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N. Bonnie Nozari

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MD, Tehran University of Medical Sciences; PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


I was born in May 1978 in Tehran, Iran. When I graduated from Tehran University of Medical Sciences with an MD degree at 25, my goal was to become either a psychiatrist or a neurologist. I got involved with Alzheimer’s Disease International, secured a postdoc in Canada, and was ready to move there for residency, when a picture naming test changed the course of my career for good. Attempting to name the picture of a sheep, a patient with a neurodegenerative disorder answered “wolf, no steep, no, sleep!”. Fascinated by the systematic relationship between sheep-wolf (similar in meaning), sheep-steep (similar in sound), and sheep-sleep (similar in both meaning and sound: counting sheep until going to sleep), I started searching the internet and came across the work of Gary Dell. That was my introduction to the fascinating field of cognitive science. A year later I started my studies in psycholinguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign under Gary, and graduated with a PhD in 2011. From Gary, I learned the foundations of computational modeling in cognitive science, and the fundamentals of language processing. During the same period, I was also much influenced by Dan Simons, who got me interested in the field of attention and cognitive control.

I thus became interested in merging the two fields of language production and executive control, and after finishing my graduate studies moved to Philadelphia and started a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania in Sharon Thompson-Schill’s lab, where I learned the fundamentals of cognitive neuroscience, and the basics of neuroimaging processing and brain stimulation. I had retained my interest in working with the individuals with brain damage from my medical school days, and simultaneously completed a postdoc at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Center, where I learned lesion-symptom mapping methods and eye-tracking.

In 2013, I accepted a position as assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Cognitive Science. I was nominated for early promotion by my department’s chair and was promoted to the level of associate in 2018. I moved to the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in 2019. In 2020 I became the associate editor for the Psychonomics Bulletin & Review. In 2023, I also assumed the responsibility of becoming the associate editor of Journal of Memory and Language. 

Research Interests

Generally speaking, I am interested in human cognition, especially the ability to put thoughts into words, i.e., language production. My special interest is in how this extremely complex process can be carried out so efficiently and effortlessly. I believe understanding the interaction between the monitoring and control systems and the language production system is the key to answering this question. This endeavor naturally leads to questions of “domain-generality”, i.e., how much does the language production system have in common with the rest of cognition in terms of being efficiently monitored and controlled?

I am also interested in understanding different states of the language production system and how they differ from those of neurotypical adults. These include the state of the language production system in children and stroke survivors, and changes to these systems over the course of development or recovery from stroke. You can find out more about our lab’s work by looking at our Publications, or if you'd like a no-technical summary, by checking out our Science for non-scientists page.

Other Interests

Aside from cognitive science, I’m interested in literature (special interest in Japanese, Russian, and Hungarian literature, as well as classic and modern Persian poetry), political philosophy (with special interests in the ancient Greek history and origins of Western modernism, European 19th and early 20th century history and the rise of imperialism and totalitarianism, as well as the parallel history of that era in the Middle East and the contemporary history of Iran), music (I'm a Soprano-in-training), and visual and performing arts. Always interested in having conversations about these and new topics with people who find conversations a great way to expand one’s universe a little more.

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