Chris Conway

Ph.D., Cornell University, 2005
Assistant Professor
Member, Cognitive Sciences Program
Member, Developmental Program
730 Urban Life

**Dr. Conway is currently accepting new graduate students for Fall 2013 and is also looking for new undergraduate research assistants to join his lab. Please email him for more information.

I aim to understand the underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms of fundamental learning abilities, especially as they pertain to typical and atypical language development. My guiding hypothesis is that key aspects of language development and processing are mediated largely by powerful, domain-general "statistical" learning mechanisms that allow humans and other organisms to encode the underlying environmental regularities that define the world.  Consequently, what appear to be domain- or language-specific disorders may in fact be caused or exacerbated by disturbances to these more general mechanisms. Using a combination of cognitive/behavioral and cognitive neuroscience (event-related potential, ERP) methods, as well as a variety of different participant populations (adults, typically-developing children, and children with atypical learning or language development), my research currently focuses on three related strands:

First, we aim to uncover the neurocognitive and perceptual mechanisms of sequential and statistical learning in relation to typical language development and processing. Our earlier work examined how learning is affected by the sensory modality used to encode the input (e.g., vision, audition, touch) in addition to the dynamics of multisensory learning. More recently, using both behavioral and brain imaging techniques, our work has shown an empirical connection between statistical learning abilities and typical language processing, suggesting an overlap in the neural and cognitive mechanisms involved in language and domain-general learning abilities.

Second, we are investigating whether certain language and communication disorders may be caused or at least exacerbated by impairments to these general learning mechanisms. I was recently awarded a $1.25 million NIH grant to investigate sequential learning in deaf children who have received a cochlear implant; our previous work has suggested that these abilities directly impact the success of these children for acquiring spoken language. We also have additional research projects underway investigating sequence learning in other atypical language learning situations including autism, dyslexia, and bilingualism.

Finally, we are interested in developing novel computerized training techniques that target domain-general learning abilities in individuals with a language impairment as a way to improve language function. Our initial findings are very promising, showing that a mere 10 days of computerized sequence training can result in improvements to non-trained measures of learning and cognition in children with a language delay.

External Grants

2012-2017    Principal Investigator, Acquiring Language with a Cochlear Implant: The Role of Sequential Learning ($1,250,000 direct). National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, Research Project Grant Program (R01).

2008-2012    Principal Investigator, Implicit Sequence Learning in Deaf Children with Cochlear Implants ($300,000 direct). National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, Small Grant Program (R03).

2009-2011    Principal Investigator, “Accelerating the Science” supplement for Implicit Sequence Learning in Deaf Children with Cochlear Implants ($48,055 direct). National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, Administrative Supplement.

Selected Publications

Heimbauer, L.A., Conway, C.M., Christiansen, M.H., Beran, M.J., & Owren, M.J. (in press). A serial reaction time (SRT) task with symmetrical joystick responding for nonhuman primates. Behavior Research Methods. DOI: 10.3758/s13428-011-0177-6.

Conway, C.M., Gremp, M.A., Walk, A.D., Bauernschmidt, A., & Pisoni, D.B. (in press). Can we enhance domain-general learning abilities to improve language function? Invited chapter to appear in P. Rebuschat & J. Williams (Eds.), Statistical Learning and Language Acquisition. Mouton de Gruyter.

Christiansen, M.H., Conway, C.M., & Onnis, L. (2012). Similar neural correlates for language and sequential learning: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Language and Cognitive Processes, 27, 231-256.

Conway, C.M. (2012). Sequential learning. In R.M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (pp. 3047-3050). New York, NY: Springer Publications.

Shafto, C.L., Conway, C.M., Field, S.L., & Houston, D.M. (2012). Visual sequence learning in infancy: Domain-general and domain-specific associations with language. Infancy, 17, 247-271.

Emberson, L.L., Conway, C.M., & Christiansen, M.H. (2011). Timing is everything: Changes in presentation rate have opposite effects on auditory and visual implicit statistical learning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 1021-1040.

Conway, C.M., Karpicke, J., Anaya, E.M., Henning, S.C., Kronenberger, W.G., & Pisoni, D.B. (2011). Nonverbal cognition in deaf children following cochlear implantation: Motor sequencing disturbances mediate language delays. Developmental Neuropsychology, 36, 237-254.

Conway, C.M., Pisoni, D.B., Anaya, E.M., Karpicke, J., & Henning, S.C. (2011). Implicit sequence learning in deaf children with cochlear implants. Developmental Science, 14, 69-82.

Jost, E., Conway, C.M., Purdy, J.D., & Hendricks, M.A. (2011). Neurophysiological correlates of visual statistical learning in adults and children. In L. Carlson, C. Hoelscher, & T.F. Shipley (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2526-2531). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Walk, A.M. & Conway, C.M. (2011). Multisensory statistical learning: Can cross-modal associations be acquired?  In L. Carlson, C. Hoelscher, & T.F. Shipley (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 3337-3342). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Conway, C.M., Bauernschmidt, A., Huang, S.S., & Pisoni, D.B. (2010). Implicit statistical learning in language processing: Word predictability is the key. Cognition, 114, 356-371.

Conway, C.M., Pisoni, D.B., & Kronenberger, W.G. (2009). The importance of sound for cognitive sequencing abilities: The auditory scaffolding hypothesis. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 275-279.

Conway, C.M. & Christiansen, M.H. (2009). Seeing and hearing in space and time: Effects of modality and presentation rate on implicit statistical learning. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 21, 561-580.

Conway, C.M. & Pisoni, D.B. (2008). Neurocognitive basis of implicit learning of sequential structure and its relation to language processing. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1145, 113-131.

Conway, C.M. & Christiansen, M.H. (2006). Statistical learning within and between modalities: Pitting abstract against stimulus-specific representations. Psychological Science, 17, 905-912.

Conway, C.M., & Christiansen, M.H. (2005).  Modality-constrained statistical learning of tactile, visual, and auditory sequences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 31, 24-39.

Conway, C.M., & Christiansen, M.H. (2001). Sequential learning in non-human primates. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 529-546.