Radboud University

I am an associate professor at the Centre for Language Studies (https://www.ru.nl/cls/) and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour (https://www.ru.nl/donders/) at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. My primary academic background is in Psychology, and especially the psychology of language. I have studied how sensori-motor cognitive systems play a role during language comprehension. I grew dissatisfied with the decontextualized nature of the traditional psycholinguistic way of studying language comprehension (e.g. with lexical decision task). This made me explore whether literary texts could be used to study the psychology of language. I see great promise for this combination, see some of the publications below.

In our research we combine on-task measurements such as eye-tracking and fMRI with off-task measurement such as questionnaires measuring absorption and appreciation to come to a better understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying literary reading.


Hasson, U., Egidi, G., Marelli, M., & Willems, R. M. (2018). Grounding the neurobiology of language in first principles: The necessity of non-language-centric explanations for language comprehension. Cognition, 180, 135–157. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2018.06.018

Jacobs, A. M., & Willems, R. M. (2018). The Fictive Brain: Neurocognitive Correlates of Engagement in Literature. Review of General Psychology, 22(2), 147–160. https://doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000106

Mak, M., & Willems, R. M. (2019). Mental simulation during literary reading: Individual differences revealed with eye-tracking. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 34(4), 511–535. https://doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2018.1552007

Martinez-Conde, S., Alexander, R. G., Blum, D., Britton, N., Lipska, B. K., Quirk, G. J., Swiss, J. I., Willems, R. M., & Macknik, S. L. (2019). The Storytelling Brain: How Neuroscience Stories Help Bridge the Gap between Research and Society. Journal of Neuroscience, 39(42), 8285–8290. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1180-19.2019

Willems, R. M., & Jacobs, A. M. (2016). Caring About Dostoyevsky: The Untapped Potential of Studying Literature. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(4), 243–245. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.12.009