Gert Westermann

Gert Westermann
Lancaster University | LU · Department of Psychology

PhD, Cognitive Science

About

161
Publications
48,860
Reads
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2,207
Citations
Citations since 2017
59 Research Items
898 Citations
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Introduction
I'm interested in infant cognitive, language and social development, with a recent focus on infant curiosity, that is, active learning on the basis of intrinsic motivation. In my lab we use eye tracking, pupillometry, ERP, behavioural studies and computational modelling to find out about the mechanisms underlying these developmental processes.
Additional affiliations
September 2011 - present
Lancaster University
Position
  • Professor
September 2003 - September 2011
Oxford Brookes University
September 2001 - September 2003

Publications

Publications (161)
Article
Full-text available
Infants rapidly learn both linguistic and nonlinguistic representations of their environment, and begin to link these from around six months. While there is an increasing body of evidence for the effect of labels heard in-task on infants’ online processing, whether infants’ learned linguistic representations shape learned nonlinguistic representati...
Article
Full-text available
How do infants’ emerging language abilities affect their organization of objects into categories? The question of whether labels can shape the early perceptual categories formed by young infants has received considerable attention, but evidence has remained inconclusive. Here, 10-month-old infants (N = 80) were familiarized with a series of morphed...
Article
Full-text available
An influential view of the nature of the language system is that of an evolved biological system in which a set of rules is combined with a lexicon that contains the words of the language together with a representation of their context. Alternative views, usually based on connectionist modeling, attempt to explain the structure of language on the b...
Article
Full-text available
The human pupil is a small opening in each eye that dilates in response not only to changes in luminance but also to novel events. This makes changes in pupil diameter an attractive measure in studies on infants’ and young children’s physical and social cognition. However, designing and interpreting pupillometry studies for developmental population...
Article
Full-text available
We present a neural network model of learning and processing the English past tense that is based on the notion that experience-dependent cortical development is a core aspect of cognitive development. During learning the model adds and removes units and connections to develop a task-specific final architecture. The model provides an integrated acc...
Preprint
Full-text available
Much of our basic understanding of cognitive and social processes in infancy relies on measures of looking time, and specifically on infants’ visual preference for a novel or familiar stimulus. However, despite being the foundation of many behavioral tasks in infant research, the determinants of infants’ visual preferences are poorly understood, an...
Article
Language processing in humans has long been proposed to rely on sophisticated learning abilities including statistical learning. Endress and Johnson (E&J, 2021) recently presented a neural network model for statistical learning based on Hebbian learning principles. This model accounts for word segmentation tasks, one primary paradigm in statistical...
Preprint
The current study investigates how metacognitive abilities such as confidence and prior knowledge estimates relate to curiosity. We also investigate the roles of these metacognitive abilities and curiosity in predicting learning. Instead of using linguistically-mediated information such as trivia questions as in the majority of research on curiosit...
Article
Full-text available
The effect of interpersonal behavioral synchrony on children’s behavior is an emerging field rich with research potential. While studies demonstrate its effect on affiliative and prosocial outcomes, the role of synchronized movement on children’s specific learning outcomes has not yet been investigated experimentally. One possibility is that synchr...
Article
In January 2021, we published an article titled “Predictive Processing and Developmental Language Disorder” in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research . The current commentary provides an important extension to this work. Specifically, we aim to head off the suggestion that a child's “predictive capacity” may be trained independently...
Article
Full-text available
Recent research with adults indicates that curiosity induced by uncertainty enhances learning and memory outcomes and that the resolution of curiosity has a special role in curiosity-driven learning. However, the role of curiosity-based learning in early development is unclear. Here we presented 8-month-old infants with a novel looking time procedu...
Preprint
In January 2021 we published a viewpoint article entitled ‘Predictive processing and developmental language disorder’ (DLD) in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. The current commentary provides an important extension to this work. Specifically, we aim to head off the suggestion that a child’s ‘predictive capacity’ may be trained...
Preprint
Developmental language disorder (DLD) affects 7.5% of children and involves language deficits in the absence of any clear biomedical cause. In this paper, we present a new theory of the sentence comprehension and production deficits that characterise DLD, but which remain poorly understood. Stated plainly, our hypothesis is that children with DLD s...
Article
Full-text available
Others' emotional expressions affect individuals' attention allocation in social interactions, which are integral to the process of word learning. However, the impact of perceived emotions on word learning is not well understood. Two eye‐tracking experiments investigated 78 British toddlers' (37 girls) of 29‐ to 31‐month‐old retention of novel labe...
Article
Dominant theoretical accounts of developmental language disorder (DLD) commonly invoke working memory capacity limitations. In the current report, we present an alternative view: That working memory in DLD is not under-resourced but overloaded due to operating on speech representations with low discriminability. This account is developed through co...
Article
Yarkoni's analysis clearly articulates a number of concerns limiting the generalizability and explanatory power of psychological findings, many of which are compounded in infancy research. ManyBabies addresses these concerns via a radically collaborative, large-scale and open approach to research that is grounded in theory-building, committed to di...
Preprint
This is a Registered Report, in-principle acceptance, to appear in Developmental Science. Abstract: The cognitive mechanisms and benefits of active learning in early child development are poorly understood. The current study will investigate 18-month-old infants’ curiosity-driven information selection in a novel word learning task, designed to iden...
Preprint
This is a Stage 1 Registered Report granted In-Principle Acceptance to appear in Developmental Science. Abstract: Children actively and selectively transmit information to others based on the type of information and the context during learning. Four- to 7-year-old children preferentially transmit generalizable information in teaching-like context...
Article
Full-text available
Gaze following is an early-emerging skill in infancy argued to be fundamental to joint attention and later language development. However, how gaze following emerges is a topic of great debate. Representational theories assume that in order to follow adults’ gaze, infants must have a rich sensitivity to adults’ communicative intention from birth. In...
Article
Scale errors are observed when young children make mistakes by attempting to put their bodies into miniature versions of everyday objects. Such errors have been argued to arise from children's insufficient integration of size into their object representations. The current study investigated whether Japanese and UK children's (18-24 months old, N =...
Article
Full-text available
Brain imaging studies of English past tense inflection have found dissociations between regular and irregular verbs, but no coherent picture has emerged to explain how these dissociations arise. Here we use synthetic brain imaging on a neural network model to provide a mechanistic account of the origins of such dissociations. The model suggests tha...
Preprint
Dominant theoretical accounts of developmental language disorder (DLD) are unanimous in assuming working memory capacity limitations. In the current report, we present an alternative view: That working memory in DLD is not under-resourced but overloaded due to operating on speech representations with low discriminability. This account is developed...
Preprint
Recent research with adults indicates that curiosity induced by uncertainty enhances learning and memory outcomes, and that the resolution of curiosity has a special role in curiosity-driven learning. However, the role of curiosity-based learning in early development is unclear. Here we presented 8-month-old infants with a novel looking time proced...
Preprint
Yarkoni’s analysis clearly articulates a number of concerns limiting the generalizability and explanatory power of psychological findings, many of which are compounded in infancy research. ManyBabies addresses these concerns via a radically collaborative, large-scale and open approach to research that is grounded in theory-building, committed to di...
Article
Full-text available
Purpose Research in the cognitive and neural sciences has situated predictive processing—the anticipation of upcoming percepts—as a dominant function of the brain. The purpose of this article is to argue that prediction should feature more prominently in explanatory accounts of sentence processing and comprehension deficits in developmental languag...
Preprint
Full-text available
In the present chapter, we review the state of the cognitive developmental research on the topics of curiosity, wonder and creativity, with a special focus on successful methodological approaches, as well as challenges for the experimental study of their cognitive underpinnings. The chapter comprises four main sections: 1) Curiosity, where we focus...
Preprint
Full-text available
In the present chapter, we review the state of the cognitive developmental research on the topics of curiosity, wonder and creativity, with a special focus on successful methodological approaches, as well as challenges for the experimental study of their cognitive underpinnings. The chapter comprises four main sections: 1) Curiosity, where we focus...
Preprint
Research in the cognitive and neural sciences has situated predictive processing – the anticipation of upcoming stimuli – as a dominant function of the brain. However, predictive processing does not currently feature in any explanatory account of sentence processing and comprehension deficits in children with developmental language disorder (DLD)....
Preprint
Children are sensitive to both social and non-social aspects of the learning environment. Among social cues, pedagogical communication has been shown to not only play a role in children’s learning, but also in their own active transmission of knowledge. Vredenburgh et al. (2015) showed that 2-year-olds are more likely to demonstrate an action to a...
Article
Full-text available
Children are sensitive to both social and non‐social aspects of the learning environment. Among social cues, pedagogical communication has been shown to not only play a role in children's learning, but also in their own active transmission of knowledge. Vredenburgh, Kushnir and Casasola (2015) showed that 2‐year‐olds are more likely to demonstrate...
Article
Full-text available
Active social communication is an effective way for infants to learn about the world. Do pre‐verbal and pre‐pointing infants seek epistemic information from their social partners when motivated to obtain information they cannot discover independently? The present study investigated whether 12‐month‐olds (N = 30) selectively seek information from kn...
Preprint
Gaze following is an early-emerging skill in infancy argued to be fundamental to joint attention and later language. However, how gaze following emerges has been a topic of great debate. The most widely-accepted developmental theories suggest that infants are able to gaze follow only by understanding shared attention. Another group of theories sugg...
Article
Full-text available
In this series of experiments, we tested the limits of young infants’ word learning and generalization abilities in light of recent findings reporting sophisticated word learning abilities in the first year of life. Ten-month-old infants were trained with two word-object pairs and tested with either the same or different members of the correspondin...
Chapter
Infants are not passive recipients of information but are curious learners who explore their world based on their intrinsic motivation. We review the main theories of the mechanisms underlying curiosity – the search for information for its own sake – and the means by which infants explore their environment, ranging from visual examination of object...
Poster
Full-text available
Thirty 30-month-old toddlers participated a screen-based word learning task in which they were taught novel words in neutral, positive and negative affect. This two-day study consisted of a referent selection (RS) phase followed by two retention phases (RT1 & RT2). RT1 after a five-minute break and RT2 on the following day to examine longer-term re...
Poster
Full-text available
We have developed a neurocomputational model that uses associative learning as a domain-general mechanism to learn from environmental regularities. The model incorporates long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD), based on biological descriptions of synaptic adaptation, to capture the structure of the environment. This model highl...
Article
Full-text available
In a seminal study, Yoon, Johnson and Csibra [PNAS, 105, 36 (2008)] showed that nine-month-old infants retained qualitatively different information about novel objects in communicative and non-communicative contexts. In a communicative context, the infants encoded the identity of novel objects at the expense of encoding their location, which was pr...
Preprint
Full-text available
In a seminal study, Yoon, Johnson and Csibra [PNAS, 105, 36 (2008)] showed that nine-month-old infants retained qualitatively different information about novel objects in communicative and non-communicative contexts. In a communicative context, the infants encoded the identity of novel objects at the expense of encoding their location, which was pr...
Article
The current study tests the hypothesis that shy children's reduced word learning is partly due to an effect of shyness on attention during object labeling. A sample of 20-and 26-month-old children (N = 32) took part in a looking-while-listening task in which they saw sets of familiar and novel objects while hearing familiar or novel labels. Overall...
Poster
Full-text available
All the toddlers firstly learned novel label-object mappings in affectively neutral, positive and negative conditions in a referent selection training phase, then were tested whether they retained the label-object mappings and affection-object mappings in a retention testing phases after five minutes break followed referent selection and also on th...
Article
Full-text available
The effect of labels on non-linguistic representations is the focus of substantial theoretical debate in the developmental literature. A recent empirical study demonstrated that ten-month-old infants respond differently to objects for which they know a label relative to unlabeled objects. One account of these results is that infants’ label represen...
Preprint
Full-text available
[Accepted at Infant Behavior and Development] In a seminal study, Yoon, Johnson and Csibra [PNAS, 105, 36 (2008)] showed that nine-month-old infants retained qualitatively different information about novel objects in communicative and non-communicative contexts. In a communicative context, the infants encoded the identity of novel objects at the ex...
Poster
Infants learn from social communication, and ostensive-referential communication is argued to be pivotal in this respect. Yoon, Johnson and Csibra (2008) found that after viewing a communicative scene, 9-month-olds detected object identity changes more than object location changes. But after viewing a non-communicative scene, infants detected objec...
Article
Full-text available
To account for infants' perceptual and cognitive development, the constructivist model proposes that learning a new object depends on the capability of processing simpler lower-level units, and then integrating these units into more complex higher-level units based on their relationships, such as regular co-occurrence. Here, we demonstrate that the...
Poster
Full-text available
Decades of research demonstrate that infants’ learning is sensitive to task features. However, what level of complexity best supports learning is unclear. Moreover, infancy studies work typically employ carefully-designed experiments with complexity determined a priori. Whether infants systematically generate a particular level of difficulty during...
Article
Full-text available
Infants are curious learners who drive their own cognitive development by imposing structure on their learning environment as they explore. Understanding the mechanisms by which infants structure their own learning is therefore critical to our understanding of development. Here we propose an explicit mechanism for intrinsically motivated informatio...
Article
Full-text available
A stimulus class can be composed of perceptually different but functionally equivalent stimuli. The relations between the stimuli that are grouped in a class can be learned or derived from other stimulus relations. If stimulus A is equivalent to B, and B is equivalent to C, then the equivalence between A and C can be derived without explicit traini...
Article
Full-text available
Variability is prevalent in early language acquisition, however whether it supports or hinders learning is unclear: while target variability has been shown to facilitate word learning, variability in competitor items has been shown to make the task harder. Here we tested whether background variability could boost learning in a referent selection ta...
Article
Full-text available
Children are growing up in a digital age with increasing exposure to television and touchscreen devices. We tested whether exposure to screen media is associated with children’s early language development. One hundred and thirty-one highly educated caregivers of UK children aged 6–36 months completed a media exposure questionnaire and vocabulary me...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Variability is important in language acquisition; however, whether it supports or hinders learning is unclear: while 3D object studies suggest that children learn word-object mappings better when the object varies, storybook studies indicate that variability in the context in which new objects are shown impairs learning. We tested a dynamic systems...
Presentation
Full-text available
Variability is prevalent in early language acquisition, however, whether it supports or hinders learning is unclear: while target variability has been shown to support word learning, variability in competitor items has been shown to make the task harder. Here we tested whether background variability could boost learning in a referent selection task...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Research on lexical development in Down syndrome (DS) has emphasized a dissociation between language comprehension and production abilities, with production of words being relatively more impaired than comprehension. Current theories stress the role of associative learning on lexical development. However, there have been no attempts to explain the...
Article
This study set out to examine whether shyness, an aversion to novelty and unfamiliar social situations, can affect the processes that underlie early word learning. Twenty-four-month-old children (n =32) were presented with sets of one novel and two familiar objects, and it was found that shyer children were less likely to select a novel object as t...
Article
Full-text available
This study set out to examine whether shyness, an aversion to novelty and unfamiliar social situations, can affect the processes that underlie early word learning. Twenty-four-month-old children ( n =32) were presented with sets of one novel and two familiar objects, and it was found that shyer children were less likely to select a novel object as...
Article
The animal vs. non-animal category differences in the visualevent-related potentials (ERPs) are widely studied. It has beensuggested that top-down factors (e.g. attention) modulate theamplitude of the visual ERPs. In a previous study we found a greatercar–bird amplitude difference in N1 when participants had toperform a car vs. bird categorization...
Poster
Full-text available
See also conference proceedings paper (Capelier-Mourguy, Twomey & Westermann, 2016)
Poster
Full-text available
See also conference proceedings paper (Twomey & Westermann, 2016)
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Despite substantial evidence for a bidirectional relationship between language and representation, the roots of this relationship in infancy are not known. The current study explores the possibility that labels may affect object representations at the earliest stages of language acquisition. We asked parents to play with their 10-month-old infants...
Poster
Full-text available
From a very young age infants form categories to simplify the world they encounter, relying both on the physical features of objects and the labels with which they are paired. A key question in understanding the formation of labeled categories both in children and adults is how perceptual features and labels interact. This question has been address...
Presentation
Full-text available
A talk presented in a symposium at ICIS that was titled ”Understanding infants’ curiosity-based learning: empirical and computational approaches.”
Poster
Full-text available
Introduction In word learning studies children are presented with a novel object alongside two or more familiar competitor objects and are asked to point to one of the objects in response to a label (e.g. Which one’s the blicket?). Research shows that even young infants can reliably select a novel object in response to a novel label (Houston-Price,...
Article
When learning about the functions of novel tools, it is possible that infants may use associative and motoric processes. This study investigated the ability of 16-month-olds to associate the orientation in which an actor held a dual-function tool with the actor's prior demonstrated interest in one of two target objects, and their use of the tool on...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Infants are curious learners who drive their own cognitive development by imposing structure on their learning environments as they explore. Understanding the mechanisms underlying this curiosity is therefore critical to our understanding of development. However, very few studies have examined the role of curiosity in infants' learning, and in part...
Article
Full-text available
How well children learn words is influenced by many things, including the environment and the manner in which adults speak to them. Communication experts Dr Rebecca Frost, Dr Katherine Twomey, Dr Gemma Taylor, Professor Gert Westermann and Professor Padraic Monaghan explain.
Poster
Full-text available
Launch of the ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development
Article
Full-text available
From at least two months onwards, infants can form perceptual categories. During the first year of life, object knowledge develops from the ability to represent individual object features to representing correlations between attributes and to integrate information from different sources. At the end of the first year, these representations are shape...