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Wong: Cultural and biological factors shape the way we communicate

Patrick Wong, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, and Roxelyn and Richard Pepper

Patrick Wong, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, and Roxelyn and Richard Pepper

A large and attentive crowd assembled on April 11 for the seventh annual Pepper lecture, hosted by the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. The featured speaker was Patrick C. M. Wong, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders and the director of the Communication Neural Systems Research Group.

In attendance were Roxelyn and Richard Pepper, whose generous support of the department has made the lecture series and countless other projects within the School of Communication possible. Wong called the opportunity to lecture a “tremendous honor.”

His talk, “Cultural and Biological Constraints in Human Communication,” explored the ways that cultural and biological differences between people can impact the way they see—and sometimes hear—the world. He presented the results of a number of experiments that supported his point and that also speak to the far-reaching span of his research (one of his researchers went as far as a village in Bihar, India, to collect data; another study involved a thousand people in Hong Kong logging on to perform online tasks).

Wong focused first on those experiments that examined cultural differences using musical and spoken language tasks given to people from different parts of the world (Cantonese vs. Canadians, Americans vs. East Asians). He then presented experiments that focused on biological factors. “Why is knowing about these cultural and biological differences useful?” he said. “So we can use them as predictors of performance. We hope they will help us guide training and make training more optimal for individual learners.”

Wong earned his doctorate in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and was a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at the University of Chicago. His work has been published in The Journal of Neuroscience, Nature Neuroscience, Cerebral Cortex, and PLoS ONE, among other publications, and his research has received public attention from The New York Times, National Public Radio, and The Wall Street Journal. His research is supported by the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.