We congratulate Dr. Carrie Niziolek and Dr. Ben Parrell on receiving two recent federal grants. Dr. Niziolek and Parrell were awarded an NIH R01 grant for their project, Establishing the clinical utility of sensorimotor adaptation for speech rehabilitation. This grant will be used for a series of experiments that refine a well-studied mechanism of speech learning, sensorimotor adaptation, to maximize its effectiveness to increase speech intelligibility. In the sensorimotor adaptation paradigm, the auditory feedback people receive while speaking is externally perturbed, causing them to quickly change their speech to oppose these perturbations. Although sensorimotor adaptation can quickly induce changes in speech, its current clinical applicability is limited by substantial gaps in our understanding of its mechanisms. By establishing the capacity of sensorimotor adaptation to increase speech intelligibility, characterizing retention and transfer of learning, and identifying the mechanisms underlying variability between individuals, this work lays a critical foundation for future treatments that optimize the clinical impact of motor learning.
Drs. Niziolek and Parrell were also awarded an NSF grant for a separate project, Sensorimotor adaptation as a window to speech movement planning. This project builds on recent studies in upper limb motor control which suggest that motor plans for complex actions (like speech) form cohesive units that permit separate, plan-specific, motor learning. By characterizing what contexts allow for such separate motor learning in speech, this project aims to characterize the scope of the speech motor planning system. Specifically, this project will establish the extent to which speech motor planning integrates linguistic representation and other non-articulatory movements of the communicative system, such as pitch and gesture.