Genetic and Environmental Bases of Language Processing

The overall goal of this research is to determine if the relationship between language and reading-related skills and neurobiology (i.e. brain structure and function) is differentially mediated by genetic and environmental factors in different regions of the brain. For example, we test the hypothesis that the relationship between neurobiology and language is differentially mediated by genetics and environmental factors in the dorsal and ventral language pathways. In addition to archival data, we collect data in a novel genetically informed study design from families who have had children through assisted reproductive technology.



Xia, Z.*, Hancock, R.*, & Hoeft, F. (2017). Neurobiological bases of reading disability part I: etiological investigations. Language and Linguistics Compass.

Hoeft, F. & Hancock, R. (2017). Intergenerational transmission of reading and reading brain networks. In A. Galaburda, N. Gaab, F. Hoeft, & P. McCardle (Eds.), Dyslexia and neuroscience: The Geschwind-Galaburda hypothesis, 30 years later (Chap. 14).

Hancock, R. & Bever, T. G. (2013). Genetic factors and normal variation in the organization of language. Biolinguistics, 7, 75–95.


Neurochemistry of Auditory Processing and Reading

The early stages of speech comprehension require coding rapidly changing speech signals into representations that are useful and accessible for further language processing. Difficulties in this process can lead to significant challenges in communicating and reading. Thus it is important to understand the neural processes that support representation of, and access to, linguistic auditory information. Temporal auditory processing difficulties are found in several communication and language disorders, including specific language impairment (SLI), auditory processing disorder (APD) and reading disorder (RD).

Using a combination of M/EEG, fMRI, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), this project examines the role of  GABA and glutamate in the oscillatory dynamics of auditory processing and the organization of cortical language processing pathways. In collaboration with Haskins Laboratories and UCSF, we are currently investigating how individual differences in neurochemistry throughout the brain may impact multisensory processing and the development of the reading network.


Hancock, R., Pugh, K. R., & Hoeft, F. (2017). Neural noise hypothesis of developmental dyslexia. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Gu, M., Hurd, R., Noeske, R., Baltusis, L., Hancock, R., Sacchet, M. D., Gotlib, I. H., Chin, F. T., & Spielman, D. M. (2017). Gaba editing with macromolecule suppression using an improved mega-special sequence. Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.


Voxel Positioning System for planning single voxel spectroscopy.

Tablet-Based Assessment of Early Learning Disorder Risk

This project aims to reduce the burden of early screening for learning disorder and facilitate early identification and intervention by delivering a tablet-based assessment of cognitive and literacy skills. The app will provide schools with a validated, objective screening tool that can be rapidly administered at minimal cost and without specialized training as part of an early screening and intervention process; be available for parents  as an alternative to expensive independent assessment. By adapting established tests to an engaging virtual world, children can use the app with minimal, untrained supervision.

Developed at UCSF in collaboration with Curious Learning, a full suite of cognitive and literacy assessment apps are now being field validated at the California Precision Learning Center.