University of Rochester

Richard N. Aslin


Karuza, E. A., Emberson, L. L., & Aslin, R. N. (2014). Combining fMRI and behavioral measures to examine the process of human learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 109, 193-206.


Aslin, R. N. (2014). Infant learning: Historical, conceptual, and methodological challenges. Infancy, 19, 2-27.


Brandone, A. C., Horwitz, S. R., Aslin, R. N., & Wellman, H. M. (2014). Infants' goal anticipation during failed and successful reaching actions. Developmental Science, 17, 23-34 [doi: 10.1111/desc.12095]

Research Overview

During the course of development, human infants gather information about the external world without the benefit of an extensive base of knowledge that adults automatically bring to bear on perceptual, motor, cognitive, and language tasks. What mechanisms allow infants to acquire this initial level of information and how does that information guide subsequent learning? Clearly, most learning that occurs in infancy, and a substantial amount of learning in adulthood, is performed without instruction—it is implicit and based on an analysis of the distributional properties of environmental stimulation.

For over a decade, my research has been directed at exploring and understanding these implicit learning mechanisms, which are typically referred to as "statistical learning". Although initially studied in the task of word segmentation from fluent speech, statistical learning has been extended to other domains, such as musical tones, phonetic categories, sequences of visual shapes, sequences of motor responses, and combinations of objects (or object parts) in complex visual scenes. An important goal of these studies is to reveal the computational constraints that enable statistical learning to be tractable given the complexity of the input and the infinite number of statistical computations that are possible over any set of inputs. Initial computational models of statistical learning focused on bi-gram statistics and conditional probabilities, but more recent work has broadened to include Bayesian ideal learning models. Empirical studies of statistical learning have also evolved to explore order effects in learning multiple structures and to understand how statistical patterns trigger the formation of categories.

A related line of research focuses on spoken word recognition in both infants, toddlers, and adults using eye-tracking methods. Once an auditory word-form has been extracted from fluent speech, how does the infant map that sequence of sounds onto meaning? Recent and on-going studies have examined how infants and toddlers recognize the meaning of the unfolding speech signal, for both previously known and recently learned words, as well as for mispronounced words or words preceded by a disfluency. Most of these studies employ one of three Tobii eye-trackers, while others that are just beginning use a novel head-mounted eye-tracker in combination with a LENA audio-recording and analysis system. Studies of adults employ an artificial lexicon paradigm and the visual world eye-tracking paradigm to carefully control variables such as word frequency and acoustic similarity (neighborhood structure).

In the past few years, my research has moved toward studies of brain function in adults and infants using fMRI and optical imaging, respectively. A new 3T magnet facility ( has enabled us to measure activations in a targeted brain area, such as MT/MST, to novel words that have been linked during a lexical learning task to referents which have the property of motion. This allows us to determine if similar sounding words also activate MT/MST even if they do not have the referential property of motion, thereby serving as a measure of lexical competition. An optical imaging system (Hitachi ETG-4000) provides a 48-channel measure of hemodynamic activity in the superficial layers of cortex while infants are being presented with controlled stimulation. This system enables us to assess activations in various regions of the infant brain, thereby revealing the neural correlates of behavioral measures such as looking time. We are particularly interested in how these optical signals change over time as a way of understanding aspects of habituation and statistical learning.

Selected Publications

2014 Publications

2013 Publications

2012 Publications

2011 Publications


Research Collaborators

Daphne Bavelier, Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
Andrew Berger, Associate Professor, Institute of Optics, University of Rochester
József Fiser, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Brandeis University
Robert A. Jacobs, Professor, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
David Knill, Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
Elissa L. Newport, George Eastman Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
Michael Tanenhaus, Professor, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester

Research Support

"Statistical approaches to linguistic pattern learning", NIH Grant (HD-37082), co-PI Elissa Newport, 2009-2014.
"Program grant to develop Near-infrared Spectroscopy in combination with ERPs and fMRI to assess cognitive development in human infants and young children," McDonnell Foundation (220020096), 2007-2011.
"Complex learning and skill transfer with video games", ONR-MURI grant, PI Daphne Bavelier, 2007-2012.
"Time course of spoken word recognition," NIH grant (DC-05071), PI Michael K. Tanenhaus, 2007-2012.
"Enhanced near-infrared monitoring of brain function in infants ", NSF grant, PI Andrew Berger, 2010-2012.
"Statistical learning of multiple patterns in infants, adults, and monkeys", NIH grant, PI Daniel Weiss, 2011-2015.



BCS 172: Development of Mind and Brain, syllabus

BCS 205: Lab in Development


BCS 561: Speech Perception and Recognition, syllabus

BCS 562: Statistical Learning

BCS 565: Language and the Brain

BCS 599: Professional Development and Career Planning

Current Graduate Students & Postdocs

Katie Bankieris, Grad student, B.S. 2010, Emory University, M.A. 2011 University of Edinbrough, sensory integration and synesthesia

Steve Piantadosi, Postdoc, Ph.D. 2011, MIT, compositional basis of cognitive development, models of language learning

Lauren Emberson, Postdoc, Ph.D. 2011, Cornell University, effects of experience on sensory and perceptual processing, NIRS and MRI in infants

Vik Rao, Postdoc, Ph.D. 2009, University of Rochester, computational models of cue-combination and probabilistic learning

Sarah Starling, Grad student, M.A. 2010, University of Rochester, probability learning in infants, neural correlates of stastistical learning, brain plasticity in hemispherectomy patients

Celeste Kidd, Grad student, B.A. 2007, University of Southern California, speech perception and lexical development in infants, computational models of language processing

Jennifer Merickel, Grad student, B.A. 2008, University of Iowa, lexical and semantic constraints on word learning, speech perception, neural correlates of lexical learning and reorganization

Cory Bonn, Graduate student, MFA 2010, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, language learning, music cognition, species differences in speech and music processing

Ting Qian, Graduate student, B.A. 2009, University of Rochester, computational models of language structure, processing, and learning


Neil Bardhan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Meghan Clayards, Assistant Professor, Departments of Linguistics and Communication Sciences, McGill University

Jeff Coady, Associate Professor, Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences, University of Colorado-Boulder

Sarah Creel, Assistant Professor, Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego

Andrea Rommel, Senior Research Administrator, RIT

Scott P. Johnson, Professor, Developmental Psychology, UCLA

Jim Magnuson, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut

Jessica Maye, Adjunct Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University

Bob McMurray, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa

Toby Mintz, Associate Professor, Psychology & Linguistics, University of Southern California

Kate Pirog Revill, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Psychology, Georgia Tech University

Vik Rao, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Rochester

Jenny Saffran, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mohinish Shukla

Daniel Swingley, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

Daniel Weiss, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology & Linguistics, Pennsylvania State University

Katherine White, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo

Former Lab Managers

Suzanne Horwitz, Graduate student, Department of Psychology, Yale University

Koleen McCrink, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Barnard College

Julie Markant, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, Linguistics, and Cognitive Science, Brown University

Alyssa Thatcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester

Rachel White, Graduate student, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota