Research Interests

Much of my work has addressed how children categorize the world, how categories drive the inductive inferences children make, and how language impacts these processes. My collaborators and I have shown that hearing two dissimilar objects called by the same label allows children to view them as the same kind of thing which, in turn, further enables children to infer that the objects share nonobvious properties. Language is, then, a powerful means of freeing children from being perceptually bound. Another line of research has focused on early word learning. We have documented that one way that early word learners narrow down the meaning of a word is that they are equipped with some default assumptions that get them started. The first, the whole object assumption, leads children to assume that a label refers to the object per se and not to its activity, parts, color, etc. The second, the taxonomic assumption, leads children to extend novel words to things of like kind. The third, mutual exclusivity, leads children to initially resist second labels for objects. This overrides the whole object assumption thereby freeing children up to learn terms for parts, colors, and other properties. Together these assumptions provide a system of good first guesses to help children quickly begin acquiring words. A more recent research interest is to investigate the conceptual prerequisites for an incipient understanding of nutrition.

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Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences