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NSF (2013-17)

Language and infant category learning

One of the central issues in the study of cognition and its development concerns the impact of language upon cognition and the nature of such effects. Evidence suggests a variety of effects ranging from imposing categorical boundaries on sensory continua to facilitating analogical mapping and transfer. Therefore, there is little surprise that the problem of how language affects category learning in infancy and beyond has generated substantial research interest.

The proposed research is innovative on several fronts. First, it focuses on a critically important problem in the study of cognitive development and has the potential to transform our understanding of how language affects cognition early in development as well as across development. Second, it will be the first attempt to examine, in the same study (and thus compare directly), the proposed mechanism(s) underlying effects of words on generalization, a hallmark of intellectual creativity. Third, the proposed project will use an innovative multimethodological approach, combining traditional measures of looking, with eye tracking, and computational modelling. We believe that this multi-methodological approach is better suited for addressing the complex problem under consideration, and that this research will contribute to the development of a methodological toolkit for infancy research. Finally, the proposed project brings together a unique research team. Overall, the proposed research will substantially advance our understanding of the mechanism(s) of category learning in infancy.