Roel Willems

Roel Willems

Associate professor


Roel is a psychologist by training. He obtained his PhD from Radboud University (thesis topic: Neural insights into language comprehension and co-speech gestures) in 2009. After a two-year postdoc stay at the University of California Berkeley, he returned to Nijmegen to become a senior research at the Donders Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Pyscholinguistics. Since 2015, he is a senior researcher at the Centre for Language Studies at Radboud University. His main research is on how we engage with literary stories: how are we drawn into them, what do we mentally simulate when we read.


Roel’s expertise is doing empirical research into language comprehension using a variety of techniques such as fMRI, EEG, questionnaires, eye-tracking, galvanic skin response.


Language; brain; narratives; literature; simulation

Recent publications

(for all publications + PDFs go to

  1. Van den Hoven, E., Hartung, F., Burke, M. & Willems, R. M. (2017). Individual differences in sensitivity to style during literary reading: Insights from eye-tracking. Collabra.
  1. Willems, R. M. & Van Gerven, M. (2017). New fMRI methods for the study of language. In: Rueschemeyer & Gaskell (eds), Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics, Oxford University Press.
  1. Hartung, F., Burke, M., Hagoort P., & Willems, R. M. (2016). Taking Perspective: Personal Pronouns Affect Experential Aspects of Literary Reading PLoS ONE, 11(5), e0154732.
  1. Willems, R. M., Frank, S. L., Nijhof, A. D., Hagoort, P., & Bosch, A. van den. (2016). Prediction During Natural Language Comprehension. Cerebral Cortex, 26(6), 2506–2516.
  1. Vanlangendonck, F., Willems, R. M., Menenti, L. & Hagoort, P. (2016). An Early Influence of Common Ground during Speech Planning. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 31(6), 741–750.
  2. Willems, R. M. & Jacobs, A. M. (2016). Caring About Dostoyevsky: The Untapped Potential of Studying Literature. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(4), 243–245.
  1. Kunert, R., Willems, R. M., & Hagoort, P. (2016). Language influences music harmony perception – effects of shared syntactic integration resources beyond attention. Royal Society Open Science, 3(2), 150685.
  1. De Nooijer, J. & Willems, R. M. (2016). What can we learn about cognition from studying handedness? Insights from cognitive neuroscience. In N. Hagemann, B. Strauss, C. MacMahon & F. Loffing (Eds.). Laterality in Sports: Theories and Applications. San Diego, USA: Academic Press, Elsevier.
  1. Willems, R. M. (2015). Literatuur en brein: liefde op het tweede gezicht? Cultuur + Educatie.
  1. Willems, R. M., ed. (2015). Cognitive Neuroscience of Natural Language Use. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 
  1. Samur, D., Lai, V. T., Hagoort, P., & Willems, R. M. (2015). Emotional Context modulates Embodied Metaphor Comprehension. Neuropsychologia, 78, 108–114.
  1. Lai, V. T., Willems, R. M., & Hagoort, P. (2015). Feel between the lines: Implied emotion from combinatorial semantics. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27 (8), 1528-1541.
  1. Kunert, R., Willems, R. M., Casasanto, D., Patel, A. D., & Hagoort, P. (2015). Music and Language Syntax Interact in Broca’s Area: An fMRI Study. PLoS ONE, 10(11), e0141069.
  1. Nijhof, A. D., & Willems, R. M. (2015). Simulating Fiction: Individual Differences in Literature Comprehension Revealed with fMRI. PLoS ONE, 10(2), e0116492.
  1. Willems R.M. & Francks C. (2014) Your left-handed brain. Frontiers for Young Minds, 2, 13