B.A., Smith College; Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)
Jennie E. PyersAssociate Professor of Psychology
Research interests include the relationship between language and cognition, bilingualism, and the psycholinguistics of sign languages.
My research focuses on the relationship between language and cognition. In particular, I examine both language-general and language-specific effects on human cognition. To investigate which domains of cognition are impaired when language acquisition is delayed, I work with language-delayed deaf children and deaf adults who have learned an emerging sign language, Nicaraguan Sign Language. I also investigate how experience with a sign language affects spatial cognition and categorization. My recent research interests also include language processing in hearing bimodal bilinguals—children of deaf adults who are fluent in both a signed and a spoken language—and the relationship between gesture and speech. Student researchers have played an integral role in all of my research projects, including helping collect data in Nicaragua. Several students have had the opportunity to present their work at international conferences.
I teach at both the introductory and advanced levels. In all of my classes, my goal is to teach students how research is conducted in the field of psychology, and how that research can address both theoretical issues and real-world problems. My classes typically include observations or research at the Wellesley College Child Study Center. My upper-level seminar on “Mindreading” addresses how humans develop an understanding of others’ desires, emotions, and thoughts, while my Language Acquisition seminar exposes students to cutting-edge research at the annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Students in my Research Methods in Developmental Psychology course develop their own research projects, collect their own data at the Wellesley College Child Study Center, and write up the results of their studies. In addition, I have supervised students completing independent study projects or thesis projects in my lab.
I am an active member of several professional societies including the Cognitive Development Society, the Sign Language Linguistics Society, the Society for Child Development, and the International Society for the Study of Gesture. Currently I am the chair of the Millie Brother Scholarship for Hearing Children of Deaf Adults. As a native signer of American Sign Language, I have enjoyed serving as a mentor to the Deaf students on campus. And I have also worked with Wellesley College to allow American Sign Language to fulfill the second language requirement.