Associate Professor - Brain & Cognition Program
Cognitive development, multisensory processing, nonverbal cognition, category and concept representation, object based attention, numerical cognition, temporal perception, comparative cognition
The development of abstract concept representation and intersensory perception are important issues for psychologists. Consider the seemingly infinite possible combinations of sounds and sights around us. Many occurrences in our daily lives even present a mix of visual, auditory, gustatory, tactile, and olfactory stimulation. As adult humans, we utilize information from these multiple sensory modalities in a remarkable diversity of situations, seemingly without effort. We can understand the concept of number across senses, for example, equating four cars we see to four honks of horns we hear in city traffic. With our acquired knowledge about visible, sound-producing events in the world, we even perceive many crossmodal relationships that are very arbitrary: we relate beeping to a new email in our Inbox and a certain musical jingle to a truck containing ice cream. Ultimately, then, we combine separate streams of sensory stimulation into meaningful, unitary, and often abstract representations of objects, categories, and concepts—a fundamental characteristic of normal perception and cognition. But how did we ever come to perceive such relations between these vast numbers of objects and events? How did we, starting as prelinguistic infants, extract meaningful information from this mixture of multisensory stimulation? Was William James correct in his assumption that infants perceive the world “as one great blooming, buzzing confusion”, or alternatively, is an infant’s perception of the world integrated into some sort of organization across the senses and across abstract concepts? Is the child more likely to learn ecologically relevant relationships between visual and auditory stimuli? Does multisensory information primarily confuse children, or might these multiple sources of information facilitate a child’s learning about its world?
I am an Associate Professor and direct the Brain and Cognition program of the Psychology Department at USU specializing in such essential issues of cognitive development. My research uses a variety of behavioral methodologies such as looking-time measures with infants, operant touchscreen tasks with children, and computer-based experiments with adults. My most recent publications have centered on investigating three broad questions:
1) To what degree can infants and young children represent abstract concepts like number? Do they share systems of representation with each other and/or with adult humans?
2) Do cognitive representations in these populations extend across sensory modalities?
3) Can we enhance nonverbal attention, learning, and memory in domains such as numerical cognition by providing redundant information in multiple sensory systems?
Two newer lines of research with adult humans include investigating possible multisensory attentional and metacognitive benefits from playing video games, as well as asking about the perception of multisensory objects across space and time.
I obtained a PhD in psychology from Duke University. Before that, I earned a BA in psychology and biology from Harvard University. I invite interested undergraduate and graduate students to contact me if they would be excited to collaborate on such research and make new discoveries in this field.