Christopher Edwards (UCL) - 2022-23 Students

The influence of social interaction on adults' conceptual and verbal learning

Language is underpinned by concepts. Concepts are the mental semantic structures that allow us to categorize, identify and name the world – what enables us to recognize a small animal with fur that meows, and call it a cat. Humans develop new conceptual representations of the world in two ways: first, by direct sensory experience; and second, from the language of others. During development, language is primarily grounded in sensory information, but by adulthood, this secondary linguistic process accounts for most language learning.

How then do we learn conceptual information from others’ language? And how does learning from language interface with learning from direct experience? In responding to these questions, I am investigating conceptual learning as it occurs socially, across face-to-face interactions. To this end, I am interested in the way that speech interacts with both sensory information (i.e. whether what is being discussed is physically perceptible), as well as speakers’ and listeners’ co-ordinated social behaviours (i.e. their movements, gestures, and non-verbal vocalizations) to influence how individuals learn new concepts.

Influenced by burgeoning approaches to measuring the socially activated brain (sometimes referred to as ‘second-person’ neuroscience and psychology), my research will combine behavioural and electrophysiological experimental work. At the same time, I will look to review the history of thought on conceptual learning, taking in the rich body of psychological and neuroscientific evidence on the subject, while tracing how shifting ideas in philosophy of language and cognitive science have influenced theories of conceptual and linguistic learning over the past century.

Primary supervisor: Gabriella Vigliocco, UCL
Secondary supervisor: Daniel Richardson, UCL

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