Meet Rehab Med’s newest Canada Research Chair

Jacqueline Cummine recognized for research on the neuroscience of literacy

16 December 2020

Cummine holds a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC), which awards $500,000 over five years to researchers acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. Click here to meet all 16 University of Alberta CRCs anounced in the 2020 cycle.

Congratulations on being appointed a Canada Research Chair! What exactly is the 'neuroscience of literacy' and how will research in this area impact people? 

I view 'neuroscience of literacy' as the application of brain-behaviour based science to investigate various literacy components (spelling, writing, reading) to better understand the profiles of individuals with and without reading impairments. 

I often ask people to consider the article they are reading right now. What goes into your ability to decode and derive meaning from the words on this page? How much effort does it take you to read each sentence? Now imagine the last email you sent. How did you go about taking a thought and encoding it into letters and words for a colleague or friend to read? For some adults, these skills are relatively automatic and our self-efficacy—the belief in our abilities to complete these tasks—is high. For others, the notion of composing an email or writing a paper for a class causes overwhelming anxiety, social withdrawal and low self-efficacy. 

Recent reports have suggested an alarming 25 to 40 per cent of Albertans have difficulties reading and writing. Literacy skills can have a profound impact on an individual’s academic achievement, career opportunities, mental well-being and social life, particularly in today’s society where social media platforms are ubiquitous and rely heavily on written communication.

What kind of research will you be conducting?

We are interested in better understanding the impact of neurodevelopmental reading disorders on adults in a Canadian context. This includes exploring the consequences of reading impairment on everyday functioning, including employment barriers, education challenges, social-emotional wellbeing, and physical and mental health, just to name a few. We use a variety of methodological approaches to probe these various questions, including brain imaging techniques (e.g. fMRI, DTI, rsMRI, tDCS) and behavioural performances (e.g. response times, accuracy, error types) among others (e.g. pupillometry).

How do you see your CRC position impacting the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine? Will there be opportunities for collaboration with other faculty members?

One of our main focuses is on rehabilitation for individuals who have literacy impairments via skill-based training and self-efficacy based training. I collaborate quite closely with several members of Rehab Med including Bill Hodgetts, Daniel Aalto, Torrey Loucks and Trelani Chapman, to name a few.

What is your vision for this position? How do you hope to make a difference with your research?

I hope this position will facilitate the translation of bench-to-bedside information. We have been working closely with community organizations to develop research questions, training programs and to disseminate our findings. Over the last few years, our lab has been sharing information about adult literacy challenges with Project Adult Literacy Society. In addition, we have been working collaboratively with several individuals with reading disabilities to generate new research questions and assessments. These collaborations have been incredibly valuable. This position will provide more opportunities for collaborative work with community partners, individuals and families directly impacted by reading challenges.

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Jacqueline Cummine is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.