Cognitive and Sensory Imaging Laboratory

 

The overarching goals of the Cognitive and Sensory Imaging (CASI) Laboratory are to understand the interactions between sensory experience and higher-order cognition such as working memory and executive function throughout the lifespan, and to characterize what these interactions look like in the brain. The lab uses multiple techniques to determine the complex interactions between sensory experience, neural function and behavior. Studies use:

  • State-of-the-art brain imaging, including magnetoencephalography (MEG) and structural and functional MRI
  • Comprehensive behavioral testing
  • Advanced audiometric and sensory measurements.

We are particularly interested in clarifying the impact of mild-to-severe hearing loss and the quality of therapeutic interventions (e.g., hearing aid use and audibility) on the neural dynamics that serve cognitive development in children and adolescents. There is high variability in behavioral outcomes in these children. Some children with hearing loss perform at or above their normal-hearing peers on tests of cognition and language, while others fall persistently behind.

We hope that by studying the neural dynamics affecting these cognitive processes in real-time (rather than depending on end-point behavioral metrics) we will be able to uncover the root of this range of outcomes. The results of these studies may lead to better-informed, individualized therapies for children with hearing loss.

Our Research Team

Elizabeth Heinrichs-Graham, Ph.D., Principle Investigator
elizabeth.heinrichs-graham@boystown.org

Dr. Elizabeth Heinrichs-Graham is the Director of the Cognitive and Sensory Imaging (CASI) Lab. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Nebraska – Omaha in 2015, where her research focused on the neurophysiological correlates of motor control, especially in the context of healthy aging and in patients with Parkinson's disease. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where she studied motor and cognitive development in children and adolescents.

Dr. Heinrichs-Graham was an assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center prior to joining Boys Town National Research Hospital. Her current research interests lie in identifying the complex neural dynamics connecting sensation, perception and cognition across the lifespan, and especially during critical developmental periods in children with hearing loss.

Amanda Benavente, Research Assistant

Amanda Benavente is a research assistant in the CASI Lab. Her roles include participant recruitment and marketing, neuroimaging (MEG and MRI) data collection, psychological testing administration and data analysis. She received a BA in Psychology from Mars Hill University in North Carolina. Her future goals are to become a full-stack web developer, ideally within the psychology and wellness fields.

Wai Hon (Anson) Lee, Research Assistant

Anson Lee is a research assistant in the CASI Lab. His roles include neuroimaging data collection, administering neuropsychological assessments and data analysis. Anson received a BA in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2020. His research interests center on the development and mechanisms of high-order cognitive processes such as attention and memory, especially regarding learning. He would like to pursue a Ph.D. in Education and Learning Sciences, where he hopes to conduct research that focuses on further enhancing instructional practices in hopes of improving student learning outcomes.

Current Studies

The impact of hearing loss on cognitive and neural function in children and adolescents

Children with hearing loss are commonly at risk for language and academic delays. Hearing loss is also known to impact cognitive measures such as working memory, and language ability is related to these higher-order cognitive skills. However, these issues in children with hearing loss are not universal; some fall significantly behind their normal hearing peers, while others perform similarly to normal hearing peers.

Recent work in children who wear hearing aids suggests that the severity of language delays correlates with the degree to which a hearing aid improves access to speech, as well as the amount of hearing aid use. Taken together, language, cognitive function and auditory experience seem to be tightly linked, and a combination of these factors likely explains much of the variability in outcomes of children with hearing loss. However, we currently do not have a good framework that captures the relationships between these factors.

This project, which is a collaboration between the CASI Lab; the Audibility, Perception and Cognition Lab at Boys Town National Research Hospital and the Pediatric Audiology Lab at the University of Iowa, seeks to provide new data on the impact of hearing loss and hearing aid measures on cognitive, language and neural function in children ages 7-15.

We are currently enrolling children with and without hearing loss to undergo functional and structural brain imaging, as well as tests of auditory, cognitive and language function. We hope that data from this study will shed light on what combination of factors puts some children with hearing loss at risk for learning delays and what we can do to modify those factors.