B.A., Smith College; Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)
Jennie E. PyersProfessor of Psychology
Research interests include the relationship between language and cognition, bilingualism, the psycholinguistics of sign languages, and the role of iconicity in language.
My research focuses on the relationship between language and cognition. In particular, I examine both language-general and language-specific effects on human cognition. In addition, I investigate the aspects of cognition that shape language use and acquisition. We work with typically developing children, deaf children and adults, bimodal bilinguals (children of deaf adults fluent in ASL and English), and learners of an emerging sign language in Nicaragua to identify how the acquisition and use of a sign language is both shaped by and in turn shapes a learner’s cognitive abilities and how language delays affect cognitive development. My current research is funded by the James S. McDonnell Foundation and the National Institutes of Deafness and Communication Disorders.
I teach at both the introductory and advanced levels. In all of my classes, my goal is to create a learning environment where equity and access is central. I combine discussion, active learning, hands-on research, and observations at the Wellesley College Child Study Center to teach students the methodological foundation of psychology and how psychological research can address both theoretical issues and real-world problems. In addition, many students conduct supervised and independent research 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 a co-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 have also worked with Wellesley College to allow American Sign Language to fulfill the second language requirement.