Megan Zirnstein

Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science; On leave for the 2023-2024 academic year
With Pomona Since: 2019
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  • Expertise


    Megan Zirnstein’s teaching and research combines perspectives from cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience and psycholinguistics in order to understand how the mind and brain accomplish amazing cognitive feats, like being able to comprehend and speak more than one language. Her research has focused on the reading comprehension and executive function performance of monolinguals and bilinguals across the lifespan. Her work utilizes multiple techniques, including behavior, eye tracking, electroencephalography (EEG), and other peripheral psychophysiological measures (ECG and pupillometry), to explore the relationship between language processing, cognitive ability and bilingual experience.

    Research Interests

    • How the parallel activation of two languages impacts bilingual comprehension
    • The roles that cognitive ability and language fluency play in understanding and appreciating humor
    • The relationship between physiological, emotional, and language regulation in bilinguals
    • Understanding lifespan changes in bilingual cognition, comprehension, and neurobiological health

    Areas of Expertise

    • Bilingualism
    • Language processing
    • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Work


    Recent Publications

    With Kroll, J.F., Bice, K., & Botezatu, M.R. (In press). On the dynamics of lexical access in two or more languages. In Gleitman, L., Papafragou, A., & Trueswell, J. (Eds.), Handbook of the Mental Lexicon. New York: Oxford University Press.

    With Ashburn, S., Abugaber, D., Antony, J.W., Bennion, K.A., Bridwell, D., et al. (2020). Towards a socially responsible, transparent, and reproducible cognitive neuroscience, Chapter 97. In D. Poeppel, G.R. Mangun, & M.S. Gazzaniga (Eds.), The cognitive neurosciences, 6th Edition. (pp. 1105-1113). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    With Fricke, M., Navarro-Torres, C.A., & Kroll, J.F. (2019). Bilingualism reveals fundamental variation in language processing. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 22(1), 200-207.

    With Morford, J.P., Occhino, C., Kroll, J.F., Wilkinson, E., & Piñar, P. (2019). What is the source of bilingual cross-language activation in deaf bilinguals? Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 24(4), 356-365.

    With Bice, K., & Kroll, J.F. (2019). Variation in language experience shapes the consequences of bilingualism, Chapter 3. In Sekerina, I.A., Spradlin, L., & Valian, V. (Eds.), Bilingualism, executive function, and beyond: Questions and insights (Studies in Bilingualism 57). (pp. 35-47).

    With van Hell, J.G., & Kroll, J.F. (2019). Cognitive control and language ability contribute to online reading comprehension: Implications for older adult bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingualism, 23(5), 971-985.

    With van Hell, J.G. & Kroll, J.F. (2018). Cognitive control ability mediates prediction costs in monolinguals and bilinguals. Cognition, 176, 87-106.

    With Kroll, J.F., & Gullifer, J. (2016). Literacy in adulthood: Reading in two languages, Chapter 12. In Montanari, S., & Nicoladis, E. (Eds.), Bilingualism across the lifespan: Factors moderating language proficiency. (pp.225-245).

    With Boudewyn, M.A., Swaab, T.Y., & Traxler, M.J. (2014). Priming prepositional phrase attachment: Evidence from eye-tracking and ERPs. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 67(3), 424-454.

    With Tooley, K.M., Swaab, T.Y., Boudewyn, M.A., & Traxler, M.J. (2014). Evidence for priming across intervening sentences during on-line sentence comprehension. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience, 29(3), 289-311.

  • Education


    Ph.D., University of California, Davis

    M.A., University of California, Davis

    B.A., University of Memphis

    Recent Courses Taught

    • Introduction to Cognitive Science
    • Bilingual Cognition
    • Cognitive Neuroscience with Lab
  • Awards & Honors

    Awards & Honors

    Kavli Summer Institute in Cognitive Neuroscience Fellow, 2017 & 2018

    National Science Foundation (PI), $198,088 Grant, “Prediction in language processing: Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control,” 2014-2018

    National Science Foundation, Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) Postdoctoral Fellowship, Pennsylvania State University, 2012-2014