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Tamara Swaab


  • Ph.D., Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Nijmegen and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands, 1996
  • B.S., Neuropsychology, University of Nijmegen, 1988


In addition to her academic appointment in the Department of Psychology, Tamara Swaab is a core faculty member in the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain. She is also director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Lab. In 2007, she was elected a fellow of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and fellow of the Text and Discourse Neuroimaging Workshop, both in the Netherlands. She currently serves as section editor for Linguistics and Language Compass and has been a guest editor of Brain Research; Special Issue on Language in Context in 2007; and of Frontiers in Psychology from 2012-2013. In addition, Professor Swaab serves on the editorial boards of Brain Research and Frontiers in Neuroscience and is a member of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. 

Research Focus

Language is a central part of our everyday life. Yet comprehending spoken and written language is extremely complex, being subserved by complex mental processes and supported by myriad areas in the brain. The main goal of Professor Swaab's research program is to study the cognitive and neural architectures of normal language comprehension. In this context, she has focused her research on a number of topics, including: 1) the processing of sentences and discourse, and 2) the representation of words and their meaning. In order to investigate these topics she has made use of behavioral methods, Event-Related Potentials (ERPs), and functional neuroimaging (fMRI). She has tested neurologically normal adults, neurological patients with brain damage who are impaired in normal language comprehension (aphasic patients), and patients with schziophrenia. The combination of these approaches can provide information on language comprehension processes as they unfold in real time, but also hold the obvious possibility of identifying areas in the brain that are crucial to normal language understanding.

Selected Publications

  • Tooley, K. M.,  Swaab, T. Y.,  Boudewyn, M. A.,  Zirnstein, M., & Traxler, M. J. (in press). Evidence for priming across intervening sentences during online sentence comprehension. Language and Cognitive Processes
  • Boudewyn, M. A., Zirnstein, M.,  Swaab, T. Y., &  Traxler, M. J. (in press). Priming prepositional phrase attachment: Evidence from eye-tracking and ERPs. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
  • Johns, C.,  Gordon, P. C.,  Long, D. L., &  Swaab, T. Y. (2013). Memory availability and referential access. Language and Cognitive Processes. DOI:10.1080/01690965.2012.733014 
  • Vergara-Martinez, M., Perea, M. , Gómez, P., &  Swaab, T. Y. (2013). ERP correlates of letter identity and letter position are modulated by lexical frequency. Brain and Language, 125, 11-27. 
  • Boudewyn, M. A., Long, D. L., &  Swaab, T.Y. (2013). Effects of working memory span on processing of lexical associations and congruence in spoken discourse. Frontiers in Psychology.


Professor Swaab teaches in the areas of Perception, Cognition, and Cognitive Neuroscience. She has taught classes in Language & Cognition, Fundamentals of Human Electrophysiology and Cognitive Neuroscience.


Professor Swaab has won numerous awards throughout her career, including the 2008-2011 IC Davis Imaging Resource Center Imaging Pilot Grant for "Recovery of language function after stroke" and a 2011 UC Davis Travel grant.