WELCOME TO THE ELAN LAB

OUR VISION

  • 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.

  • Inspire students and other curious minds to join us on this adventure.

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.

Drawing Time

EARLY PREDICTORS OF LATER DEVELOPMENTAL OUTCOMES IN DOWN SYNDROME, FRAGILE X SYNDROME, AND WILLIAMS SYNDROME

1 Oct 2017

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 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.

Chalkboard with Different Languages

THE EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO A BILINGUAL ENVIRONMENT ON COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT IN INFANTS

1 Oct 2017

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.

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EMBODIED LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT: USING HEAD-MOUNTED EYE TRACKERS AND LENA TO UNDERSTAND WORD LEARNING IN ATYPICALLY DEVELOPING TODDLERS

1 Oct 2017

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). 

Baby Sleeping

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SLEEP AND LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

1 Dec 2017

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?

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PEOPLE

DR DEAN D'SOUZA

Principal Investigator

Dean 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. He is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Science & Engineering, Anglia Ruskin University, supervisor on PBS6 at the University of Cambridge, Chartered Psychologist, and Fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society.

DR HANA D'SOUZA

Co-investigator

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 GYIMES

PhD student

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

Collaborator

Dan has been developing scripts for one of our projects. His primary research interest is looking at motor control and learning in typically developing individuals and individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as developmental coordination disorder (DCD).
He is also interested in how functional brain networks differ in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly when and how this differentiation occurs and how it translates to behavioural differences.

ISABEL QUIROZ

Research Assistant (part-time)

Isabel has been involved in running infant/toddler studies at the Birkbeck Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD), including a very large testing protocol for the London Down Syndrome Consortium (LonDownS). She is currently collecting infant eye tracking data for us, while studying for a Master's degree in psychodynamic counselling and psychotherapy (part-time) at Birkbeck, University of London.

STEFANIA CANGEMI

Erasmus Trainee

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.

SHANNON DILKS

Research Assistant (part-time)

Shannon has been working at a children's foster home for boys with autism. She is very interested in understanding how family structure and relationships shape typical and atypical development, and is working towards a career as a clinical child psychologist. She also likes pizza!

BESS CONWAY

Research Assistant (part-time)

Bess is a psychology student with aspirations to become a forensic psychologist. She has a particular interest in developmental psychology, especially the child development of offenders.

AMY BOWLER

Research Assistant (part-time)

Amy is a psychology student at Anglia Ruskin University. She is interested in typical and a typical child development, and is pursuing a career in paediatric neuropsychology.

LIBBY

Honorary Scientist

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!

PAST MEMBERS

RAHUL BHALE

Intern

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!

KEY PUBLICATIONS

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. (under review). [...] 

CONTACT US

The ELAN lab
SCI 411 Science Centre,
Faculty of Science & Engineering,
Anglia Ruskin University, 
Cambridge CB1 1PT, UK

01223 695137

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The ELAN lab
SCI 411 Science Centre,
Faculty of Science & Engineering,
Anglia Ruskin University, 
Cambridge CB1 1PT, UK

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

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