University of Houston (UH) developmental psychology professor Arturo Hernandez is among this year’s recipients of the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award. The award honors his work in mapping how the brain processes language. This research has implication on how language – including a second language – is taught and learned.
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation grants approximately 20 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Awards annually to internationally renowned scholars in recognition for their outstanding accomplishments in research and their exceptional promise to the future.
“The Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Award is a great honor for both Dr. Arturo Hernandez and University of Houston,” said Paula Myrick Short, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at UH. “Dr. Hernandez is one of the few researchers in the world who is considering how the brain handles more than one language. The plan to investigate how genes may play a role in the flexible processing of two languages has never been addressed.”
The award is valued at approximately $50,000 and allows Hernandez to conduct a research project in Germany for a year. He plans to collaborate with Christian Fiebach, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Goethe University in Frankfurt, starting in August 2015. Their research converge on a joint interest in cognitive flexibility, the mental ability for people to switch between thinking about two different concepts and to think about multiple concepts simultaneously.
“For many years, we have been engaged in a continuous exchange regarding our research topics and recognize that combining our empirical approaches will allow us to investigate how genes and environment interact to shape the development of important cognitive functions,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez believes this research could have applications for genetics, learning disorders, people with difficulty learning language or children with language delay, speech or sound issues. His long-term goal is an educational outcome that would help change the way to teach language to people, specifically a second language.
“This research award speaks to Dr. Hernandez’s innovative approach,” said Short. “Very few scientists are able to rise to the level of excellence in their respective fields. The results of his research visit with Dr. Christian Fiebach at Goethe University in Germany are likely to yield a lasting collaboration with many benefits to both the investigators and their respective institutions.”
Hernandez is the director of the Laboratory for the Neural Bases of Bilingualism at the University of Houston and is the author of the book, “The Bilingual Brain” (Oxford University Press, 2013). His research is currently funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.
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