Professor, Psychology.  Member Committee on Neurosciences, and Cognitive Science Program

B.A.,  Psychology  (Reed College)
Ph.D, Neurosciences (UC San Diego)
Postdoc, Cognitive Science (UC San Diego)

Research interests
My research efforts are directed at an understanding of the functional and neural organization of language comprehension and memory. Few techniques allow a non-invasive record of human brain activity during cognitive activities. One is implemented in this laboratory: the event-related potential (ERP) provides a record of brain electrical activity which can be recorded from the scalp as subject read or listen for comprehension, as they learn items, or as they attempt to retrieve what they have learned. Such data can provide more detailed information about the sequence and nature of the component processes leading to successful comprehension or memory than that offered by the traditional measures of cognitive psychology. Via collaborations, some of the work also incorporates magnetoencepholography (MEG) and structural brain measures from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Functional MR measures are soon to be added. Most of the research in my lab concerns the healthy population (both young and elderly), but has also included amnesic patients and individuals with developmental language disorders. Current graduate students in the lab are Jonathan Folstein, Trudy Kuo, and Dianne E. Patterson (full time), and Polly O'Rourke (part time). Dr. Dianne K. Patterson works on structural MR imaging, and also builds and administers the lab computers (all six operating systems!). Kate Cody is a staff member who specializes in collecting and analyzing ERP data. Some of my collaborators at the UA are Betty Glisky and Elena Plante; some of the more distant ones are Marta Kutas (UCSD), Seana Coulson (UCSD, former postdoc), Barbara Luka (Bard College, former postdoc), Pedro Macizo (University of Granada, former postdoc), Ava Senkfor (Wayne State University, former grad student), and John Olichey (UCSD).

Some current lines of research include:

  • The interface between speech perception and comprehension: how listeners segment the stream of speech into meaningful words, and when/how they integrate single words into a semantic representation of what they are hearing.
  • The relationship between memory for an item and memory for the context in which it was learned. Neuropsychological evidence has suggested that different brain areas may be involved in learning orremembering a fact versus identifying the "source" of that knowledge: how, when, and who it was learned from. Our initial work used spoken words as "items" and the voice of the speaker as "sources". These studies show that recovering the conjunction of word+voice information involves prefrontal cortex to a greater extent than word recognition alone. Similar results are seen for other sorts of material (drawings + spatial locations, objects + actions). Current work is devoted to understanding the role of prefrontal cortex in memory, and how this may change with advancing age.
  • Similarity and rule-based processes in categorization.
  • Content-specificity in episodic memory. Some of our recent work has investigated the degree to which processes invoked while studying an object (such as motor imagery) are recapitulated when remembering the original study episode.
  • Qualitative differences in processing different varieties of semantic relationship. Psycholinguistic studies routinely show robust differences in the ease of processing related word pairs as compared to unrelated. But the relationships between words occur in many different forms that might engage qualitatively different processing mechanisms. Three varieties of relationship under current investigation are:
    • SIMILARITY: based on shared visual or functional features, swan-duck
    • EVENT: co-occurrence in event structures, based on experience with actions and objects in contexts, leak-pipe, and
    • PHRASAL expressions, based on immediate contiguity in usage, medical-student

Undergraduate Courses

Human Memory (Psychology 326) Fall 2006
Brain & Cognition (Psychology 402) Spring 2005

Graduate Courses

Cognitive Neuroscience (Psychology 528). A seminar course emphasizing relationships between cognitive theories and neural activity/neural damage in humans, in the context of a topic that changes from year to year. The topic in 2001 was semantic memory. The planned topic for 2007 will be functions and subdivisions of prefrontal cortex in humans.

Neural Bases of Language (Psychology 530). Courses with this name are often devoted to language deficits after damage to various brain structures. Because the University of Arizona's Department of Speech & Hearing Sciences offers good courses on aphasia, Neural Bases of Language takes a broader approach that focuses on relationships between language abilities and other aspects of cognition in the normal brain. In Spring 2004, the course focused on electrophysiological (ERP and MEG) studies of language processing, including speech perception, semantics, and syntax. Spring 2004 syllabus

Curriculum Vita click here

Recent Publications (*Student or postdoctoral author)

*Kuo, T.Y., & Van Petten C. (2008). Perceptual difficulty in source memory encoding and retrieval: Prefrontal versus parietal electrical brain activity. Neuropsychologia, 46, 2243-2257. Get manuscript version (See journal's website for regular reprint, or send an email request).

*Senkfor, A.J., Van Petten, C., & Kutas, M. (2008). Enactment versus conceptual encoding: Equivalent item memory but different source memory. Cortex, 44 , 649-664. Get manuscript version See journal's website for regular reprint, or send an email request).

*Folstein, J.R., Van Petten, C., & *Rose, S.A. (2008). Novelty and

*Folstein, J.R., & Van Petten, C. (2008). Influence of cognitive control and mismatch on the N2 component of the ERP: A review. Psychophysiology, 45, 152-170. Get manuscript version See journal's website for regular reprint, or send an email request.

*Folstein, J.R., Van Petten, C., & *Rose, S.A. (2008). Novelty and conflict in the categorization of complex stimuli. Psychophysiology, 45, 467-479. Get manuscript version See journal's website for regular reprint, or send an email request.

*Macizo, P., & Van Petten, C. (2007). Syllable frequency in lexical decision and naming of English words. Reading & Writing, 20, 295-331. Get manuscript version
See journal's website for regular reprint, or send an email request.

*Coulson, S. & Van Petten, C. (2007). A special role for the right hemisphere in metaphor comprehension? ERP evidence from hemifield presentation. Brain Research Get manuscript version
See journal's website for regular reprint, or send an email request.

Kutas, M., Van Petten, C., & Kluender, R. (2006). Psycholinguistics electrified II: 1994-2005. In M. Traxler & M.A. Gernsbacher (Eds.), Handbook of Psycholinguistics, 2nd Edition (pp 659-724). New York: Elsevier. Get manuscript version

Swick, D., *Senkfor, A.J., & Van Petten, C. (2006). Source memory retrieval is affected by aging and prefrontal lesions: Behavioral and ERP evidence. Brain Research, 1107, 161-176. See abstract
For full text, see the journal's website, or send an email request

*Kuo, T., & Van Petten, C. (2006). Prefrontal engagement during source memory retrieval depends on the nature of the prior encoding task. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience,18, 1133-1146. Get reprint

Van Petten, C., & Luka, B.J. (2006). Neural bases of semantic context effects in electromagnetic and hemodynamic studies. Brain and Language. 97, 279-293. Get reprint

Coulson S, Federmeier K, Van Petten C, & Kutas M (2005). Right hemisphere sensitivity to word and sentence-level context. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31,129-147. Get reprint.

*Folstein JR & Van Petten C. (2004). Multidimensional rule, unidimensional rule, and similarity strategies in categorization: Event-related potential correlates.Journal of Experiment Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 30, 1026-1044 Get Reprint

Van Petten C (2004). Relationships between hippocampal volume and memory ability in healthy individuals across the lifespan: Review and meta-analysis. Neuropsychologia, 42, 1394-1413. Get Reprint

Van Petten C, Plante E, *Davidson PSR, *Kuo TY, *Bajuscak L, & Glisky EL (2004). Memory and executive function in older adults: Relationships with temporal and prefrontal gray matter volumes and white matter hyperintensities. Neuropsychologia, 42, 1313-1335. Get Reprint

Federmeier KD, Van Petten C, Schwartz TJ, & Kutas M. (2003). Sounds, words, sentences: Age-related changes across levels of language processing. Psychology and Aging. See Abstract

For full text, see journal's website or send e-mail request.

Schwartz TJ, Federmeier KD, Van Petten C, Salmon DP, & Kutas M. (2003). Electrophysiological analysis of context effects in Alzheimer's dementia. Neuropsychology, 17, 187-201. Get Reprint

Van Petten C (2002). Lexical ambiguity resolution. In L. Nadel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science (pp 867-872). London: Macmillan. Get Reprint

Halgren E, Dhond R, Christensen N, Van Petten C, Marinkovic K, Lewine JD, & Dale AM (2002). N400-like MEG responses modulated by semantic context, word frequency, and lexical class in sentences. Neuroimage, 17, 1101-1116. Get Reprint

*Coulson S, & Van Petten C (2002). Conceptual integration and metaphor: an event-related brain potential study. Memory and Cognition, 30, 958-968. Get Reprint

Van Petten C, *Luka BJ, *Rubin SR, & *Ryan JP (2002). Frontal brain activity predicts individual performance in an associative memory exclusion task. Cerebral Cortex, 12, 1180-1192. Get Reprint

*Senkfor AJ, Van Petten C, & Kutas M (2002). Episodic action monitoring for real objects: An ERP investigation with Perform, Watch, and Imagine action encoding tasks versus a non-action encoding task. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 402-419. Get Reprint

Plante E, Van Petten C, & *Senkfor AJ (2000). Electrophysiological dissociation between verbal and nonverbal processing in learning disabled adults. Neuropsychologia, 38, 1669-1684. Get Reprint

Olichney J, Van Petten C, Paller K, Salmon D, Iragui V, & Kutas M (2000). Word repetition in amnesia: Electrophysiological evidence of spared and impaired memory. Brain, 123, 1948-1963. Get Reprint

Van Petten C, *Senkfor AJ, & *Newberg WM. (2000). Memory for drawings in locations: Spatial source memory and event-related potentials. Psychophysiology, 37, 551-564. Get Reprint

Reiman E, Lane RD, Van Petten C, & Bandettini PA. (2000). Positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging. In JT Cacioppo, LG Tassinary, & GG Berntson (Eds.), Handbook of Psychophysiology, second edition (pp 85-118). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

*Rubin SR, Van Petten C, Glisky EL, & *Newberg WM (1999). Memory conjunction errors in younger and older adults: Event-related potential and neuropsychological evidence. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 16, 459-488. Get Reprint

Van Petten C, *Coulson S, *Rubin S, Plante E, & *Parks M. (1999). Timecourse of word identification and semantic integration in spoken language. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 25, Get Reprint

Van Petten C, & Bloom PA. (1999). Speech boundaries, syntax, and the brain. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 103-104. Get Reprint

*Senkfor AJ, & Van Petten C. (1998). Who said what? An event-related potential investigation of source and item memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21, 1005-1025. Get Reprint

Van Petten C, *Weckerly J, *McIsaac HK, & Kutas M. (1997). Working memory capacity dissociates lexical and sentential context effects. Psychological Science, 8, 238-242. Get Reprint

Van Petten C, & *Senkfor AJ. (1996). Memory for words and novel visual patterns: Repetition, recognition, and encoding effects in the event-related brain potential. Psychophysiology, 33, 491-506. Get Reprint

Van Petten C. (1995). Words and sentences: Event-related brain potential measures. Psychophysiology, 32, 511-525. Get Reprint

Van Petten C, & *Rheinfelder H. (1995). Conceptual relationships between spoken words and environmental sounds: Event-related brain potential measures. Neuropsychologia, 33, 485-508. Get Reprint