e-mail: yulia dot oganian at ucsf dot edu

I am a cognitive neuroscientist interested in the neurobiology of spoken and written language processing, in particular the representation of two different languages in the bilingual brain.


I use multiple methods, including behavioral experiments, computational modeling, brain imaging (fMRI), scalp (M/EEG) and intracranial electrophysiology (ECoG).

June 2020

Our preprint on speechs encoding in primary and higher order auditory cortices is finally online! (in collaboration with Liberty Hamilton, UT Austin):

Topography of speech-related acoustic and phonological feature encoding throughout the human core and parabelt auditory cortex


About me

Currently, I work as a postdoc with Edward F. Chang at the University of California, San Francisco. At UCSF, I study the auditory mechanisms of  speech perception using intracranial recordings (ECoG) in neurosurgical patients and MEG in healthy volunteers.

Prior to that I was a PhD student with Hauke Heekeren at the Freie Universitat and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience (BCCN) in Berlin. Before starting my PhD I spent four years in Jerusalem, where I studied Cognitive Science and computational Neuroscience at the Hebrew University.

This was after I received a B.A. im Mathematics from the University of Freiburg, Germany and decided that human cognition was more exciting than algebraic geometry (purely subjective opinion).

You can download my full CV here.


Cortical representation of syllables in continuous speech

Continuous speech is characterized by prominent temporal modulations of its overall amplitude, captured by the speech envelope. These modulations reflect the syllable structure of speech. At UCSF, I probe how the speech envelope is encoded in human speech cortex, using with intracranial recordings from neurosurgical patients.
We discovered that neural populations in speech cortex represent the speech amplitude envelope through encoding of rapid increases in the envelope (acoustic edges). This representation reflects the rate of amplitude change, cueing the timing and stress of syllables (Oganian & Chang, Sci Adv, 2019).

This piece on npr contains a comprehensive summary of this work.

Foreign language use, emotions, and decision making

Self-related Optimism bias during foreign language use. Optimism bias, i.e. overestimation of positive vs negative event probability is larger for self-related than for other-related events in the native language (L1) and in a foreign language at high proficiency (HP) but not at low proficiency (LP) levels. (adapted from Oganian, Heekeren & Korn, 2018)

Recent developments in bilingualism research focus on the cognitive effects of foreign language use beyond immediate linguistic aspects. It has been postulated that foreign language use induces reduced emotionality, which in turns leads to a rationalization of complex decisions. In a series of projects I was able to dissociate between the effects of foreign language use on decision making and on affective processing.

Specifically, switching languages rationalized decision making under risk via an increase in cognitive load (Oganian et al., 2016, J Exp Psychol: LMC; Korn, Heekeren & Oganian, 2018, Q J Exp Psychol). In contrast, use of a low proficiency foreign language increases emotional distance and alleviates self-related biases (Oganian et al, 2018, Q J Exp Psychol).

Language decisions in bilingualism

The visual word form area (left hemispheric, green on top) contains information regarding the perceived language of  a word-like letter string (E.g. 'mift', Oganian et al. 2015 J Cog Neuro).

Bilinguals identify the language of an input based on prelexical and lexical statitics.

Bilingual individuals frequently encounter switches between languages in spoken and written (e.g. informal chat messages) communication. In same-script bilingual visual word recognition (=reading), a central question is at what stage the language of a word is detected. If this happens early on, it might constrain and guide word recognition. In my PhD, I used linguistic corpus analyses, behavioral experiments and functional brain imaging to demonstrate that the similarity of an input to each of a bilingual’s languages is represented at sub-lexical and lexical levels, including the visual word form area (Oganian et al., 2015, J Cogn Neurosci, see illustration).

Unlikely previously hypothesized in the field, we found that this information is independent of successful lexical access (Oganian et al. 2015, Biling: Lang Cogn) and that all levels of word processing are shaped by the structure of the native language (Oganian et al., 2016, Front Psychol).

Peer-reviewed publications

For a full list of publications on google scholar click here.


Oganian Y. & Chang E.F. (2019). An envelope landmark for syllable encoding in human superior temporal gyrus. Science Advances, 5, eaay6279.

Journal link

Coverage on NPR All Things Considered

UCSF Press Release

Video Summary

Spalek K.* & Oganian Y.* (2019). The neurocognitive signature of focus alternatives. Brain & Language 194, 98-108.



Korn, C.W., Heekeren, H.R., Oganian, Y. (2019) The framing effect in a monetary gambling task is robust in minimally verbal language switching contexts. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 72(1): 52-59.



Oganian, Y., Heekeren, H.R., Korn, C.W. (2019) Low foreign language proficiency reduces optimism about the personal future. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 72(1): 60-75.





Morawetz, C. , Oganian, Y., Schlickeiser, U., Jacobs, A. M., & Heekeren, H. R. (2017) Second Language Use Facilitates Implicit Emotion Regulation via Content Labeling. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(March), 1–11.



Korn, C. W., Ries, J., Schalk, L., Oganian, Y., & Saalbach, H. (2017). A hard-to-read font reduces the framing effect in a large sample. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 1-8.




Oganian, Y., Froehlich, E., Schlickeiser, U., Hofmann, M. J., Heekeren, H. R., & Jacobs, A. M. (2016) Slower perception followed by faster lexical decision in longer words: A diffusion model analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(JAN).



Oganian, Y.*, Korn, C. W. *, & Heekeren, H. R. (2016). Language switching-but not foreign language use per se-reduces the framing effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42(1), 140–8.



Oganian, Y., Conrad, M., Aryani, A., Heekeren, H. R., & Spalek, K. (2016) Interplay of bigram frequency and orthographic neighborhood statistics in language membership decision. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19(3), 1–19.




Oganian, Y., Conrad, M., Aryani, A., Spalek, K., & Heekeren, H. R. (2015) Activation Patterns throughout the Word Processing Network of L1-dominant Bilinguals Reflect Language Similarity and Language Decisions. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(11), 2197–2214.





Oganian, Y., & Ahissar, M. (2012). Poor anchoring limits dyslexics’ perceptual, memory, and reading skills. Neuropsychologia, 50(8), 1895–1905.




Ahissar, M., & Oganian, Y. (2008). Response to Ziegler: The anchor is in the details. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(7): 245-246.


e-mail: yulia dot oganian at ucsf dot edu

©2019 yuliaoganian. Erstellt mit Wix.com

This site was designed with the
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now