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The Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research

Geriatric Psychiatry

Brain & Behavior Lab

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Lab Director
Associate Lab Director
Laboratory Manager

The Brain and Behavior Laboratory is interdisciplinary, utilizing methods and designing research projects from the domains of behavioral neuroscience, neuropsychology, neurolinguistics, speech science, and speech pathology.  The laboratory team studies the relationships between brain function and human behaviors, with an emphasis on speech and language, memory, and cognition, studying healthy individuals as well as those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, schizophrenia, and stroke. The laboratory is actively engaged in functional and structural brain imaging, coordinating these findings with acoustic analysis and clinical ratings. 


The Brain and Behavior Laboratory brings together expertise from several disciplines.  Behavioral neuroscience, experimental psychology, and neuropsychology provide the foundation for studying specific human behaviors.  Expertise in speech science, linguistics, neurolinguistics, and speech pathology allows us to profitably examine the relationship between brain function and human communication.  Lab members employ a wide range of behavioral and brain imaging tools to study speech and language in normal and disordered subjects. Currently, investigators are focused on studying the effects of an important medical therapy for Parkinson’s disease, electrical deep brain stimulation (DBS), on brain function and on speech and language competence. We achieve this by evaluating the communicative functions of individuals with Parkinson’s disease with and without DBS treatment. Some of these subjects also undergo functional brain imaging with Positron Emission Tomography to identify patterns of blood flow during various speech tasks. In the course of these studies, we have reported important observations about the differences in speech ability as a function of speech task, such as spontaneous speech as contrasted reading and repetition.

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Since the inception of the lab in 2006 with NIH funding, more than 50 students from NYU, Columbia Teacher’s College, and Polytechnical University have participated in studies as Research Assistants or volunteers learning research techniques in the study of brain-behavior relationships. John Sidtis Ph.D., the Director, played a key role as part of a group of scientists who founded the field of Cognitive Neuroscience in 1978. In addition to being a researcher, Dr. Sidtis is a neuropsychologist with extensive clinical experience. Diana Van Lancker Sidtis, Ph.D., CCC/SLP, the Associate Director, received her Ph.D. in linguistics and proceeded to become a licensed speech pathologist to enrich her clinical experience. She has been a pioneer in studies of voice perception, prosody, and formulaic language. 

Investigating Deep Brain Stimulation

The Laboratory is currently funded By the National Institute of Deafness and Communicative Disorders (NIH) to explore the effects of deep brain stimulation on the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. This project is examining treatment and disease effects on the intelligibility of speech produced by individuals treated in this way, changes in the acoustic characteristics of this speech, and the relationship between changes in speech and patterns of blood flow in the brain measured using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. 

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Language patterns affected by the basal ganglia disturbance in Parkinson’s disease, such as use and comprehension of formulaic expressions, have proven of interest in our studies. We have compared the effects of motor speech disorders on different speech task demands, reporting significant differences between spontaneous speech and repetition. Our measures include fundamental frequency, rate, and voice quality as well as clinical ratings.  In addition to studying blood flow, we are also studying anatomic characteristics of brain areas involved in producing speech, in collaboration with the Discovery Science Program. The Laboratory is also collaborating with a number of doctoral students and affiliated local faculty on a range of speech and language studies that examine differences in individuals with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, bilingualism, voice production and perception, and the effects of brain damage on language use in different languages.