Christina Tzeng

Assistant ProfessorChristina Tzeng

Psychology

 
 
 
 

Current Research Activities

Spoken language is incredibly complex. When we listen to spoken language, we hear not only the speech sounds that comprise words and sentences but also a multitude of information about who is talking. Within just a few syllables, we can often deduce the talker’s identity, emotional state, age, gender, and region of origin. While informative, these details yield a vast amount of variability in the pronunciation of words. The word water, for example is produced in perceptually distinct ways by different speakers in different contexts. This variation complicates the speech perception process. Yet within milliseconds, we understand the spoken message. My research explores the cognitive mechanisms that enable us to achieve this perceptual feat.

Research Connections to Current Events

Despite the vast amount of variability in the production of words across different voices and communicative contexts, listeners understand spoken utterances. My work has shown that this variation in pronunciation, which stems from many social factors, such as age, gender, and region of origin, facilitates our organization of speech sounds in memory and shapes our expectations for what we hear. My research demonstrates not only that diversity is a core part of the human experience but that our perceptual systems are built to embrace it.

Personal Connections to Research

I can recall vividly the excitement I felt as an undergraduate researcher to be able to participate in the discovery process. I worked as an undergraduate researcher in two research labs, one examining human communication, and the other, human memory. My current research program, which examines the cognitive underpinnings of spoken language perception, can be considered a culmination of both of these initial research experiences. I also had incredibly inspiring and supportive mentors throughout my academic career. I will always be especially thankful for my graduate school mentors, Dr. Lynne Nygaard and Dr. Laura Namy for their insights and encouragement.

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Keywords

cognition, cognitive science, linguistics, spoken language perception