Center for Developmental Science

Our Research

How do we learn linguistic patterns?

Not too many parents name their baby, “Bleeber,” but for English speakers, even though “Bleeber” is a strange name, most parents would agree that it is a better name than “Tlibit.” One reason that “Tlibit” is worse than “Bleeber” is because it violates the sound regularities of English. In English, words don’t begin with the “tl” sound sequence even though it shows up in other places, for example, at the end of the word “little.” We are trying to determine when and how infants learn these types of regularities.
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How do we integrate linguistic knowledge?

As adults, we know what the words “taxicab” and “airplane” mean, but at some point in our lives, we didn’t. Even as adults, we run into new words that we have never heard before—words we have to look up in the dictionary (or type into Google). Infants are constantly hearing sequences of sounds that are new and have no meaning for them (yet). Another question our researchers are exploring is how these sound sequences affect the processing of words that infants do know.
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How do children and adults learn differently?

Humans are excellent learners at all ages, and we use what we’ve learned in the past to help us decide how to handle future situations. But adults and children sometimes differ in the types of information they use to guide their behavior. Our researchers are exploring the nature of these developmental differences, especially differences in the information children and adults choose to learn from. Some of our experiments compare how children and adults learn multiple linguistic patterns simultaneously (similar to growing up in a bilingual home). Other experiments explore differences in how children and adults interpret uncertain information in their environment and subsequently use that information to guide their future behavior.
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Our Methods

Living Lab Magnatiles

The way we attempt to answer these questions depends on the age of the child. For our infant studies, a child typically sits in their guardian's lap and is presented with displays of objects or videos as they listen to short sentences (this occurs in the "Infant Testing Room" seen in our lab video tour). We measure the infant's spontaneous reactions, such as how long they spend looking at each display. Older children might play interactive games that involve learning names for novel items, categorizing objects, interacting with a touchscreen, or choosing between toys. These studies are conducted in the "Child and Adult Testing Room". Below you will find some of our recent findings using these methods, and if you are interested in participating in one of our studies, let us know! You can also find us conducting research and sharing developmental science with the public at our Living Lab at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota.


Our Lab in the News...

Gustavus Students Explore How Children Learn at Children's Museum: The Center for Developmental Science has been conducting research at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota through a breakthrough program, the National Living Lab Initiative. The Center's student researchers have been conducting research in a live setting, setting a new precedent for the process of collecting data. Read more here.

Grant to Allow Psychology Students to Work in Living Lab: The Center for Developmental Science (CDS) at Gustavus Adolphus College and the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (CMSM) in Mankato have been awarded a $3,000 stipend from the National Living Laboratory Initiative in Boston that will create unique opportunities for Gustavus psychology students. Read more here.

Play On Words: The Center for Developmental Science was written up in the Gustavus Annual Report 2012-2013!

Selected Publications & Presentations

Schuler, K.D., Reeder, P.A., Newport, E.L., & Aslin, R.N. (2017). The effect of Zipfian frequency variations on category formation in adult artificial language learning. Language Learning and Development. [PDF]

Reeder, P.A., Newport, E.L., & Aslin, R.N. (2017). Distributional learning of subcategories in an artificial grammar: Category generalization and subcategory restrictions. Journal of Memory and Language, 97, 17-29. [PDF ]

White, K.S., Chambers, K.E., Miller, Z., & Jethava, V. (2016). Listeners learn phonotactic patterns conditioned on suprasegmental cues. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. [PDF]

Starling, S.J., & Reeder, P.A. (2014, March). Learning in an uncertain world: Adult probability matching across multiple environments. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Boston, MA.

Reeder, P.A., Newport, E.L., & Aslin, R.N. (2013). From shared contexts to syntactic categories:The role of distributional information in learning linguistic form-classes. Cognitive Psychology, 66, 30-54. [PDF]

Qian, T., Reeder, P.A., Aslin, R.N., Tenenbaum, J.B., & Newport, E.L. (2012). Exploring the Role of Representation in Models of Grammatical Category Acquisition. In N. Miyake, D. Peebles, & R. P. Cooper (Eds.), Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. [PDF]

Chambers, K. E., Onishi, K. H., & Fisher, C. (2011). Representations for phonotactic learning in infancy. Language Learning and Development, 7, 287-308. [PDF]

Chambers, K. E., Olson, P., & Rao, A. (2011, April). Learning developmental psychology through museum exhibit design. Poster presented to the Developmental Science Teaching Institute at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, QC, CAN. [PDF]

Chambers, K. E., Onishi, K. H., & Fisher, C. (2010). A vowel is a vowel: Generalizing newly-learned phonotactic constraints to new contexts. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 36, 821-828. [PDF]

Reeder, P.A., Newport, E.L., & Aslin, R.N. (2010). Novel words in novel contexts: The role of distributional information in form-class category learning. In S. Ohlsson & R. Catrambone (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. [PDF]

Reeder, P.A., Newport, E.L., & Aslin, R.N. (2009). The role of distributional information in linguistic category formation. In N. Taatgen and H. van Rijn (Eds.), Proceedings of the 31st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. [PDF]

Khu, M., Nitka, D., Chambers, K. E., & Onishi, K. H. (2009, April). The effect of phonotactic regularities on infant word learning. Poster presented to the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Denver, CO. [PDF]

Fisher, C., Church, B., & Chambers, K. E. (2004). Learning to identify spoken words. In D. G. Hall and S. R. Waxman (Eds.), Weaving a Lexicon (pp. 3-40). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [PDF]

Chambers, K.E., Onishi, K.H., & Fisher, C. (2003). Infants learn phonotactic regularities from brief auditory experience. Cognition, 87, B69-B77. [PDF]

Onishi, K. H., Chambers, K. E., & Fisher, C. (2002). Learning phonotactic constraints from brief auditory exposure. Cognition, 83, B13-B23. [PDF]

Fisher, C., Hunt, C. M., Chambers, K. E., & Church, B. A. (2001). Abstraction and specificity in preschoolers' representations of novel spoken words. Journal of Memory and Language, 45, 665-687. [PDF]