Ph.D.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Primary Area: Cognitive Psychology
Address: Pritzker Hall, Room 7530
Research and Teaching Interests:
I study how we understand language—a phenomenon that is universal across human cultures, yet unique to our species, and allows us to transmit thoughts from one mind to another. What are the component processes of comprehension? What kind of mental structures allow us to “know the meaning” of an utterance? Which distinctions in meaning do these structures make more/less salient? And what mental operations are used to manipulate them?
To understand how comprehension evolves in our minds, the main line of work in our lab investigates how it engages our brains: which aspects of comprehension get their own dedicated neural real estate? Which are inseparable, supported by a joint mechanism? And which rely on circuits that serve many domains beyond language? Using neuroimaging (mostly functional MRI), tools from network neuroscience, and a combination of hypothesis- and data-driven approaches, we characterize the functional regions engaged when adult native speakers understand language in naturalistic contexts, such as when listening to stories. We study the relationships between these regions (are they dissociable vs. tightly linked?); the division of “mental labor” and the integration of information across them; and the ways they dynamically change under different circumstances (e.g., following brain injuries). In parallel to these cognitive-neuroscience experiments, we also conduct behavioral studies to address similar questions about how language is processed in our minds.
In our secondary line of work, we use computational methods to evaluate meaning representations that are generated by Artificial Intelligence algorithms. We examine what knowledge—about words, their combinations, and the underlying concepts—is captured by these machine-learning systems, and compare it against behavioral benchmarks.
Idan A. Blank is an Assistant Professor of Psychology, with a courtesy appointment in the department of Linguistics. He is also a member of the Brain Research Institute (BRI) and and Neuroscience Inter-Departmental Program (NSIDP). He received his PhD (2016) in Cognitive Science from MIT, working with Nancy Kanwisher and Ev Fedorenko, and continued working there as a postdoctoral associate at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research until 2019. Prior to that, he studied mathematics, psychology, and theatre arts in the Lautman Interdisciplinary Program at Tel-Aviv University, where he received his MA (2011) working with Galit Yovel.Curriculum Vitae
Blank, I.A., & Fedorenko, E. (2020) No evidence for functional distinctions across fronto-temporal language regions in their temporal receptive windows. NeuroImage, 219, 116925. DOI: j.neuroimage.2020.116925
Grand, G.*, Blank, I.A.*, Pereira, F., & Fedorenko, E. (2021). “Semantic projection” recovers rich human knowledge of multiple object features from word embeddings. Nature Human Behaviour.
Fedorenko, E., & Blank, I.A. (2020). Broca’s area is not a natural kind. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24(4), 270-284. DOI: 1016/j.tics.2020.01.001
Diachek, E.*, Blank, I.A.*, Siegelman, M.*, & Fedorenko, E. (2020). The domain-general multiple demand (MD) network does not support core aspects of language comprehension: a large-scale fMRI investigation. Journal of Neuroscience, 40(23), 4536-4550. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2036-19.2020
Shain, C.*, Blank, I.A.*, van Schijndel, M., Schuler, W., & Fedorenko, E. (2020). fMRI reveals language-specific predictive coding during naturalistic sentence comprehension. Neuropsychologia, 138, 107307. DOI: 1016/j.neuropsychologia.2019.107307
Schrimpf, M., Blank, I.A.*, Tuckute, G.*, Kauf, C.*, Hosseini, E., Kanwisher, N., Tenenbaum, J., & Fedorenko, E. (2021). Artificial Neural Networks Accurately Predict Language Processing in the Brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.