Haskins Laboratories

The Science of the Spoken and Written Word

Mara Breen, Ph.D.

Mara Breen's picture
Mount Holyoke College Department of Psychology and Education, 50 College Street South Hadley, MA 01075


Research Interests

Spoken language, and arguably written language, consists of more than the sounds that indicate the words which are being produced; language is also produced with prosody, which describes the music of language, including the way in which certain words are made prominent, or the way that words are grouped. My work explores not only what prosody is, but also how it is produced and perceived.

In my lab, we explored a variety of questions related to the production and perception of speech prosody. For example, we explore the factors which determine which words are prominent, those which determine why boundaries appear where they do between words, and what a good annotation system of prosody might be. Moreover, we explore how prosodic features affect the real-time processing of language; that is, what information do patterns of stressed syllables, or locations of boundaries, convey to a listener. In addition, we explore questions about how prosodic information influences silent reading processes.

A further goal of our research is to understand how speech production and comprehension rely on more general cognitive processes, like attention, as well as how the processes that underlie speech production and comprehension are related to those that underlie music production and comprehension.

We use a variety of methods to explore these areas. We conduct behavioral experiments where we measure reaction times, ratings, or other measures of interpretation. We also use event-related potentials to measure real-time scalp electrical activity in order to more accurately measure the timing and interaction of cognitive processes.


Breen, M. (2014). Empirical investigations of the role of implicit prosody in sentence processing. Language and Linguistics Compass. 8(2) 37-50. doi:10.1111/lnc3.12061 pdf

Breen, M., Dilley, L.C., McAuley, J.D., and Sanders, L.D. (2014). Auditory evoked potentials reveal early perceptual effects of distal prosody on speech segmentation. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. doi:10.1080/23273798.2014.894642 pdf

Breen, M. and Clifton, C., Jr. (2013). Stress matters revisited: A boundary change experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 66(10), 1896-1909. doi:10.1080/17470218.2013.766899 pdf

Breen, M., Kingston, J., and Sanders, L. D. (2013). Perceptual representations of phonotactically illegal syllables. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. 75(1) 101-120. doi:10.3758/s13414-012-0376-y pdf

Breen, M., Dilley, L.C., Kraemer, J., and Gibson, E. (2012). Inter-transcriber reliability for two systems of prosodic annotation: ToBI (Tones and Break Indices) and RaP (Rhythm and Pitch). Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, 8 (2), 277-312. doi:10.1515/cllt-2012-0011 pdf