Dr. Namy's research program focuses on early word learning and categorization in infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
She has two primary lines of research. First, she is interested in infants' ability to acquire words as it relates to the
ability to use other kinds of symbols. How do infants come to understand the symbolic function of language? Is language a
special form of symbolic communication from the onset of development? How does the relation between words and non-verbal
symbols, such as gestures, change over development?
Second, Dr. Namy is interested in the role of comparison processes in conceptual development. She is interested in the
notion that general cognitive processes such as active comparison of two or more entities from the same category may
facilitate insight into the category’s structure.
Symbol Acquisition and Word Learning in Infants and Toddlers:
This research program addresses 1) the nature of infants’ early symbolic abilities and 2) developmental change in the
relation between language and other symbolic abilities. These studies explore the types of symbols that infants accept early
in development. For example, how the form of the symbol (e.g., gestural, pictorial, auditory) and the relation between the
symbol and its referent (e.g., iconic versus arbitrary symbols) influence symbol learning have been examined. The lab has
been especially interested in how the range of symbols accepted changes with development and why. Other studies address how
social, prosodic and syntactic features of naming contexts (such as pointing, tone of voice, or sentential context) that
might facilitate symbol acquisition in young children.
Comparison and Categorization in Preschool-Aged Children:
The goal of this line of research is to examine the role of comparison in children’s taxonomic categorization of
objects. Specifically, we are examining the extent to which comparing multiple instances of a category encourages children
to shift from a perceptually-based pattern of categorization (e.g., on the basis of shape similarity) to a more conceptually oriented pattern of categorization (e.g., on the basis of function and causal knowledge). We are particularly interested in understanding what aspects of a learning environment induce comparison.
The Role of Parental Input in Infant Symbol Acquisition:
This line of research explores the nature of parental gestural input to young children during everyday interactions.
These studies suggest that parents provide a great deal of gestural input to their children within the same
social-referential contexts in which parents typically label objects. This finding provides an important input-based
mechanism through which children might acquire both verbal and gestural symbols for objects. Infants have no cause, on the
basis of the manner and frequency of verbal and gestural input, to differentiate between these two symbolic forms. We have
examined the role of parental input in symbol learning both cross-sectionally and longitudinally and have found potentially
important individual differences in parents’ non-verbal communication styles. We are interested in discovering how
the nature and frequency of parental gesture and verbal labeling changes as infants’ language abilities develop and
also how parental emotional input (such as smiling and providing verbal reinforcement) shape early symbol acquisition.