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Areas of research interest

My primary interests are in cognitive and language development, both in terms of developmental processes in children and in the final cognitive structures they produce in the adult.

My lab, the Developmental Neurocognition lab, is part of Birkbeck's Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, which was awarded one of the Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education in February 2006.

My current research focuses on cognitive variability and developmental disorders. I am interested in the window that variability offers on processes of typical development, as well as wider issues on the relation of genotype to phenotype (that is, the way in which genes relate to behaviour). View a general introduction to the field of developmental disorders in the context of brain plasticity. As a specific case study, my recent work has investigated language development in individuals with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Other research projects include visual processing and memory in Williams syndrome, autism and Downs syndrome.

My research combines empirical methods and computational modelling, the latter currently focusing on artificial neural network models of development. Computational models allow greater precision in clarifying the mechanisms that may drive developmental change in cognitive systems (see below for review chapters on this work). Developmental computational models also provide a concrete framework within which to explore the neuroconstructivist position (e.g. Karmiloff-Smith, 1998; Elman et al., 1996; see Mareschal et al., 2007, for a recent exposition). In relation to developmental disorders, this position proposes that behavioural deficits shown by individuals with developmental disorders should be viewed as the outcome of atypical developmental trajectories caused by initial differences in low-level neurocomputational constraints. Neuroconstructivism contrasts with an earlier approach of taking developmental deficits to be the direct analogue of brain damage in adults, where an impairment of a single ability is assumed to be explained by damage to an isolated component. I have pursued the neuroconstructivist line of argument both empirically and in recent work on the computational modelling of developmental disorders, in the specific case of past tense formation in Williams syndrome, in the general case of the relation of developmental and acquired disorders, and in exploring the problem of developmental deficits that may have multiple underlying causes.

I am also interested in the ways in which fully developed systems break down and recover from damage, including the status of double dissociations in deficits. See here for modelling work exploring stochastic double dissociations in a connectionist model of semantic memory under varying assumptions of modular structure. Other theoretical work includes the computational factors that drive typical and atypical emergence of modularity across development, current computational approaches to individual differences and intelligence, and computational approaches to explaining deficits in autism (see publications).

As well as work in developmental and acquired disorders, I have other interests in the psychology of language, including bilingual language processing and metaphor processing. Lastly, I have also published on the theoretical and philosophical status of connectionist models and computational models of consciousness.

I am a board member of the Open Psychology Journal. Open Access journals are freely accessible via the internet for immediate worldwide, open access to the full text of articles serving the best interests of the scientific community. All interested readers can read, download and/or print open access articles at no cost. There is no subscription fee for Open Access journals. The modest open access publication costs are usually covered by the author's institution or research funds. Authors who publish in our Open Access journals retain the copyright of their article. Open Access journals are no different from traditional subscription-based journals; they undergo the same peer-review and quality control as any other scholarly journal. Please take a look at the journal and consider submitting your work to it.