Professor of Psychology
Lori Holt studies speech communication as a tool to investigate general cognitive and perceptual issues as well as practical real-world problems like second language acquisition. Her research focus is on understanding how humans interpret the complexity of spoken language.
Spoken communication in a native language is deceptively simple; the ease of everyday conversation masks the cognitive and perceptual challenges of translating from acoustic signal to meaning. The acoustic speech signal is notoriously context-dependent, with variability arising from rate of speech, speaker idiosyncrasies, phonetic context, accent, and other sources. With these diverse sources of variability—some linguistically relevant, some not—the mechanisms that transform the acoustic signal into a linguistic representation face a complex task. However, these same challenges make speech communication a fertile ground for testing theories of human perception and cognition.
One branch of her research uses the acquisition of first and second languages as a testing ground for models of auditory learning and categorization; another investigates the role of context in constraining and shaping auditory percepts. The research has implications for critical periods in development, for developmental disabilities involving language and for research on computer understanding of speech. Her research has implications for critical periods in development, for developmental disabilities involving language, for advancing language learning in adulthood, and for research on computer understanding of speech.
Dr. Holt teaches undergraduate courses in Research Methods, the Biological Foundations of Behavior and Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience from her home department in Psychology. She is co-Director of the Predoctoral Training Program in Behavioral Brain Research (T32GM081760, with co-Director Dr. Julie Fiez, University of Pittsburgh), an NIH-supported graduate training grant to train the next generation of behavioral researchers to exploit biomedical techniques in their research.