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Dr Sarah Gerson

Dr Sarah Gerson

Senior Lecturer

School of Psychology

Email:
gersons@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 0480
Location:
Tower Building, 70 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT
Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision

My research focuses on how infants and young children come to understand and engage in the social world in which they live.

During my graduate career, I conducted research exploring the active role infants play in creating experiences that help them understand the world around them. Specifically, I examined the role active experience, observational experience, and comparison processes play in recognizing goals at the origins of action understanding. More recently, I have built upon this foundation to examine how young children engage in cooperative actions with others. I use a variety of measures to address these topics, including looking times, eyetracking, imitation and other overt behavioral measures, electroencephalography (EEG), and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

Undergraduate education

  • Illinois State University, summa cum laude.

Postgraduate education

  • University of Maryland, College Park.

Honours and awards

  • 2017 - Welsh Crucible
  • 2012 - University of Maryland Distinguished Dissertation Award
  • 2011 - Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship
  • 2011 - International Conference Student Support Award
  • 2010 - Rovereto Workshop on Cognition and Evolution Travel Grant
  • 2009 - Janet W. Johnson Student Grant for Travel and Professional Development
  • 2009 - Society for Research on Child Development Student Travel Award
  • 2008 - Janet W. Johnson Summer Fellowship for the Study of Developmental Psychology
  • 2008 - Goldhaber Travel Grant
  • 2008 - Graduate Student Award to the International Conference on Infant Studies
  • 2006-08 - Psychology Department Block Fellowship
  • 2002-06 - Presidential Scholarship at Illinois State University
  • 2005 - Robert G. Bone Scholarship
  • 2002-06 - Presidential Scholarship at Illinois State University.

Professional memberships

  • Society for Research in Child Development
  • International Congress on Infant Studies
  • Cognitive Development Society

Academic positions

  • 2015-2016 - Lecturer, University of St Andrews, School of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • 2011-2014 - Postdoctoral Researcher, Radboud University Nijmegen.

Speaking engagements

Selected invited talks:

Gerson, S.A. (October, 2017). Experience and comparison shape action representations in early development. Invited talk at Event Representation in Brain, Language, and Development Workshop. Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Gerson, S.A. (August, 2017). Structure Mapping Facilitates Learning to Learn Across Development. Invited talk at Analogy Conference. Paris, France.

Gerson, S.A. (January, 2017). Studying the mechanisms of action observation as a window into imitation. Invited talk in symposium on Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms of Action Imitation at the Experimental Psychology Society. London, UK.

Gerson, S.A. (May, 2016). Baby’s got moves: How infants’ object-directed movements influence the behavioural and neural correlates of action perception. Invited talk at Pre-Conference workshop on Origins of Body Representations. Chair: Jeff Lockman. New Orleans, LA.

Gerson, S.A. (June, 2015). Comparing actions: Motoric and social influences of action understanding in infants. Invited talk at the Workshop on Practical Reasoning and Motor Representation. Chairs: Stephen Butterfill & Corrado Sinigaglia. Warwick, UK.

Gerson, S.A. (September, 2014). Infants’ actions and interactions shape their intention understanding. Invited talk for Radboud University Nijmegen Lustrum Anniversary. Science Symposium: The Role of Mirror Neurons in Social Interaction. Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Gerson, S. A. (May, 2011). Learning mechanisms at the origins of social cognition. Invited talk at the University of Maryland Graduate Awards and Fellowship Celebration. College Park, MD.

Committees and reviewing

Ongoing                         Editorial Board Member: Infancy

Ongoing                         Editorial Board Member: Scientific Reports- Nature

Ongoing                         Editorial Board Member: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

2019                             Review Panel Member: Cognitive Development Society

Panel: Perception, Action, Attention, & Cognitive Control

2017                             Review Panel Member: International Conference on Infant Studies

Panel: Cognitive Development

2016                             Conference organizing committee for the European Society for                                                       Philosophy and Psychology Annual Meeting (August 2016)

2016                             Review Panel Member: Society for Research in Child Development

Panel 1: Attention, Learning, & Memory

2015                             Review Panel Member: International Conference on Infant Studies

Panel 5: Attention, Memory, & Learning

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2009

I am module coordinator and teach in the second year Developmental Psychology (PS2011) module. I run the Foundations of Psychology (PS0001) module. I also teach academic tutorials and practicals and supervise student projects and personal tutees. I supervise undergraduate interns via the CUROP and SPRint schemes most summers.

I have previously taught or TA’d for Developmental Research Methods, Cognitive Development, Statistics, Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Most of my research is conducted within the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science. Our research group, Tiny to Tots, benefits from relationships with local families who volunteer their time for research and collaborations with Techniquest.

From learning to tie one’s shoes to perfecting the art of tango, observing and understanding others’ actions is critical to human success throughout development. Understanding what other people are doing when they act is foundational to the development of language, cognition, and culture, and it is essential to seamlessly interacting in the social world.

In my research, I recruit diverse methodological techniques and innovative paradigms in order to examine a central question in social-cognitive development: How do infants and young children come to learn about and from others' actions? Although action understanding is essential throughout human development, studying its origins is especially important because it allows us to examine the interplay between inborn abilities and formative experiences.

I began by examining mechanisms underlying the origins of intention understanding (see, for example, Gerson & Woodward, 2013, 2014). That is, I investigated how young infants develop an understanding of the goals underlying others’ actions and, in particular, how their own experience producing actions contributes to this understanding. Building on this work, I have since conducted research addressing how infants come to understand, copy, and predict actions that they have never previously performed themselves (e.g., Gerson & Woodward, 2012, 2013). In this work, I emphasise the role comparison (i.e., analogy) processes play in the generalisation of action understanding. I hypothesise that comparing familiar and novel actions helps infants and children understand the goals of novel actions (Gerson, 2014; Gerson & Woodward, 2009; Woodward & Gerson, 2014). For example, if I had never seen someone using an electric mixer to stir batter, but I had previously stirred batter with a spoon, I could understand the goal of the person using the electric mixer via comparison to my previous experience sitrring with a spoon.

In ongoing research, I am exploring the neural correlates of action understanding using both electroencephalography (EEG; Gerson et al., 2015; Meyer, Gerson, et al., 2017; Monroy, Gerson, et al., 2017; Ni Choisdealbha, Gerson, et al., in preparation) and functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS).

Across my work, I use a variety of behavioural and neuroimaging methods to address one common theme: how infants and young children come to understand and interact with other humans. When we learn to tie our shoes, we learn more than just the mechanics of the action. We also learn about the goal of our sister’s action when she ties her shoes and, via comparison, the goal of our mother when she ties a bow in our sister’s hair. Understanding the goals underlying these basic actions is an important foundation for social, cognitive, and cultural development.

Funding

  • 2019-2022 - ESRC-DTP Collaborative Studentship (± £60,000)

  • 2017-2018 - Welsh Crucible Grant (co-I)
  • 2015 - Royal Society Research Grant (£15,000).

Research collaborators

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly, or submit a formal application.

New PhD beginning October 2019:

https://www.findaphd.com/phds/project/investigating-and-improving-stem-learning-from-computer-coding-to-logic-across-home-lab-and-school/?p104720

Current supervision

Charlotte Findlay

Charlotte Findlay

Research student

Freewin, K

Kelsey Frewin

Research student