Evolutionary & developmental constraints

We have previously argued that the evolution of statistical-sequential learning abilities may help explain the origin of human language (Conway & Christiansen, 2001). In order for a species to develop complex communication, their brains must have evolved to be able to encode and process complex sequential patterns. In collaboration with Georgia State’s Language Research Center, we have recently explored statistical learning abilities in Capuchin monkeys in order to better understand the evolutionary origins of language (Heimbauer et al., 2012).

In addition to studying how such learning abilities change over the course of evolutionary time, we are also interested in tracking how learning changes within a given individual, that is, over developmental time. Our previous research has demonstrated that the brains of young children may already possess adult-like pattern learning abilities (Jost et al, 2015). We are also interested in the idea that the immature brain might actually be extremely effective at learning environmental patterns, a finding that would help explain why infants and young children are generally more adept at learning new languages than adults.


{Please note that all publications are copyrighted with their respective publishers (unless otherwise noted) and are to be used for educational and research purposes only.}

Jost, E., Conway, C.M., Purdy, J.D., Walk, A.M., & Hendricks, M.A. (2015). Exploring the neurodevelopment of visual statistical learning using event-related brain potentials. Brain Research, 1597, 95-107. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.10.017. [pdf]

Deocampo, J.A. & Conway, C.M. (2014). Auditory sequence / artificial grammar learning in development. In P. Brooks & V. Kempe (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Language Development (pp. 33-36). SAGE Publications, Inc. [pdf]

Heimbauer, L.A., Conway, C.M., Christiansen, M.H., Beran, M.J., & Owren, M.J. (2012). A serial reaction time (SRT) task with symmetrical joystick responding for nonhuman primates. Behavior Research Methods, 44, 733-741. [pdf]

Shafto, C.L., Conway, C.M., Field, S.L., & Houston, D.M. (2012). Visual sequence learning in infancy: Domain-general and domain-specific associations with language. Infancy, 17, 247-271. [pdf]

Conway, C.M., & Christiansen, M.H. (2001). Sequential learning in non-human primates. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 529-546. [pdf]