Cognitive Science Colloquium Series Begins with Sign Language Lecture

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Dr. Marie Coppola conducts field work to promote equal access to language and education for deaf individuals.

Dr. Marie Coppola will be the first speaker of the 2014-2015 Cognitive Science Colloquium Series. Dr. Coppola is the director of the Language Creation Lab at the University of Connecticut. Her research investigates how sign languages emerge and are created in communities. Her talk will focus on homesign gesture systems (that is, gesture systems developed by deaf individuals who are not exposed to conventional sign or spoken language input), their characteristics, and the developmental consequences of linguistic deprivation with respect to other aspects of cognition.

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Dr. Coppola

Dr. Coppola’s talk, titled “Which aspects of language and cognition depend on linguistic input? Insights from homesign gesture systems” will take place on Thursday, October 23, at 3:30 pm in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium. The talk is sponsored by Campus Auxiliary Services and by the following programs and departments: Linguistics, Deaf Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Communication Disorders, and Psychology.

Abstract of the Talk:

Researchers in the cognitive sciences have long debated the relationships between linguistic input and language structure, as well as the relationships between language and cognition. Homesign systems offer a unique window into these relationships. Homesigns are gesture systems developed by deaf individuals who are not exposed to conventional sign or spoken language input. Homesign systems exhibit a number of linguistic properties, but appear to lack others, which depend on access to a linguistic model and/or interaction within a language community. Dr. Coppola will show that homesign systems have structure at a variety of levels of linguistic analysis, including phonology and discourse structure. Dr. Coppola will describe some of the developmental consequences of linguistic (but not social) deprivation, particularly with respect to number cognition. Finally, she will discuss her work with Manos Unidas (, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote equal access to language and education for deaf individuals in Nicaragua.

Infant Cognitive Skill-Building the Topic of November Colloquium Talk

Dr. Lisa Scott, director of the Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will give the second talk for the Cognitive Science Colloquium Series. Her talk, titled “Cognitive Skill Building in Infancy and its Influence on Later Development,” will take place on Friday, November 7, in Lecture Center 104, at 2:30 p.m.

Lisa Scott

Dr. Lisa Scott

Dr. Scott’s research focuses on how the brain and our cognitive and perceptual abilities (for example those involved in recognizing and categorizing faces) develop from infancy through adulthood. Her work, which explores both the behavioral and neural aspects of this learning process, has important implications for our understanding of the specific experiences (visual, linguistic, etc.) that shape the development of perceptual skills. The talk is sponsored by Campus Auxiliary Services and the Psychology Department.


Abstract of the Talk:

Using a combination of cross-sectional and longitudinal-training designs, behavioral measures of looking time, eye-tracking, and electrophysiological recordings of neural activity (event-related potentials; ERPs) we have begun to elucidate the perceptual and cognitive experiences that enhance or bias learning during the first year of life.  Our work suggests that infants carefully learn from their surrounding environment and that this learning influences cognitive, perceptual and social processing.  Here, Dr. Scott will present work that examines the role experience plays in shaping infant learning about people and objects and how parental labeling during the first year of life can serve as a springboard for cognitive skills in childhood.  For example, when infants hear parents label two different monkey faces in a storybook with individual-level names like “Oliver” or “Suzie” they learn that it is likely important for them to attend to the visual details necessary to tell the two monkeys apart.  However, if parents label all monkeys, “monkey” infants learn to group them into a category and focus on the features that the two monkeys share.  These differences can be identified both in behavior and in the brain.  The researchers’ recent findings suggest that individual-level learning in infancy results in skills lasting into early childhood (i.e., 4 years). Specifically, these skills benefit faces and/or objects that are perceived and recognized at the individual level (e.g., human faces).  These results are noteworthy because they link early learning, prior to the onset of productive language and several years prior to formal education, with later cognitive skills and neural responses.