Former Director, Science of Learning Institute and Dick and Lydia Todd Professor of Cognitive Science
I am interested in human knowledge of language and space, and the relationships between these two foundational systems of knowledge. My research examines the nature of the building blocks of cognition (so called “cognitive primitives”), which support future learning and behaviors such as My central interests concern the nature of the cognitive "primitives" that are in place during early development, and support our remarkable capacity to recognize objects, move around space in a directed fashion, and talk about our spatial experience. My work has addressed questions such asSpecific questions of interest include: What are the semantic and syntactic representations that guide language learning? What is the nature of our representations of space—in particular, representations underlying our ability to recognize and remember objects, motions, and places in space? What is the relationship between language and space, and do these differ across different languages? How do humans use each system to enhance the products of the other system? When and how do the two systems come to "communicate" with each other?
In thinking about these questions, my research draws on a variety of methodological approaches, including traditional experimental and linguistic methods adopted for young children as well as neuroimaging and electrophysiological methods. Although much of my work concerns the mechanisms of normal development, I am interested in unusual cases of development, which can shed light on normal development and cognition. For example, studies of congenitally blind children can shed light on the relationship between perception and language; studies of people with Williams syndrome (a genetic deficit associated with deletion of 25 genes on chromosome 7) can shed light on the effects of genetic deletion on spatial organization, and on the consequences of abnormal spatial knowledge on language learning. More generally, these cases of unusual development afford the opportunity to think about the relationship between genes, the developing brain, and cognition.