Dr Joanne Taylor

Lecturer in Psychology

School of Life & Health Sciences

Aston University
Aston Triangle
B4 7ET

Tel: +44 (0) 121 204 4003
Email:[email protected]
Room: Room SW507c


Research Group

Basic and Applied Neurosciences

Dr Joanne Taylor

I joined Aston in 2017 as a Lecturer in Psychology, where I am affiliated to the Behavioural and Applied Neurosciences Group (BANG).

My research investigates the way we learn to read, in particular how we learn the relationship between a word’s spelling and its sound and meaning. In my experiments, adults learn to read new words written in an unfamiliar alphabet, to simulate what it’s like for children learning to read for the first time. I look at how different factors affect learning, and also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at how the brain responds to these new languages.

Recent paper: Taylor, J. S. H., Davis, M. H., & Rastle, K. (2017). Comparing and validating methods of reading instruction using behavioural and neural findings in an artificial orthography. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146, 826 - 858. 

Press coverage:


Special Educational Needs Magazine: https://senmagazine.co.uk/home/articles/senarticles-2/in-support-of-phonics

  • PhD Experimental Psychology, the University of Oxford 2009
  • MSc Research Methods in Psychology, the University of Oxford 2005
  • BA Psychology, the University of Oxford, 2004
  • 2017 – present: Lecturer, Aston University
  • 2014 – 2017: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Royal Holloway University of London
  • 2009 – 2014: Research Fellow, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge
  • 2010-2013: Research Fellow in Science, Newnham College, University of Cambridge

I am interested in how humans learn new information. In particular, how we learn to read.

For example, how is it that we are able to read the following poem:

Beware of heard, a dreadful word, 

That looks like beard, and sounds like bird.

And dead its said like bed not bead, 

For goodness sake don't call it deed!

In this poem, many words have similiar spellings but different pronunciations (dead, bead) or different spellings but similar pronunciations (heard, bird). This is a challenge for children learning to read English, and also for people learning English as a foreign language. I'm interested in how we manage to learn all these specific words, but at the same time we also learn general rules for how letters should be pronounced, allowing us to read nonsense poems like the Jabberwocky: 

Twas brillig and the slithy tove,

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

All mimsy were the borogroves, 

And the mome raths outgrabe! 

I often use artificial language learning methods, in which adults learn to read new words written in unfamiliar alphabets, to simulate what it's like for children learning English for the first time. I look at how different factors affect their learning, for example, whether the words have meanings, whether each letter only has one sound or can be pronounced differently in different words, individual differences in reading related skills, and the learning method.I also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at how the brain responds to these new languages, in comparison to how the brain responds to familiar English words. And I can look at how brain activity changes as participants become more familiar with the new languages.

3-year ESRC project grant (ES/L002264/1, £480,000) named co-investigator and co-wrote application, 2014 - 2017

3-year stipendiary research fellowship at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, 2010 - 2013.

2-year MRC/ESRC interdisciplinary postdoctoral fellowship (MC_US_A060_0041, £121,622) obtained through external competition, 2009 - 2011

4-year MSc + PhD MRC/ESRC interdisciplinary studentship obtained through external competition, 2005 - 2009.

Please contact me if you are interested in doing a PhD looking at reading acquisition, phonics, brain imaging of reading.

Currently co-supervising projects conducted by:

Adam Jowett, Royal Holloway University of London. Adam is investigating the impact of literacy acquisition on spoken language processing, using fMRI and artificial languages.

Connor Quinn, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge. Connor is conducting studies into the role of sleep on learning of new words and objects, using fMRI and artificial languages.

Previously co-supervised projects conducted by:

Viktoria Havas, University of Barcelona. Viktoria investigated how we learn new words that are similar to or different from our native language, and looked at the role of sleep in this process, using fMRI and novel words.

Connor Quinn, University of Cambridge. Connor investigated how we learn and consolidate written words and objects using behavioural and fMRI methods.

Experimental Psychology Society, Psychonomic Society