Contact us! Lab Phone: (860) 486-3667

Lab Email: huskypuplab@gmail.com * Dr. Bortfeld: heather.bortfeld@uconn.edu


Current Research Projects

Language development following cochlear implantation


Cochlear implants improve the ability of profoundly deaf children to understand
speech by allowing a way for sound to be transmitted to the auditory system,
despite the lack of a working conduction system in the inner ear. It is of clinical
and scientific importance to determine whether cochlear implants facilitate the
development of English language skills. Together with a pediatric cochlear implant
team based in Texas, Dr. Bortfeld is applying NIRS to track changes in cortical
hemodynamics in young children following implantation and how that relates
to language development outcomes.


Integration of audio and visual speech in early infancy


In addition to the auditory information that is fundamental to
language development,infants also use visual speech cues to learn language.
Recent behavioral research has revealed that infants rely on both the
auditory and visual cues to speech in a manner equal to that observed in adults.
This highlights the important role visual speech plays
in supporting preverbal speech processing and subsequent language development.
Research in the Husky Pup Lab applies both neurophysiological and behavioral
techniques to establish how infants integrate multiple sources of perceptual
information to make sense of the world around them.


Functional neuroimaging of the infant brain using
near-infrared spectroscopy


Sensitivity to spoken language is an integral part of infants’ formative
development, yet relatively little is known about the neural mechanisms
that underlie the emerging ability to perceive and process speech. This is
in large part because there are a limited number of non-invasive techniques
available to measure brain functioning in human infants. Since 2002,
Dr. Bortfeld has been employing a hemodynamic-based measurement,
near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), to assess the relation between speech
processing and brain function in human infants. NIRS is an optical method
that images cerebral hemodynamics non-invasively, particularly the total
hemoglobin and oxygen saturation changes that are the result of brain activation.
NIRS is completely safe and relatively robust to motion, making it ideal for use
in research on how awake, behaving infants perceive the world around them.


Preverbal speech segmentation and word recognition


Behavioral assessments that rely on infant looking and listening are
important to understanding how early word recognition relates to later
vocabulary development. Dr. Bortfeld and her colleagues have demonstrated
that babies use familiar words such as their names as an "anchor" into the speech stream.
A baby as young as six months can learn to recognize an individual word that
follows its own name, even after hearing both words as part of whole sentences.
This is the earliest age at which infants have been shown to segment
concatenated words. Research conducted in the Husky Pup Lab continues to
focus on the relationship between speech-processing capacities in infancy
and later vocabulary development.