CBU Language Lab Gives New Voice to Communication Research

Dr. Peter MacIntyre and Dr. Erin Robertson (Courtesy CBU)

Dr. Peter MacIntyre and Dr. Erin Robertson (Courtesy CBU)

There’s more to most communication than an exchange of words.

Dr. Peter MacIntyre and Dr. Erin Robertson of Cape Breton University know better than most as they examine the complex social interactions between people in a new Psychology of Language Lab supported by the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust (NSRIT) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The two researchers study psycholinguistics and spearhead the psychology department’s research in the area of language processing and communication.

“We have created a world-class lab to study fundamental communication processes in both native and second languages in real time,” says Dr. MacIntyre . “We are conducting research that has previously not been done in this time scale before and it is leading to new insights into communication.”

Dr. MacIntyre’s work explores the connection between cognition and emotion and how it impacts an individual’s ability to communicate. He says context is a key aspect of interpersonal communication. The interaction between the internal psychology of the person and what is happening around them can instantaneously switch someone’s emotional state from a positive to negative one, with substantial effects on the quality of language processing and communication.

The new lab has allowed his research to move from a classroom into the lab where high quality audio-visual recordings can be produced. Recording and measuring communication in a per-second time scale provides more accurate data and allows participants to rate their emotions in real time rather than recalled from memory.

Dr. Robertson’s work is focused on comprehension. As ability to quickly and accurately understand spoken sentences is fundamental in school, work, and life, her research with children and adults tries to understand the factors which impede successful sentence comprehension.

Dr. Robertson and her students completed some child studies in elementary schools, and since the establishment of the new space they have invited many parents and their children to participate in a new study inside the lab. A special device called an ‘eye tracker’ records children’s eye movements as they look at pictures and listen to sentences. This tells us how well and how fast children understand each word as it unfolds over time.

Three student research assistants have worked at the lab since it opened in the summer and Dr. Robertson says she looks forward to providing more training opportunities into the future.

Related Entries