various kinds of musical experience, ranging from mere exposure, to participation in musical performance, to explicit aural skills traning have yet to be fully examined. In the final thread, I am investigating how the nature of hearing, speaking, or learning a language is similar (or not) to hearing, playing, or learning a musical system in terms of the abstract properties of the task, such as dealing with variability, attentional demands, and memory constraints, and how these interact with characteristics of learners.

    The foundations of these studies are in perceptual learning models, and their results are expected to
    contribute to discussions on the cognitive modularity of language and music. In addition, this research is relevant to applied fields, including education, where an understanding of how an individual’s experiences shape perception, and how sensory systems are changed by teaching methods, will ultimately lead to the development of more effective tools and techniques for language and music education. I am currently working to expand the context of experience under investigation, including additional languages, acoustic and temporal properties beyond pitch (e.g., rhythm, timbre), multilingual speakers, those from different musical cultures, and those with atypical linguistic or cognitive development. This line of research has the potential to provide insight into the relationship between language study, participation in music, and academic performance.

    Sensory Processes in Language Perception

    A central question in both language and musical processing is the degree to which different levels of structure (e.g., phonology vs. syntax, melody vs. rhythm) are independent or interrelated. I am investigating this question within language processing by examining the interaction between phonology and syntactic parsing (sentence comprehension) using event-related potentials (ERP). The goal is to determine whether and how listeners use the sound patterns of their language to guide how they interpret complex sentences. While the dominant serial model of sentence processing predicts that the grammatical category of words and their phonological form are processed separately and sequentially, the sensory hypothesis predicts that listeners integrate the physical form of words with abstract syntactic structure in parallel, and that the parser generates expectations not only about sentence structure, but word form.Evan D. Bradley

    Contexts of Language Production and Perception

    Music and language are communicative, social processes, and the contexts in which they are learned and performed affect the systems that develop. Our lab has conducted several studies comparing within and between languages from the perspective of the speaker or learner, and with an emphasis on language contact and change. Many of these have been facilitated and supported by our study abroad program, which enables students to travel and conduct international research in conjunction with their coursework.


    The kind of research questions that excite me are those that are at the intersections of traditional subfields,
    and answering these kinds of questions requires the converging use of many methods. I think of myself equally as a psychologist, linguist, and a cognitive scientist, and my education and prior work have included a variety of techniques, including theoretical description, behavioral experimentation, and neurophysiological studies. I approach the research process by attempting to be a synthesizer, in the sense described by E.O. Wilson:

    ...in the twenty-first century, the world will not be run by those possessing mere information alone. We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

    Ultimately, I am driven by an innate curiosity and a love of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but also by a desire to see my work impact the world in a positive way. Becoming a scientist means not only mastering a set of theories and tools, but joining a collaborative community based on adherence to scientific methods and principles of academic honesty. In addition to responsibility within the community of science, I also perceive an obligation on the part of scientists to communicate their work effectively to the public at large. This has become difficult as many sources of information compete for our attention, and science is misunderstood or misused in the public sphere. As scholars, we have a role not just in producing research, but in ensuring that it is applied toward human progress. This includes ensuring broad demographic representation within science and academia, and that science (especially social science) takes into account the diversity of human cultures and conditions as it seeks to understand the world. To this end, I have recently become more involved in outreach and lobbying at the local and federal level.


    I typically work with a team students each semester on laboratory-based research projects. We have developed a tight-knit research community, and it is rewarding to watch students take a project from idea to fruition, something that is rarely experienced in coursework. Having woked at research institutions and liberal arts colleges, I have come to believe that the key to productivity as well as mentoring is as much about flexibility, creativity, and collaboration as it is about resources. My mentoring processes have been informed by my participation in a two-year multi-institutional project examining structures and processes of mentoring in undergraduate research. We focused on unique characteristics of complex mentoring structures and interdiscplinary projects. Our findings provide useful guidance for faculty and institutions, given the increasing emphasis on interdiscplinary research at all levels. This project pushes the boundaries of my research areas, and I am proud to have contributed to research with ramifications outside the field of psychology and which are relevant to the academy more generally. I consider my own research to be interdisciplinary, and so these findings have also influenced how I approach mentoring with my own students and work with my faculty colleagues to mentor interdisciplinary work by our students.

    Education/Academic qualification

    Linguistics, PhD, University of Delaware

    Award Date: Jan 1 2013

    Linguistics, MA, University of Delaware

    Award Date: Jun 1 2009

    Cognitive Science, BA, Northwestern University

    Award Date: Jun 15 2005

    Music, Certificate, Northwestern University

    Award Date: Jun 15 2005

    Researcher Defined Keywords

    • linguistics
    • perception
    • psychology
    • cognitive science
    • learning
    • music
    • cognition
    • languages


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