Janet Werker, a developmental psychologist, studies maturational and experiential factors that make it possible for children to begin learning language, particularly during the first two years of life.
She seeks to identify the kinds of perceptual biases that infants bring to speech perception, the role that specific linguistic input plays in modifying perceptual categories, how these changing categories help the child move on to acquire language, and the advances in learning and cognition that contribute to this process. Werker has identified a number of milestones in early infancy that reveal a child’s progress on this journey of discovery. Her work includes studies of infants being raised in different language environments and those in bilingual or multilingual homes. She also looks at infants who are ‘at risk’ for developmental or specific language delays, to see if the milestones that have been documented in early infancy can be used to help identify children in need of intervention. Werker’s experimental studies use both behavioural and neuroimaging tasks to address these questions. With inspiration and assistance from CIFAR, and in collaboration with others in CIFAR, she now also investigates emotional and pharmacological factors that can change the timing of speech-perception development in infancy and reawaken sensitivity in adulthood.
- Member, National Academy of Sciences, since April 2020
- William James Fellow Award, Association for Psychological Science, 2019
- Killam Prize in the Social Sciences, Canada Council for the Arts, 2018
- Officer of the Order of Canada, since 2017
- University Killam Professor, University of British Columbia, since 2016
- Gold Medal Impact Award, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), 2015
- Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2014
- Werker, J.F., & Hensch, T.K. (2015). Critical periods in speech perception: New directions. Annu. Rev. Psych.,66, 173–96.
- Kandhadai, P., Danielson, D., & Werker, J.F. (2014). Culture as a binder for bilingual acquisition. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 3. DOI: 10.1016/j.tine.2014.02.001.
- Gervain, J., & Werker, J.F. (2013). Prosody cues word order in 7-month-old bilingual infants. Nature Commun, 4(1490).
- Weikum, W. M., Oberlander, T.F., Hensch, T.K., Werker, J.F. (2012). Prenatal exposure to antidepressants and depressed maternal mood alter trajectory of infant speech perception. PNAS, 109(2), 17221–17227.
CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec as well as foundations, individuals, corporations, and international partner organizations.