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Professor Jeffrey Bowers

Professor Jeffrey Bowers

Professor Jeffrey Bowers
BSc(Tor), PhD(Arizona)


Area of research

Language and Memory

Office 3D22
The Priory Road Complex,
Priory Road, Clifton BS8 1TU
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 928 8573


My research addresses a range of issues in language and memory. In one line of work I have attempted to gain insight into how word knowledge is coded in the brain. On one general view, word knowledge (and indeed all forms of knowledge) is coded in a distributed (and non-symbolic) manner, such that a word is coded as a pattern of activation across a set of units (neurons), with no one unit devoted to a single letter or word (typically associated with the PDP approach). On another view, word knowledge is coded in a localist (and symbolic) manner, with each letter and word uniquely coded by an individual unit. I’ve carried out a series of behavioral experiments that provide evidence that letters and words are coded in a localist and symbolic manner (e.g., Davis & Bowers, 2005, 2006), as well as some computer simulations that support this conclusion (Bowers, Damian, & Davis, in press, Psychological Review, Bowers & Davis, 2009). I’ve also argued that localist models are more biological plausible than the distributed representations learned in PDP networks (Bowers, 2009).

Another line of research attempts to further our understanding of the learning mechanisms that support written and spoken word perception. In one study we have provided evidence that the age at which a word is learned is as important as the frequency with a word is practiced (Stadthagen-Gonzalez et al., 2004). At the same time, we have provided evidence that early learning leaves an indelible imprint on our ability to perceive the sounds of a language (Bowers, Mattys, and Gage, 2009). In this project, we found that persons who were exposed to Zulu and Hindi early in life could relearn phoneme contrasts in these languages following years of isolation from Zulu or Hindi. By contrasts, adults who were never exposed to these languages as children could not learn the contrasts. That is, early exposure to the phonemes in a language is special. In another recent project, we have provided evidence that word learning involves a consolidation process, in which learning improves over time (perhaps during sleep) in the absence of further training (Clay et al., 2007).


I received my degree in psychology (BSc) at the University of Toronto (1987), and completed a Ph.D. with Daniel Schacter and Kenneth Forster at the University of Arizona (1993) on the topic of long-term priming. I then moved to Montreal for a post-doctoral position at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Centre Hospitalier Cote-Des-Neiges, working with Daniel Bub on letter-by-letter reading (1993-1994). Following this I moved to Rice University as an assistant professor (1994-1998), and then took a position of a lecturer at the University of Bristol, where I am now a professor.


Currently, I co-ordinate and teach a Level 3 undergraduate option called "Language, Thought, and Modularity of Mind" and co-ordinate and co-teach a Level 1 unit in cognitive psychology. I also co-teach a Level 2 course called "Perception and Memory", and an MSc unit entitled Language, Memory, and Development".

I am the 3rd year coodinator.

I am the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

PHD students supervised

Jen Todd Jones


  • Language
  • Memory


One line of research addresses a phenomenon called long-term priming, which refers to a facilitation (or cost) in responding quickly or accurately to a stimulus previously presented in an earlier episode. Much of my work in this area attempts to relate word priming results reported in the memory literature with experimental and theoretical work on visual word identification carried out within psycholinguistics (e.g., Bowers & Marsolek, 2003). A second line of research addresses a key issue in cognitive psychology and neurobiology; that is, whether knowledge in the mind/brain is coded in a localist or distributed format. Much of my recent work has emphasized the value of localist coding in models of reading (e.g., Bowers, 2002). A third line of research is concerned with speech production. One question I have been investigating is the effects of literacy in naming single words in response to pictures.

  • visual word recognition
  • speech production
  • connectionist modelling
  • word learning
  • word priming
  • visual word identification
  • psycholinguistics
  • Memberships


    School of Experimental Psychology

    Other sites

    Experimental Psychology staff

    Research themes

    Research groups


    Recent publications

    View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

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