Gary Raney

Associate Professor

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Research Interests:
The goal of my research program is to understand the cognitive processes involved in language use by monolinguals and bilinguals, with particular emphasis on processes related to reading. To be more specific, I study the processes that support text comprehension, how texts are represented/organized in memory, how words are accessed from memory, how readers understand figurative language, the role of inferences in text comprehension, and how readers evaluate their own comprehension (metacomprehension). I am interested in all these issues from monolingual and bilingual perspectives. Below are a few examples of current research projects.

One of my primary areas of interest is transfer benefits and repetition effects. Transfer benefits refer to how reading one text influences reading a second text. For example, reading a text about metaphors is likely to help someone understand a text about idioms because both texts describe figurative language. That is, your knowledge about the metaphor text transfers to the idiom text. Currently I am following up on a prior study to example whether information from one text can facilitate processing of information in an unrelated text. My goal is to use transfer benefits and repetition effects as measures of comprehension (better comprehension seems to produce larger transfer benefits and repetition effects).

A second interest area is bilingual cognition and text comprehension. One of my graduate students and I are exploring what cognitive mechanisms bilinguals use to select the language they want to use. We are particularly interested whether one language is inhibited as a mechanism for language selection and how attention influences word processing. We are running a second project that explores how language proficiency affects word processing skills in bilinguals who are not proficient in their second language (late learners of an L2). My general goal is to understand how bilinguals’ languages are represented in memory and accessed, and to develop tools for assessing the efficiency of the cognitive processes involved in reading. I have been working with English-Spanish bilinguals, but I recently started a collaborative project with a colleague from Canada that will use English, French, and Spanish. Outside the language domain, I am exploring whether proficient bilinguals have an advantage over monolinguals in demanding tasks such as solving insight problems.

Recently I have become very interested in understanding how people process figurative language. For example, one of my graduate students and I are studying how readers process metaphors (e.g., my roommate is a pig). Basically we are trying to understand how the key words (such as roommate and pig) are linked together. Another graduate student and I are exploring how idioms (e.g., blew his top) are processed. Here the issue is whether an idiom directly activates an underlying concept (e.g., anger, in the case of “blew his top”). A second issue is whether idioms are processed word-by-word (like literal statements) or retrieved and processed as a single meaning unit (sort of like a very long word).

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Contact Information

Office: 1046B BSB, MC 285
Phone: 312-413-1314
Fax: 312-413-4122