This research proposal aims at deepening the understanding of one fundamental issue of human cognition – how the perceptual fluency associated with skilled word reading is learned – and in doing so will provide for the first time a comprehensive learned neurocomputational account of printed word perception. The issue is of extreme general interest because it regards the establishment of one ontogenetic humanity achievement, symbolic language communication, on the top of cortical structures evolved to support phylogenetic cognitive functions. The subject is highly interdisciplinary, encapsulating visual perception and lexical processing, typically addressed separately in computational modeling. Indeed, the lack of an integral account undermines established theoretical models and related research. Assuming raw visual input and self-organization in deep generative networks, our model will be the first to provide a comprehensive account of the development of the known gradient of visual-lexical processing along the left occipitotemporal cortex. With the help of a novel electrophysiological method, we will collect neural signatures of various processing stages and fit the emergent hierarchical structure. Importantly, the learned model will allow us to study typical and atypical developmental paths of reading. In sum, the project will deepen the understanding of a very broad range of language-specific and general cognitive phenomena, and will open the way for a comprehensive neurocomputational account of all aspects of language processing. The Experienced Researcher will deepen his theoretical knowledge, master his expertise in neurocomputational modeling and gain proficiency in electrophysiological methods at the Host institution, a top research institution in the field. The training-trough-research will boost the professional maturity and career development of the Experienced Researcher to the point of complete research independence translatable to a permanent position.
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