Contact Info

Room 367

Brigantia Building

Penrallt Road

Bangor

LL57 2DG

 

Email: t.gonzalezalam@bangor.ac.uk

Telephone: 01248 383514

 

Websites:

Personal Website

Google Scholar

ResearchGate

OSF Project Pages

Github

Tirso Gonzalez Alam (@TirsoRJGonzalez) / X (twitter.com)

Postgraduate Project Opportunities

Self-funded (inc. agency-funded) projects:

Tirso welcomes informal enquiries from prospective PhD students interested in projects related to semantic cognition, the neural bases of complex language and semantics (non-literal language, humour, discourse comprehension), brain anatomy and connectivity, hemispheric differences / lateralisation of functions, social cognition, and/or language impairments following stroke. Please submit a draft research proposal (1-2 pages) to the above email address.

 

Funded/Studentships:

Studentship opportunities within the schol can be found at https://www.bangor.ac.uk/studentfinance/postgraduate/funding#psychology 

Overview

The overarching theme of my work is trying to understand how the large-scale networks present in human cortex are organised, and how this organisation gives rise to complex behaviour, like understanding meaning. My recent research has focused on exploring how we store conceptual and semantic information in memory, and how we retrieve relevant aspects of that information to guide our behaviour in a given context or goal. I examine these issues from the perspective of the Controlled Semantic Cognition (CSC) Framework and hemispheric differences using tools like fMRI (resting-state, task-based and DTI), TMS and behavioural paradigms.

Research Activity at Previous HEIs

Using this approach, we have provided evidence in favour of a control mechanism involved in retrieving relevant information that is specific to semantics, and have shown that the brain regions involved in storing semantic information in the anterior temporal lobe and those in charge of retrieving it (frontal/posterior temporal) have different patterns of lateralisation across the hemispheres. We have demonstrated that these patterns of lateralisation have functional consequences on our efficiency deploying semantics, and that they are grounded in different modes of relation between perceptual and higher-order systems in the left and right hemispheres, which shape the architecture of networks involved in sustaining higher-order cognition, like the Default Mode network.

Research

In my future research, I am interested in exploring whether these different interactions of control, memory and perceptual systems across the hemispheres can help explain complex semantic processes that involve processing multiple meanings simultaneously, like jokes, metaphors and non-literal language, or semantic processes that involve processing meaning over temporally-extended periods, like discourse comprehension or identifying and staying on topics. I will do this using a range of neuroimaging techniques mostly focused on fMRI (task-based, multivariate methods, resting-state, DTI), as well as TMS and studying patients with acquired or developmental deficits in using complex semantics.

 

Projects

  • How does the interplay of multiple meanings evolve during metaphor and humour comprehension? In order to successfully comprehend metaphors or jokes based on double-meaning, both senses of a polysemic concept must interact. The CSC has provided a body of evidence explaining how we process a single unit of meaning, one at a time, in a given context, but not the interaction between multiple senses to sustain these complex semantic phenomena. This strand of my research will use multivariate fMRI methods (MVPA, RSA) combined with our understanding of the brain systems involved in processing meaning to characterise how two senses of ambiguous words evolve and interact in regions involved in storing semantic representations and their controlled retrieval in the different stages involved in understanding jokes and metaphors.
  • Understanding how people understand when people don’t mean what they say. Pragmatic phenomena like indirect requests and non-literal language (sarcasm and verbal irony) have in common that the interlocutor must take into account extralinguistic and discursive cues to not interpret an utterance in a literal way, but to trigger an interpretation that incorporates external information instead. Although the CSC has provided ample evidence of how the semantic cognition system adjusts semantic retrieval to our current context and goals, there is sparse work examining how this system interfaces with other systems to detect these cues and engage other relevant neural mechanisms (like those that allow us to check the state of the world, or understand other people’s minds) to aid interpretation of non-literal language. This strand will examine these questions using naturalistic paradigms involving indirect requests, sarcasm and verbal irony. We will examine individual differences in individuals’ ability to employ these devices, as well as pre-post designs in conjunction with training programmes. This will allow us to track participants’ neural responses to non-literal relative to literal language, and document the shifts in connectivity and activation that accompany the development of proficiency in these devices.
  • Semantic cognition in discourse comprehension: it’s about time. Our understanding of how the sentence context in which we find words influences the retrieval of specific aspects of meaning of said words has evolved rapidly in recent years within the CSC framework. We know much less, however, about how temporally-extended contexts or events colour the retrieval of meaning in discourse comprehension from this perspective. When we read a novel, for example, information that we learned days or months’ before reading a given paragraph biases the conceptual retrieval of items in that paragraph (but not in contexts outside the story). This strand of research will use naturalistic stimuli (written stories, movies) in combination with fMRI multivariate, task-based and connectivity methods to understand how semantic control mechanisms track the bias of meaning within storytelling, and how they segment and separate contexts in which meaning must be biased in a particular way and those where this bias must not apply. These same methods will be applied to the study of topicality (how do we accumulate evidence to establish the topic of a conversation or story and track what is on- and what is off-topic.

Research areas and keywords

Keywords

  • Q Science (General) - Neuroscience, Neuropsychology, Cognition, Memory, Language, Semantics, Hemispheric Differences, Neuroimaging

Education / academic qualifications

  • 2020 - PhD , PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
  • 2011 - MSc , Clinical Neuropsychology
  • 2005 - BSc , Psychology

Research outputs (11)

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