Project Detail
Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) logo
Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) logo

Collaborative research: The path to verb learning  

Events are the basic units of human experiences. People speak not only of individual objects like 'towels' and 'floors', but also of events like 'bending', and of goal-directed actions like 'picking up a towel from the floor.' The central aim of this research is to characterize how humans perceive and conceptualize information about the nuggets of human experience, the non-linguistic events that are often labeled by language. Using insights from psychology and cognitive linguistics, this work hypothesizes that infants and adults use path information as a wedge into the flux and flow of a dynamic world; that path is central to how people find the atoms of events. Thus, pushing becomes pulling when the path forward is reversed. Eight experiments with infants and adults test this hypothesis by posing three questions: 1) Can infants use geometric information about path trajectories to decompose their world into events?; 2) Can infants and adults recognize categories of events paths even when they appear in new locations and in different orientations?; 3) Are infants and adults sensitive to statistical probabilities within events, building event hierarchies that are based on path changes (e.g., 'kicking the ball' rather than just raising the leg, moving it forward, contact with ball, ball projects forward)? Results from this foundational research inform both research and application. First, it forwards our knowledge of basic perception asking about the role that path plays in the interpretation of events. Second, given that events are the atoms of experience, this work speaks to how infants represent the world of events and whether they do so in ways that are compatible with adults. Third, exploration of how infants build a basis for event perception and representation positions researchers to ask how the children's burgeoning language knowledge interacts with their event perception. Relational terms like 'around, on, kick, throw' (prepositions and verbs) require that infants are aware not only of isolated objects or actions in their world, but of relations between these entities, relations through which grammar is born. Fourth, children with language deficits like those with autism often have difficulty learning relational terms. Some research suggests that the root of their problem lies not in language per se, but in the processing of event structures codified by language. Thus, diagnostic criteria relevant to both perception and language emerge in the context of this research. Project Status


Funder National Science Foundation
Fiscal Year Funding $66,000.00
Current Award Period 2007-2011
Project Number 642529
Principal Investigator Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy
Received ARRA Funding? No
Strategic Plan Question Question 2: How Can I Understand What Is Happening? (Biology)
Subcategory Cognitive Studies
Strategic Plan Objective 2O. Not specific to Question 2 objectives
Federal or Private? Federal
Institution Temple University
State/Country Pennsylvania
Web Link 1 Collaborative research: The path to verb learning (External web link)
Web Link 2 Collaborative research: The path to verb learning (External web link)
Web Link 3 No URL available.
History/Related Projects Collaborative research: The path to verb learning | $33,000.00 | 2010 | 642632