Coming from a background in area studies and education, what interest me are questions about the nature of learning: What processes and knowledge are essential to becoming an 'expert' in a particular domain? How is new knowledge represented in the mind/brain, and how does it interact with pre-existing knowledge? By researching such questions I hope to shed light on the nature of the difficulties encountered by students, and to better inform best practices in education.
To approach these questions, I use both behavioral and neuroimaging research methods, with a healthy dose of statistical analyses.
A widely-held theory of reading maintains that letters are recognized by detection of invariant features that reliably allow the reader to access the identity of the letter being observed. While there is abundant evidence that feature detection is in general the process used by the reading system (as opposed to e.g. a simple template matching theory), questions remain as to the exact nature of these features.
Many researchers have attempted to infer what the visual features of simple objects like orthographic characters are by eliciting various judgments from experiment participants. However, these approaches face a number of obstacles in assuring that the judgments reflect the actual features detected during normal reading (i.e. reading under normal viewing conditions) and are not biased by the extensive experience that literate adults have with the stimuli.
Working with Brenda Rapp, we have presented participants with letters of the Arabic alphabet and asked them to perform a basic same/different task on the shapes. By including both participants who are literate in Arabic and those who are naive to all of the properties of the script, the influence of prior knowledge and experience can be both demonstrated and accounted for, allowing for the best possible assessment of the visual features underlying the discrimination process.
Future directions include examining the strength of apparent non-visual influences on perception (letter names/identity, motoric stroke patterns, alphabetic order), as well as understanding what determines whether a novel shape will be responded to as familiar given some sufficient amount of similarity to previously learned forms.
Collaboration with Dr. Marina Bedny and Dr. Brenda Rapp.
Project ongoing with Dr. Soojin Park.