WELCOME TO THE ELAN LAB
Make a significant contribution to our understanding of how early cognitive abilities emerge in typically and atypically developing populations.
Pave the way to interventions that help people live happier lives.
Provide a supportive and stimulating environment to train the next generation of research scientists.
CURRENT DIRECTIONS & NEW HORIZONS
We are currently studying how internal variation (e.g. in genetics, basic attentional processes) and external variation (e.g. exposure to different language environments, parenting) interact and constrain language and cognitive development in young typical and atypical populations.
We are looking to study the interplay of these factors in the child's natural environment.
EARLY PREDICTORS OF LATER DEVELOPMENTAL OUTCOMES IN DOWN SYNDROME, FRAGILE X SYNDROME, AND WILLIAMS SYNDROME
Our goal is to trace the developmental trajectories of later emerging, higher-level abilities (e.g., language) back to their basic-level roots (in, e.g., early visual attention) in children with Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Williams syndrome. This is a longitudinal study (from 8 months to 10 years of age).
This is being funded by Autour des Williams, the British Academy, and the Waterloo Foundation.
THE EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO A BILINGUAL ENVIRONMENT ON COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT IN INFANTS
Bilinguals outperform monolinguals in nonverbal tasks of cognitive control and are less affected by age-associated cognitive decline (the bilingual advantage). Yet the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie the bilingual advantage remain controversial. The most influential explanation is that managing two languages during language production constantly draws upon, and thus strengthens, domain general (i.e., not language-specific) cognitive control mechanisms. However, this theory cannot explain why a bilingual advantage is found in preverbal infants. Other mechanisms must be involved. We propose that mere exposure to a bilingual environment leads to experience-driven adaptations that confer both cognitive advantages and disadvantages. We are testing this hypothesis by using eye tracking technology and electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate neurocognitive processes in 7-month-old infants raised in bilingual vs. monolingual environments.
This is being funded by the British Academy.
EMBODIED LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT: USING HEAD-MOUNTED EYE TRACKERS AND LENA TO UNDERSTAND WORD LEARNING IN ATYPICALLY DEVELOPING TODDLERS
We will use head-mounted eye trackers and Language Environment Analysis (LENA) to elucidate developmental constraints on language learning in toddlers with Down syndrome and Williams syndrome.
This is being funded by Better Data (which is sponsored by the British Academy).
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SLEEP AND LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
Children with neurodevelopmental disorders often present with language delay. Typical language development is constrained by numerous factors, including sleep. This is because sleep is important for physical and mental processes such as attention, memory, and motivation. Although little is known about sleep in atypically developing infants and toddlers, it is often disrupted in older (school age) children and adults with a neurodevelopmental disorder. We therefore hypothesise that sleep may be disrupted, and constrain early language development, in infants and toddlers with a neurodevelopmental disorder.
We have collected sleep, language, and cognitive data from 80 infants/toddlers with Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Williams syndrome, and 50 typically developing controls. Our preliminary analyses suggest that sleep is highly disrupted in the atypically developing infants/toddlers. But is it related to their early language development?
DR DEAN D'SOUZA
Dean is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at City, University of London. He has been investigating mechanisms of developmental change and tracing the developmental trajectories of higher-level abilities such as language back to their basic-level origins in infancy, in typical and atypical populations.
DR HANA D'SOUZA
Hana currently holds the Beatrice Mary Dale Research Fellowship in Psychology at Newnham College, University of Cambridge. She is interested in the development of attention and motor abilities, and how these interact over developmental time and constrain other domains in typically and atypically developing children. As part of the London Down Syndrome (LonDownS) Consortium, she has been investigating individual differences and interactions between various domains and levels of description across development in infants and toddlers with Down syndrome.
Lilly is studying the role of parenting in the development of emotion understanding in Williams syndrome. She also plans to train parents to use emotion validation with their children. Lilly has an MSc in Clinical Child Psychology and volunteers for children with developmental disabilities in Cambridgeshire.
DR DAN BRADY
Dan is a Research Software Engineer in the Department of Computer Science, University of Sheffield. He has experience of writing research software and analysis pipelines using R, Python, and Julia, and has been developing scripts for one of our projects.. He is also a keen advocate of open and reproducible research practices.
Elisha is a Natural Sciences undergraduate student at UCL specialising in Neuroscience, Psychology, and Philosophy of Science. His primary interests are in the topics where these disciplines intersect such as language acquisition, consciousness, and personal identity. Elisha also works part-time as a classroom educator for year 5 students at a local Sunday school.
“I’m a Psychology student who’s just finished the final year. I reached out to Dr. D’Souza when I learnt about his project and thought it would be incredibly interesting to get involved in his research, especially since it’s within my desired field - developmental psychology!”
DR FLEUR CORBETT
Postdoctoral Research Assistant
Fleur has a PhD from UCL. Fleur is currently following up the children with Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome and Williams syndrome whom we previously tested in infancy and toddlerhood. Fleur is measuring the children’s current set of abilities in order to relate their new abilities to the previous measures we took, and by doing so, discover which of the early, basic-level measures best predict later outcomes in these children.
"I am a Psychology student from Germany and determined by my curiosity and passion for Psychology to be part of a project outside my comfort zone. Doing my Bachelor's degree in Psychology provides me an expanded base of knowledge in various fields of this science, and most important for this project: knowledge in Developmental and Cognitive Psychology."
Libby is an ‘honorary scientist’ at the ELAN lab. She visited us 7 years ago with her brother to help with our research. Libby is currently working on a school project on scientists and sent us this picture!
Aishah is a Psychology student aiming to become a Clinical Psychologist. She has an interest in mental health/developmental disorders and their risk factors.
Rahul is a student in the Seven-Year Medical Program at Boston University & Boston University School of Medicine. His interests include incorporating research in clinical settings in the fields of orthopedics and neurology. He also loves tennis!
Stefania is a postgraduate student at the University of Verona in Italy. In collaboration with Hana D'Souza at the University of Cambridge, Stefania is working on observational data we collected from toddlers with Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Williams syndrome. Our aim is to understand more about how toddlers with neurodevelopmental disorders and their parents interact in naturalistic settings.
Research Assistant (part-time)
Simone is an MSc psychology student at Anglia Ruskin University. Under the supervision of Dr Fiona Richardson, Simone is currently using artificial neural networks to investigate sensitive periods and recovery implications after paediatric brain insult.
Simone has research interests in bilingualism, neurodevelopmental disorders, and traumatic brain injury, with a special focus on sensitive periods, and is pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist specialising in paediatric neuropsychology.
References and Links to Papers
PRECURSORS TO LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
In order to understand how language abilities emerge in typically and atypically developing infants and toddlers, it is important to embrace complexity in development. In this paper, we describe evidence that early language development is an experience-dependent process, shaped by diverse, interconnected, interdependent developmental mechanisms, processes, and abilities (e.g., statistical learning, sampling, functional specialization, visual attention, social interaction, motor ability). We also present evidence from our studies on neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Williams syndrome) that variations in these factors significantly contribute to language delay. Finally, we discuss how embracing complexity, which involves integrating data from different domains and levels of description across developmental time, may lead to a better understanding of language development and, critically, lead to more effective interventions for cases when language develops atypically.
D’Souza, D., D’Souza, H., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2017). Precursors to language development in typically and atypically developing infants and toddlers: the importance of embracing complexity. Journal of Child Language, 44, 591-627.
D’Souza, D., D’Souza, H., Horvath, K., Plunkett, K., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2020). Sleep is atypical across neurodevelopmental disorders in infants and toddlers: A cross-syndrome study. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 97, 103549.
D’Souza, D., D’Souza, H., Jones, E. J. H., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2020). Attentional abilities constrain language development: A cross-syndrome infant/toddler study. Developmental Science, e12961.
EXPOSURE TO BILINGUAL INPUT MAY SHARPEN EARLY LEARNING MECHANISMS
Infants who are exposed to more varied, less predictable language input may need to process information more efficiently, perhaps by learning to construct, and get by on, less detailed models, so they can orient sooner to less familiar (but equally important) stimuli (e.g., a second language).
D’Souza, D., & D’Souza, H. (2016). Bilingual language control mechanisms in anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex: A developmental perspective. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 5434-5436.
D’Souza, D., Brady, D., Haensel, J. X., & D’Souza, H. (2020). Is mere exposure enough? The effects of bilingual environments on infant cognitive development. Royal Society Open Science, 7, 7180191.
D’Souza, D., Brady, D., Haensel, J. X., & D’Souza, H. (2021). Early bilingual experience is associated with change detection ability in adults. Scientific Reports, 11, 2068.
IN THE NEWS
Our research has been reported in over 180 national and international news outlets, including radio shows such as BBC Radio 4's Inside Science and BBC World Service's Science in Action. Here we have picked our favourites. Click on the image for the article.