One of the most remarkable things about humans is our ability to take a finite number of words and use them to generate an infinite number of new meaningful sentences. You may have never heard the sentence, “There are no bears on Mars”, but you have no trouble understanding what it means. Not only can you understand it, you can judge that it is very likely true and make conclusions on that basis: if there are no bears on Mars, that means there are no brown bears there, no bear cubs, no bears climbing Martian trees. How is it so easy for us to understand new sentences and think new thoughts, judge whether they’re true, and reason through to related thoughts and sentences? This is what we study at the BLT lab.
Language and Thought
Language may be the most obvious way we express and understand complex thoughts, but is it the only way? Does it play a special role in enabling thinking, or is it just how we communicate our thoughts? When kids learn a new word, do they gain the ability to think about a new idea — or do they only learn to label what they could already think about? Exploring these questions means exploring our shared humanity — how all of us can think new thoughts so quickly and productively, and how we communicate those thoughts to each other.
Participating in Research
In an infant study, your baby is seated in your lap or an infant seat and presented with displays consisting of objects or video animations. We measure your baby’s spontaneous reaction, such as how long your baby spends looking or reaching to each display. Since babies typically look longer at things that they find new or surprising, we can make inferences about how they perceive and understand our displays by examining patterns of looking across a number of infants. With older children, the studies are set up like games and typically involve your child playing with small, countable objects, learning names for novel toys, or interacting with others in a social situation.
For now, all of our studies are online, with plenty of opportunities for parents to get involved. Our online research studies are set up as fun games that parents can do over Zoom with their child and a researcher from our lab! You can visit our Online Research FAQ page to see common questions about what participating in an online study would be like, or sign up by clicking the “Participate” button.
We also post updates, cute pictures, and resources that parents might find useful on our social media platforms: