Current Research

On-going research in the Language Processing Lab includes studies for children and adults. Scroll down to learn more!

Studies for Adults

A brief overview of our research - 

Language is a uniquely human capacity, and one that is essential to our mental and social lives. Despite its importance, we do not yet have a complete cognitive or neural explanation for key aspects of language. In our research we focus on one such aspect: When you encounter a word, how does its meaning come to mind? Word meaning retrieval is a key component process in reading, listening, and other skills that involve language understanding. To investigate semantic processing we capitalize on two facts: a) there is variability in the meaning or semantic information associated with different words, and b) there are behavioural and neural consequences of this variability. Words vary in the richness of their meanings, and one can define semantic richness in many different ways, and as a function of many different conceptualizations of semantics. For instance, by studying the effects of words’ sensorimotor richness we can test semantic frameworks that propose that sensorimotor information is an essential aspect of how we represent and retrieve word meanings. While such frameworks show promise in explaining how we understand the meanings of concrete words, like truck, that can be experienced through the senses, they struggle to explain how it is that we understand the meanings of more abstract words, like truth. Much of the previous research on semantic richness effects has tended to focus on processing of concrete nouns, yet these words represent less than half of our vocabulary. Explaining how more abstract meanings (abstract nouns, verbs) are acquired and represented is a challenge for most of the leading semantic theories and one that we are tackling in our research. We use a range of tasks and procedures, including well-established paradigms (e.g., lexical and semantic decision tasks, EEG) as well as emerging and innovative methods (e.g., the megastudy approach, gesture capture and priming), to investigate important questions about how we derive meaning from language.

To participate in our studies for adults, access the Department of Psychology Research Participation System here.

Studies for Children

Recent and Ongoing Studies:

The role of wearable technology in a community-based program for language development

Parents are babies’ first teachers and speech directed to babies has a direct impact on their language learning. We can learn a lot about what babies hear and learn by gaining more knowledge about the home environment. We are collecting day-long recordings to measure the number of adult words the baby hears and conversational turns (back and forth interactions between the adult and baby). In this study, babies wear a special t-shirt that holds the recorder, so the microphone is close to the baby’s mouth. The baby wears the recorder once a week for nine weeks (a total of nine recordings), which collects a 16-hour recording of the environment. A computer algorithm is designed to count the adult words and the child’s vocalizations to give us information about the home language environment. Participants in this study are babies between the ages of 6 and 33 months. Families get reports on their family language environment and the baby’s language skills, as well as a small gift.

 

Word association in school-aged children

Children’s first words are usually the labels for concepts they can see or touch in their environment (e.g., bath, dog, ball, mommy). Throughout development, children start to learn and say more words that represent concepts they cannot see or touch (e.g., peace, justice, think). In this study, we administer a word association task to observe how children start to learn these types of words. We ask school-aged children to name the first word that comes to mind when given a target word. For example, when given the word “spoon”, what is the first word that comes to mind? Maybe the word is “fork.” What about when you hear the word “peace”? Some may think of “calm.” By asking children about their word associations, we hope to better understand how they learn these words.

 

Language Processing Lab

Interested in participating?

For more information on child studies, visit childresearchgroup.ca to learn more and sign up!