Strengths in Cognitive Science at Georgetown

The interdisciplinary community of relevant faculty at Georgetown has great strength in several specific areas that are likely to develop into joint research projects and joint recruiting of new students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty. Due to the University’s strengths in these fields, we will be well positioned, with the concentration, to bring prominence and funding to the University in these areas. Example research projects and foci include:

1. Language acquisition and language processing from a multi-disciplinary perspective:  A large number of Georgetown faculty in several departments, and across the Main Campus and Medical Center, study the structure of languages of the world and how they are acquired by young children (as a first language) and by adults (as a second language).  Some of this research is on English as a first or second language, but in addition our faculty study the acquisition of other major spoken languages (e.g. Spanish and Portuguese), sign languages around the world (e.g. American Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language), young pidgin and creole languages in early stages of development in multilingual communities (including Nicaraguan Sign Language and Amami Island Sign Language developing in a small fishing community in Japan), and miniature artificial languages devised for research in the lab.  While a few faculty already collaborate on joint research, there is a much larger community of faculty and students who will likely begin collaborative research, joint advising of graduate students, or joint discussions of related research in this broad interdisciplinary area.

2. Learning, development, and plasticity from a multi-disciplinary perspective: An equally large number of Georgetown faculty, again in several departments and across our schools, study mechanisms of learning, development, and plasticity (change in the brain and in behavior in response to experience). This group overlaps with our strengths in language acquisition, but includes also faculty who study motor learning, perceptual learning, and the cognitive and brain mechanisms that underlie learning and adaptation to experience.

3. Empirical research on morality: Several members of the Georgetown faculty, in several departments, and across the Main Campus, Medical Center, and Law Center, study the cognitive and neural mechanisms responsible for the production of moral judgments. These faculty members have overlapping interests in the neuroscience of moral decision-making, the role of learning mechanisms in the production of moral judgments, the possibility of innate constraints on moral processing, and the role of emotional mechanisms in altruism, aggression, and psychopathy.

4. Other strengths in interdisciplinary cognitive science: With increased interactions among faculty and graduate students in these fields, additional interdisciplinary strengths will emerge, enhanced by the bridging interests of students and by the interactions that cognitive science advisory committees will engender. And, of course, these new activities will also have benefits for enhancing undergraduate education and research opportunities for the undergraduate cognitive science minor, and also for students majoring in the relevant departments and for students who may find new interests in interdisciplinary cognitive science.