University of Wisconsin–Madison

Current Research

Imagine you are faced with the following challenge:

You must discover the structure of an immense system which contains tens of thousands of pieces, all generated from a small set of materials. These pieces, in turn, can be combined in an infinite number of ways. Only a subset of those infinite combinations is actually correct. However, just to make things even more difficult, this subset is itself infinite. Somehow you must rapidly converge on the internal structure of this system so that you can use it to communicate.

Oh, and you are a very young child.

This system, of course, is human language. Given its richness and complexity, it seems improbable that children could ever discern its structure. Nevertheless, they do, almost without exception. The process of acquiring such a system is unlikely to be any less complex than the system itself.

Family in Waisman Center

We take a number of approaches to address  questions such as:

  • How do humans learn?
  • How do infants, young children, and adults discover structure in language and their environment?
  • What kinds of patterns are not readily learned?
  • Do the same learning abilities emerge for other domains, such as music?
  • What role does attention play in learning?
  • Is learning different in atypical populations?
  • How does learning differ across species?

In our lab, we consider language acquisition within a larger framework

 

Understanding the extraordinary learning abilities infants possess will help us to move beyond nature versus nurture to a better understanding of how our internal learning systems interact with the complexities of human environments.