Research Interests

Some Recent and Current Research Projects

Event perception and language learning

Nonlinguistic event processing for learning language
Is there a link from event processing to learning relational terms in languages? We argue that infants universally notice a common set of foundational components in events - dividing the world in language ready ways. As children learn how to express event components in their native language, they highlight certain components over others and metaphorically trade spaces; moving from being 'language generalists' to 'language-specific interpreters' of events. (Göksun, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2010). Using preferential-looking and habituation paradigms, my colleagues and I presented evidence that infants perceive and conceptualize the event components found across the world's languages (such as path-manner and figure-ground) (Göksun, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Imai, Konishi, & Okada, 2011; Pruden, Göksun, Roseberry, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2012; Pruden, Roseberry, Göksun, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2013; Roseberry, Göksun, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2012). Before language learning, infants are language generalists sensitive to various conceptual distinctions across languages. Language then plays a role in highlighting aspects of events lexicalized in children's native tongue and children then view the world - when they need to speak - through the lens of their language. In my future work, I plan to examine the link from event processing to language learning with a longitudinal study.

Language might help to construct complex concepts
Are there any cases in which language might be necessary for constructing event concepts? Causal events are an informative area for research. Even though children have the necessary conceptual underpinnings to describe causal events, it is not until age 4 that they reliably use causal verbs to describe causal relations. In fact, one of our key findings is that prior to using causal language effectively, 4- and 5-year-olds rely on gestures to supplement their language skills (Göksun, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2010). In my recent work, I move from these simple causal scenes and work in the area of force dynamics that necessitates representing complex scenes that integrate various causal forces like helping, stopping, and preventing. We showed that preschoolers represented the forces in causal events only incompletely. They were good at judging the direction and endpoint of the ball in one-force Cause trials. However, only 5-year-old children integrated two forces (Göksun, George, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2013). We argue that learning causal verbs could mediate children's formation of force dynamic categories. Thus, language might play a pivotal role in guiding children's perception of more complex relations in events - such as causation. In our ongoing work, we examine the representation of force dynamics in detail.

Neuropsychology of language

Spatial language and compensatory gestures
During my postdoctoral work I have expanded on the findings and hypotheses from my developmental research and investigate the neurological underpinnings in the multilevel representation of events and in how they are communicated in language. To understand neural correlates of different levels of event representations (verbal and gestural), I use a voxel-lesion symptom mapping analysis in stroke patients who have unilateral focal brain injury. In a series of studies, we are examining how brain injury relates to naming relational terms when they are shown static and dynamic scenes (i.e., prepositions and verbs) and whether impaired lexicalization is compensated by gesture production. Even though gesture production compensated for the lexical retrieval problems for prepositions, the tendency to compensate for speech with gestures was impaired - particularly when patients had lesions to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These patients did not display global impairments in lexical access, because they could name objects and actions. There might, therefore, be a core deficit in representing spatial relations that lead to deficits in both lexical retrieval and gestural production of these relations (Göksun, Lehet, Malykhina, & Chatterjee, 2013). Yet, for patients who only have damage to the anterior superior temporal gyrus, gesture can compensate what is missing in spatial language use (Göksun, Lehet, Malykhina, & Chatterjee, under review).

Spontaneous narratives
My ongoing work investigates these patients' representations of dynamic spatial relations in spontaneous narratives. We examine left and right brain injured patients' speech, narrative organization, and gesture use in Frog Story narratives (Göksun & Chatterjee, in prep).

Restricting gesture use
In another project, we directly investigate patients' use of gesture as compensation to speech problems. One way to do is to restrict people's gesture use in various tasks (e.g., describing a direction on a map, story telling, and describing spatial relations) and to examine how their speech changes. We also administer various control tasks for tapping into the patients' spatial representations. This allows us to understand whether there is a core deficit in representing spatial relations or whether there is a problem only with lexical access/speech that could be compensated with spontaneous gestures.

Gesture and cognitive processes

Gesture and mental rotation
Gestures reflect thought processes when people talk about spatial information, such as giving directions or describing motions, and reveal information about problem solving strategies. In this study, we examined individual differences in gesture in real-world versions of the Shepard and Metzler mental rotation task and ask whether adults' strategies (i.e., using a spatial or a non-spatial strategy) differ based on ability, as reflected both in gesture and in speech. We found that low vs. high spatial adults differed in their strategies of encoding gestures that might be important to succeed on a mental spatial transformation task (Göksun, Goldin-Meadow, Newcombe, & Shipley, 2013).

Gesture and aging
In this study, we investigate the aging effects on the use of gestures in spatial tasks. Research shows us when individuals age, certain cognitive functions such as working memory and executive control. We detail the differences in spatial language and spontaneous spatial gesture use in young and elderly adults.

Development of aesthetics

In this new exciting line of research, I aim to investigate the early development of aesthetics judgments with particular emphasis on art. Do young infants have preferences for certain artwork over others? What are the cultural factors that influence art appreciation? Does language have an influence on judgments of artwork?