My broad research interests are in learning and conceptual development. What does the child bring to the learning situation? What can the child learn from culture, from language, or from the natural structure of the environment?

Language Acquisition and Conceptual Development

Most of my current research focuses on the two-way  relationship between language acquisition and conceptual development, primarily in the domains of space and number. I explore whether and how language learning can shift conceptual knowledge, and how changes in non-verbal conceptual structures (e.g., due to biological maturation or  sensory experience) promote or otherwise impact language learning.

My studies on spatial reasoning ask such questions as: Why do children have such difficulty navigating by landmarks? How might learning spatial words like ‘left’ or ‘north’ change their spatial representations and navigational strategies? What are the long-term cognitive effects of failing to acquire systematic language for describing spatial relations? To asnwer these questions, I look at typically developing children as well as populations that have interesting variations in spatial language. These populations include deaf users of Nicaraguan Sign Language, and, in a new project initiated by my student Amanda Herrera, Kichwa speakers in Ecuador (part of the Quechua language family).

My studies on numerical reasoning ask such questions as: What are the mechanisms that underlie children’s acquisition of counting? How do their number concepts change as a consequence of learning meanings for number words? How might changes in non-verbal numerical representations, such as the approximate number system, support or otherwise relate to the development of verbal and other symbolic knowledge about numbers? These studies are funded by a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation awarded in 2009.