Trinity College, Dublin

Research Interests


A question motivating much of my research is What do words do? In particular, I’m interested in the extent to which verbal labels causally impact cognitive processes over developmental and immediate timescales. In answering this question, I have used a variety of methods, including behavioral studies with children between 1 and 12 years of age, and non-invasive brain stimulation techniques with adults. I discuss four areas of current research in more depth below.

Visit my Google Scholar page for a complete publication list.

See the Object and Word Learning Lab page for more info.



What do children even 'know' when they learn a new word? For example, when a child learns the word 'banana', has she learned something about its color, its shape, or both? Furthermore, little is known about individual differences in this knowledge, and what drives such differences: do differences in existing vocabulary knowledge lead to differences in what children remember about new words? To answer these questions, we are currently exploring children's and adults' knowledge and categorization of objects that they can already name (e.g., 'banana') and of novel objects for which we teach them a novel name (e.g., 'wug').


Why do some words sound like what they mean? We recently found that children learning English and Spanish tend to acquire words high in iconicity, or correspondence between form and meaning, earlier than words low in iconicity. Ongoing research projects are exploring the role of iconicity in language development and in language evolution.


What makes things the same? In this line of research we ask children and adults to compare objects and substances and judge how similar things are to each other. We're interested in the types of information (e.g., shape, material, color) people pay attention to when making these judgments and how this changes over development. We're also interested in the types of words people use to describe why things are similar or different.


How does language, once acquired, continue to impact cognitive processes? In our lab, we examine the effects of perturbing neural activity (using transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS) over Wernicke's area on adults' ability to categorize familiar and novel objects. Up-regulating activity in this area (associated with verbal labeling, particularly comprehension of word meaning) increases participants' ability to selectively focus on a single dimension, while down-regulating activity decreases this ability.