Personnel » Julie Fiez

Julie Fiez

Learning Research and Development Center
Room 605
3939 O'Hara St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
TEL: 412-624-7078
FAX: 412-624-9149


Summary of research

I have a strong commitment to understanding the mind in terms of its underlying neural architecture and neural functioning. Our experimental approach thus aims to integrate data gained from functional imaging studies (fMRI, PET, MEG) with patterns of behavior that we observe in normal and patient populations. In addition, we maintain a rich set of collaborations that provide an interdisciplinary perspective to our program of research and that serve to broaden our areas of expertise. Most of our work seeks to address basic research questions, but some of our more recent work tackles questions of educational and clinical relevance.

There are two predominant strands of research in my laboratory, and in each strand we have several active programs of research. One strand is focused on the neural basis of language processing. For one set of studies, verbal working memory is used as a model system in which to explore the brain regions involved in articulatory and phonological (word sound) processing. For instance, we are investigating the specific contributions of the cerebellum and Broca's area to "inner speech" and the relationship between working memory and speech comprehension. Another set of studies examines single word reading, especially the role writing systems and individual differences in shaping how orthographic (word form) information is processed and used to access phonological information. For example, one recent set of studies has probed whether individuals can learn how to read a novel writing system that uses faces as graphemes, and if so, whether orthographic analysis is supported by left or right hemisphere visual areas.

A second strand is focused on basic learning systems in the human brain. We are especially interested in how reinforcement learning signals mediated by the basal ganglia and error correction signals mediated by the cerebellum may help to optimize cognition. For instance, one set of studies is investigating whether a feedback-based training regime that improves basic math skills recruits the basal ganglia, which in turn helps to refine representations of number magnitude in a "math area" identified by other investigators. Another set of studies is investigating whether the ability to adapt to distorted speech input involves the cerebellum, which may help to adjust for "mismatches" between perceptual and lexical levels of representation.

Personal background

I grew up in Caldwell, Idaho (a small town about 60 miles from Boise). From there, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia and studied biology at Emory University. After completing my undergraduate degree in 1987, I entered a graduate program in Neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. I used positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to study the neural basis of lexical processing for my dissertation, working with Steve Petersen and Marcus Raichle. I completed my Ph.D. in 1992 and then did a joint post-doctoral fellowship with Daniel Tranel at the University of Iowa and Steve Petersen at Washington University. My aim was to use the human lesion method to provide convergent information about brain areas that I had investigated with functional neuroimaging. I joined the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in 1997. My affiliations with the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, the Department of Neuroscience, the Learning Research and Development Center, and the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders reflect my continued interest combining neuroscientific and psychological approaches to the study of the mind and brain.