- Comparative approaches to the development and evolution of communication
- Vocal learning and development in songbirds and human infants
- Infant developmental psychology
- Social and statistical mechanisms of speech and language acquisition
- Parent-offspring interactions
- Developmental psychobiology
- Mechanisms of developmental change
How do infants learn to talk? My research focuses on the developmental processes by which knowledge of speech and language is acquired from the social environment. I use a comparative approach to study vocal learning and development, and my laboratory is one of the few in the world that has active, in-house research programs on both human infants and songbirds.
To investigate the processes by which infant development is constructed from interactions with caregivers, I take a micro-analytic approach to social learning. I observe and manipulate parent-offspring interactions at small time scales to understand mechanisms of developmental change. My primary research goal is to identify parameters of social interaction that are crucial for infant learning to better understand causal forces of development. These parameters take the form of perceptual mechanisms in the infant (e.g., pattern recognition and statistical learning) and of structure in the social environment (e.g., caregivers’ infant-directed speech and responsiveness to prelinguistic vocalizations). This general goal has given rise to parallel research programs in songbirds and human infants, all organized around the development of communication and language. By studying social interaction and learning as it occurs in moment-to-moment interactions, I aim to connect specific perceptual, cognitive, and social mechanisms with the development of communication.