Welcome to Holger Mitterer's Website!

Welcome to Europe's southern most psycholinguist

My career has followed a north-south pattern. After studying in Bielfeld, Germany (52.0°N), I moved south for my PhD in Maastricht, The Netherlands (50.8° N) and then north again (51.8° N) to Nijmegen, The Netherlands, for a position at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. This has hence been an international career, but, geographically, it was quite limited. spanning only 1.2° degrees of latitude.

The next move had to be south again, and it is, only slightly further this time: to 35.9°N. Here I an now an associate professor at the Department of Cognitive Science of the University of Malta. If you are interested in how life is on my Malta, have a look here

My research still focuses on ecological aspects of speech perception. That is, how can we perceive the speech in real life with all its variation due to the speaker (e.g., Mitterer, 2006a, Phonetica; Mitterer, Chen, & Zhou, 2011, Cognitive Science) and the phonetic context in which a word or segment appears (Mitterer, 2006b, Perception & Psychophysics; Mitterer, Kim, & Cho, 2013). My interest in speech perception also lead to forays into other domains, such as speech production (Mitterer, & Ernestus, 2008) and colour perception (Mitterer & de Ruiter, 2008). On this page, you'll find a short bio and some "featured" research.

Research Examples

Contradicting myself

In a discussion about the usefulness of fMRI, I claimed that a good criterion would be if an fMRI result changed someone's mind. The reply was that, fMRI or not, no one ever revises his or her view based on any result. This is sad state of affairs, after all, Kant once said that changing one's mind is a deed of wisdom (or something along these lines).

Following Kant's categorical imperative (apparently, Kant is the only philosopher I know), I should maybe give a good example. In my 2006 "Hungarian" papers (e.g., Mitterer, Csépe, Honbolygo,& Blomert, 2006), I claimed that phonological assimilation is constrained by auditory similarity and hence should be easy to perceive independent of language background. We (Taehong Cho, Sahyang Kim, and I) put this to the test by using the typologically rare Korean labial-to-velar assimilation. Using a version of the visual world-paradigm with a combination of of written words and shapes (introduced by Mitterer & McQueen, 2009, see the pictures on the left), we first showed that Korean listeners use context to compensate for this assimilation. However, neither Dutch nor English participants show such a context effect. Hence, the claim of Mitterer et al. (2006) was, at least in its universality wrong.

Now it is your turn to test your claims as rigoursly (Kant's imperative and all that). And if you not sure what the spaceships on the right have to do with assimilation, read this.

Improve your second-language listening skills

Do you speak English as a second language well, but still have trouble understanding movies with unfamiliar accents, such as Brad Pitt's southern accent in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds? Or indeed, Ewan McGregor's Scottish accent in Trainspotting? In a study, published in PLoS ONE on November 11, 2009, we (James McQueen and I) show how you can improve your second-language listening ability by watching the movie with subtitles--as long as these subtitles are in the same language as the film. Subtitles in one's native language, the default in some European countries, may actually be counter-productive to learning to understand foreign speech.

We show for the first time that listeners can tune in to an unfamiliar regional accent in a foreign language. Dutch students showed improvements in their ability to recognise Scottish or Australian English after only 25 minutes of exposure to video material. English subtitling during exposure enhanced this learning effect; Dutch subtitling reduced it. So the next time you watch a DVD in a foreign language, and you want to improve your listening skills, you know what to do.

An interesting point to be made here is that this applied finding came out of a long series of papers on fundamental research on speech perception. As it turns out a good theory is quite practical indeed.