Jennie Pyers, a developmental psychologist at Wellesley College, studies how language shapes the way humans think. She has worked with deaf learners of an emerging sign language in Nicaragua to examine the long-term cognitive effects of limited language experience. She has published articles on how language affects the development of mental perspective taking, on how knowledge of a sign language affects cognition, and on how bilingual people fluent in both a signed and a spoken language organize the two.
As a Radcliffe fellow, Pyers will continue her investigation of the relationship between language and thought by examining how sign language acquisition is shaped by cognition. Her project will focus on what aspects of cognition must be in place for deaf children to acquire the complex syntactic structures used in American Sign Language (ASL) to talk about spatial relations. She will conduct her research with deaf children in the United States who are learning ASL as their first language.
Pyers earned an AB in art history from Smith College and a PhD in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley. She was a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands in 2001–2002 and a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research in Language at the University of California at San Diego in 2004–2006. Her previous research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health.