Patricia Kuhl

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Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Secondary Section: 28, Systems Neuroscience
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2010)

Research Interests

As a cognitive scientist interested in the origins and ontology of humans' capacity for language, I study language development in human infants from the earliest moments of life. Using cross-cultural behavioral and brain methods, my work aims to describe the initial state and how language experience alters the infant brain and infants' language skills. To do this work, I target a model system within language that utilizes its most elementary components--the phonetic units of speech--a system that epitomizes the effects of the "critical period" on language learning. Speech experiments from infancy to adulthood indicate that infants discern differences among virtually all the phonetic units used in the world's languages. Language experience severely narrows this skill. A transition from a universal mode of perception to one that is language specific takes place in the first year of life, and the efficiency of this early phonetic learning predicts children's language abilities to 5 years of age. More recently, I have been exploring infants' language learning using Magnetoencephalography (MEG). Employing MEG, my laboratory is examining brain oscillations that index changes in the perceptual strategy used by infants versus adults during learning. Our results may help explain the "critical period" for language.

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