w Chris Heffner - Research

Chris Heffner

PhD, Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, University of Maryland, College Park
Assistant Professor, Communicative Disorders and Sciences, University at Buffalo

If you've ever used an automated voice recognition system, like the ones that process you through customer support on the phone, you have a sense of how hard it is to understand the speech of someone else. If we can't teach a machine to do it, how is it that we humans can understand sentences spoken at a rate of about 300 words per minute? As if life couldn't get more challenging, speech changes, too. Speaker-by-speaker and dialect-by-dialect, people don't all speak in the same way. My research focuses on plasticity in speech perception. In particular, I look at learning and adaptation. We learn new phonetic categories when we learn a new language. We adapt to variation in the speech of others in our native language. These two processes require our brain to be plastic, to change with experience. I study how the brain does that, and what happens when brains aren't working properly.

Much of my research involves behavioral tasks where I work with people. Basically, I bring people into the lab and have them do simple tasks where they learn new categories or write down sentences. I've worked with a few different populations, and am particularly interested in healthy aging, adolescence, and Parkinson's disease. I love communicating my science to other people, so I often perform my research in community sites and have done stage shows at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

© 2010-2023 Chris Heffner; Updated 2023-12-07