A joint laboratory established by National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) and US-based Haskins Laboratories was inaugurated in Taipei yesterday, with academics from the two sides set to work together on the learning mechanism of infants.
A delegation led by Kenneth Pugh, president and director of research at Haskins Laboratories, signed a memorandum of understanding with NTNU a day earlier to establish the NTNU-Haskins Joint Laboratory of Brain Development and Learning.
NTNU chair professor Ovid Tzeng (曾志朗), a Haskins Laboratories board member since 2015, told a press conference that one of the institute’s current focuses is the use of functional near-
infrared spectroscopy systems in the research of language and reading development in infants.
The system is a non-invasive optical imaging technique that measures changes in hemoglobin concentrations within the brain by means of the characteristic absorption spectra of hemoglobin in the near-infrared range.
Human learning capability peaks in infancy, Haskins Laboratories senior researcher Richard Aslin said.
Aslin said he discovered years ago that infants have the ability to rapidly extract rules hidden in information, adding that this ability is perfect for learning languages.
Aslin is working with NTNU on a research project with six-month-old Taiwanese as subjects.
The project aims to study the learning mechanism in the human brain as it relates to cross-sense stimulus links and prediction, he said.
Initial research shows that six-month-olds can learn the connection between objects and sounds within one minute, said Aslin, who described babies as super-powerful learning machines.
The NTNU-Haskins joint laboratory will continue to explore the early physical signs of infants’ cognitive ability and to determine methods that can help children who suffer from autism and language development disorders, he said.
Founded in 1935, Haskins Laboratories is a private, non-profit research institute with a primary focus on speech, language and reading, and their biological basis.
The New Haven, Connecticut-based lab has long-standing, formal affiliations with the University of Connecticut and Yale University, NTNU said.
The university introduced Pugh to reporters as one of the scientists who initiated the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging to the research of reading and reading disabilities.
Pugh has also undertaken a lot of research in the areas of cognitive neurology and psycholinguistics, NTNU said.
Accompanying Pugh on his visit to Taiwan are Joseph Cardone, vice president of finance at Haskins Laboratories, and Heikki Lyytinen, a professor at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland and chair of Inclusive Literacy Learning for UNESCO.
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