SRCD 2019: language input and prediction

Here are my slides for SRCD 2019.

A large body of research indicates that environmental factors like SES play a role in children’s language development (for review see Fernald & Weisleder, 2011). These findings reveal that children’s day-to-day language experiences vary tremendously, as do their developmental trajectories. Factors like SES, language input, and language processing abilities interact to shape children’s emerging linguistic abilities (e.g., Weisleder & Fernald, 2013).

At the same time, a related body of work has investigated whether a particular aspect of language processing – prediction – supports development, and a number of findings are in line with this view (e.g., Reuter et al., under revision). However, the origins of individual differences in prediction are unknown. Given prior findings linking language input and processing efficiency, it seems likely that language input also supports predictive language processing. Importantly, evaluating the link between input and prediction is essential for evaluating prediction-based theories of learning: These theories claim that accurate predictions are the result of accumulated language processing experiences. Children who receive more input have more processing experiences and therefore should be able to generate more accurate predictions during language processing (e.g., Dell & Chang, 2014).

We therefore hypothesized that home language input supports children’s emerging language processing abilities, including predictive language processing. Using a combination of eye-tracking tasks, LENA recordings, and vocabulary measures (PPVT), we find that:  High-SES toddlers receive marginally more language input from caregivers. High-input toddlers have larger vocabularies, and, importantly, high-input toddlers generate more robust predictions during language processing. These findings add to a body of literature linking SES-based disparities in input and processing (e.g., Weisleder & Fernald, 2013) and provide further support for prediction-based theories of language development (e.g., Dell & Chang, 2014).

We thank all participant families and we’re grateful to all Princeton Baby Lab research assistants for their help with data collection. We also thank Monica Ellwood-Lowe and Mahesh Srinivasan for organizing our SRCD 2019 symposium on SES-based disparities in language development.

NSF success!

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve received an NSF graduate fellowship.

If you’d like, you can read my research statement here.

So many people helped me with this – my advisors, my labmates, and the other students in my writing workshop – and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Their support and critical feedback really made the difference between “very good” and “excellent” for reviews.


NSF 2015 Reviews

Well, I didn’t get an NSF graduate fellowship this year, but I did get useful feedback from reviewers. I’ll do better next time!

Reviewer 1:

Overall Assessment of Intellectual Merit: Excellent

Ms. Reuter has a 3.7 GPA from Univ. Wisconsin Madison. She has a dual degree in Spanish and Cognitive Psychology. She was a research technician for three years (Harvard) prior to enrolling at Princeton’s Developmental Psychology program. She has given 5-6 talks and poster presentations but as yet does not have publications. Her letters are laudatory and all speak to the enormous amount of work she can accomplish (so a little surprising there are no publications). As for the proposal however, the hypothesis to be tested is that the quantity and quality of infants’ language input affects both verbal and nonverbal prediction skills, which in turn affect language outcomes. She hypothesizes that an inability to predict has adverse consequences to language development, leading to smaller vocabularies. Why this might be so is not fully explained however, nor is why receiving more verbal input from parents would affect a child’s performance on these tasks. She will test 60 infants from different socioeconomic groups using verbal and nonverbal prediction tasks to assess predictive skills in these children. However, although she plans to analyze caregiver language input, this alone seems insufficient to link predicative skill to caregiver language exposure. It would seem the critical kind of input would be caregiver language which gives the child practice at prediction.

Overall Assessment of Broader Impacts: Excellent

Ms Reuter served as chair of the community service committee Psychology Club and as a psychology tutor. She was a member of a Teaching Academy summer institute where she collaborated with faculty to design ‘small learning communities’ to support first generation college students. She writes that she “enjoyed creating engaging instruction methods, like teaching neuropsychology via dodgeball. Not only did my students learn about synapses, receptors, and re-uptake, I dare say they actually liked it.” For this, she was the first undergraduate to receive an honored instructor award from the University. In another initiative she also volunteered with Aspira (Aspire), an intervention to address an achievement gap in K-12 students. She worked with school staff to create college exploration workshops, including fieldtrips to local campuses, ACT/SAT preparation, and funding information. Given this exemplary track record of outreach thus far, there is little doubt that in the future, in addition to her research work, Ms. Reuter will continue teaching and mentoring in a variety of contexts.

Summary Comments: This candidate has excellent credentials, letters and a fabulous history of outreach. Enthusiasm is slightly mitigated by a proposal that does not clearly explain the logic of the hypothesis.

Reviewer 2:

Overall Assessment of Intellectual Merit: Very Good

The applicant has strong prior academic preparation and performance and several first author presentations. The applicant shows the ability to plan and conduct research and has strong and varied research and professional experience in the area of language and language processing. Letters are strong and the proposed activities (examining an underlying mechanisms accounting for link between language input and experiences) appear to be well-reasoned based on sound rationale.

Overall Assessment of Broader Impacts: Very Good

Broader impacts strengths include the applicant’s discussion of engagement of teaching; take on administrative roles, volunteering in an achievement gap intervention. The applicant also mentions first generation outreach, designing learning communities, co-authoring instructional guidebooks, all of which are commendable.

Summary Comments: The applicant proposes to examine the mediating role of predictive processing in link between language input and language outcomes. The applicant could be clearer about how the socioeconomic disparities referred to in the application are relevant with regard to the broader impacts of the work. The applicant could also provide a little more detail regarding the broader impacts of the proposed research in the research plan.

Reviewer 3:

Overall Assessment of Intellectual Merit: Very Good

The applicant has an outstanding research background including pre-doc role as Lab Manager at Harvard. The research statement could be further strengthened as to present a more developed research plan. The applicant’s future goals could be further elucidated.

Overall Assessment of Broader Impacts: Excellent

The goals of the research plan are highly relevant and the applicant has an excellent range of BI activities: teaching, administrative, outreach, STEM and under-represented.

Summary Comments:  In summary, there is good support for IM being in the Very Good range and BI in the Excellent range.

50 days to NSF 2015

I have 50 days (~7 weeks) to complete my NSF graduate research fellowship program application.

The application is simpler than I imagined, and hinges mostly on two statements: a “personal, relevant background and future goals” statement, and a “graduate research plan” statement. The former is a summary of what I’ve done so far. The latter is my plan of action for the next few years. Both need to demonstrate “intellectual merit” and “broader impact.” Simple, right?

Here’s what I’m working on currently:

  • Create NSF user account and complete all the basics. (Done.)
  • Ask for letters of recommendation. (Done, though still waiting to confirm one.)
  • Write my personal statement:
    • “Please outline your educational and professional development plans and career goals. How do you envision graduate school preparing you for a career that allows you to contribute to expanding scientific understanding as well as broadly benefit society? Describe your personal, educational and/or professional experiences that motivate your decision to pursue advanced study in science. Include specific examples of any research and/or professional activities in which you have participated. Present a concise description of the activities, highlight the results and discuss how these activities have prepared you to seek a graduate degree. Specify your role in the activity including the extent to which you worked independently and/or as part of a team. Describe the contributions of your activity to advancing knowledge in STEM fields as well as the potential for broader societal impacts. NSF Fellows are expected to become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders who can contribute significantly to research, education, and innovations in science and engineering. The purpose of this statement is to demonstrate your potential to satisfy this requirement.”
  • Write my research statement:
    • “Present an original research topic that you would like to pursue in graduate school. Describe the research idea, your general approach, as well as any unique resources that may be needed for accomplishing the research goal (i.e., access to national facilities or collections, collaborations, overseas work, etc.) You may choose to include important literature citations. Address the potential of the research to advance knowledge and understanding within science as well as the potential for broader impacts on society.” 
    • What is the potential for the proposed activity to: a. Advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields (Intellectual Merit); and b. Benefit society or advance desired societal outcomes (Broader Impacts)?
    • To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?
    • Is the plan for carrying out the proposed activities well-reasoned, well-organized, and based on a sound rationale? Does the plan incorporate a mechanism to assess success?
    • How well qualified is the individual, team, or organization to conduct the proposed activities?
    • Are there adequate resources available to the PI (either at the home organization or through collaborations) to carry out the proposed activities?

Stay tuned for more updates!