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photo of Stephen Cowley
 Dr Stephen Cowley

School of Psychology
University of Hertfordshire
College Lane
AL10 9AB


Individual and Small-group Projects

My research goal is to how talk impacts on human development. How does exposure to living, moving talking others enables us to become human? Is learning to talk an extension of human action? Accordingly, I examine how the baby uses caregiver dynamics as cognitive resources. Gradually, as these change intrinsic motives, the baby becomes a talking person.

Most work has been done with healthy infants. However, in collaboration with Jane Kvalsvig, I am examining infant-caregiver dyads in the high-risk setting of Pemba, Tanzania. We focus on how Iron Deficiency Anemia impacts on baby, caregiver, and interaction and, of course, the condition’s developmental effects.

Given an interest in mechanisms, alongside the baby work I examine how children engage with robots (with Takayuki Kanda) and, specifically, how gaze is used with people and androids (with Karl MacDorman). This work has led us to reconceptualise symbol grounding as the person problem. On this view, engineers can build interfaces where language-in-interaction facilitates the development of agency. By extension, we can explore how exposure to languaging people changes infant cognition. Early development becomes, above all, a matter of human symbol grounding.

At Hertfordshire, we focus on interrelations between language and distributed cognition. While some of this work concerns human-computer interaction, I am also interested in how prosody achieves cognitive effects. Together with Evie Fioratou, we are examining how classic problem solving can be revisited from a distributed perspective. I am also editing a book that explores how the rise of human cultural ecology favoured the emergence of language.


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