How do we learn to communicate using language? I study children's language learning and how it interacts with their developing understanding of the social world. I use behavioral experiments, computational tools, and novel measurement methods like large-scale web-based studies, eye-tracking, and head-mounted cameras.

Academic Appointments

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Advisory Board, MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (2014 - Present)
  • Governing board member, Cognitive Science Society (2015 - Present)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

How do we learn to communicate using language? I study children's language learning and how it interacts with their developing understanding of the social world. I use behavioral experiments, computational tools, and novel measurement methods like large-scale web-based studies, eye-tracking, and head-mounted cameras.

2018-19 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • Data availability, reusability, and analytic reproducibility: evaluating the impact of a mandatory open data policy at the journal Cognition ROYAL SOCIETY OPEN SCIENCE Hardwicke, T. E., Mathur, M. B., MacDonald, K., Nilsonne, G., Banks, G. C., Kidwell, M. C., Mohr, A., Clayton, E., Yoon, E. J., Tessler, M., Lenne, R. L., Altman, S., Long, B., Frank, M. C. 2018; 5 (8)
  • Wordbank: an open repository for developmental vocabulary data JOURNAL OF CHILD LANGUAGE Frank, M. C., Braginsky, M., Yurovsky, D., Marchman, V. A. 2017; 44 (3): 677-694


    The MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories (CDIs) are a widely used family of parent-report instruments for easy and inexpensive data-gathering about early language acquisition. CDI data have been used to explore a variety of theoretically important topics, but, with few exceptions, researchers have had to rely on data collected in their own lab. In this paper, we remedy this issue by presenting Wordbank, a structured database of CDI data combined with a browsable web interface. Wordbank archives CDI data across languages and labs, providing a resource for researchers interested in early language, as well as a platform for novel analyses. The site allows interactive exploration of patterns of vocabulary growth at the level of both individual children and particular words. We also introduce wordbankr, a software package for connecting to the database directly. Together, these tools extend the abilities of students and researchers to explore quantitative trends in vocabulary development.

    View details for DOI 10.1017/S0305000916000209

    View details for Web of Science ID 000399955900008

  • Pragmatic Language Interpretation as Probabilistic Inference. Trends in cognitive sciences Goodman, N. D., Frank, M. C. 2016; 20 (11): 818-829


    Understanding language requires more than the use of fixed conventions and more than decoding combinatorial structure. Instead, comprehenders make exquisitely sensitive inferences about what utterances mean given their knowledge of the speaker, language, and context. Building on developments in game theory and probabilistic modeling, we describe the rational speech act (RSA) framework for pragmatic reasoning. RSA models provide a principled way to formalize inferences about meaning in context; they have been used to make successful quantitative predictions about human behavior in a variety of different tasks and situations, and they explain why complex phenomena, such as hyperbole and vagueness, occur. More generally, they provide a computational framework for integrating linguistic structure, world knowledge, and context in pragmatic language understanding.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.tics.2016.08.005

    View details for PubMedID 27692852

  • Inferring word meanings by assuming that speakers are informative. Cognitive psychology Frank, M. C., Goodman, N. D. 2014; 75: 80-96


    Language comprehension is more than a process of decoding the literal meaning of a speaker's utterance. Instead, by making the assumption that speakers choose their words to be informative in context, listeners routinely make pragmatic inferences that go beyond the linguistic data. If language learners make these same assumptions, they should be able to infer word meanings in otherwise ambiguous situations. We use probabilistic tools to formalize these kinds of informativeness inferences-extending a model of pragmatic language comprehension to the acquisition setting-and present four experiments whose data suggest that preschool children can use informativeness to infer word meanings and that adult judgments track quantitatively with informativeness.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2014.08.002

    View details for PubMedID 25238461

  • Predicting Pragmatic Reasoning in Language Games SCIENCE Frank, M. C., Goodman, N. D. 2012; 336 (6084): 998-998


    One of the most astonishing features of human language is its capacity to convey information efficiently in context. Many theories provide informal accounts of communicative inference, yet there have been few successes in making precise, quantitative predictions about pragmatic reasoning. We examined judgments about simple referential communication games, modeling behavior in these games by assuming that speakers attempt to be informative and that listeners use Bayesian inference to recover speakers' intended referents. Our model provides a close, parameter-free fit to human judgments, suggesting that the use of information-theoretic tools to predict pragmatic reasoning may lead to more effective formal models of communication.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.1218633

    View details for Web of Science ID 000304406800035

    View details for PubMedID 22628647

  • Modeling human performance in statistical word segmentation COGNITION Frank, M. C., Goldwater, S., Griffiths, T. L., Tenenbaum, J. B. 2010; 117 (2): 107-125


    The ability to discover groupings in continuous stimuli on the basis of distributional information is present across species and across perceptual modalities. We investigate the nature of the computations underlying this ability using statistical word segmentation experiments in which we vary the length of sentences, the amount of exposure, and the number of words in the languages being learned. Although the results are intuitive from the perspective of a language learner (longer sentences, less training, and a larger language all make learning more difficult), standard computational proposals fail to capture several of these results. We describe how probabilistic models of segmentation can be modified to take into account some notion of memory or resource limitations in order to provide a closer match to human performance.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.07.005

    View details for Web of Science ID 000283979000001

    View details for PubMedID 20832060

  • childes-db: A flexible and reproducible interface to the child language data exchange system. Behavior research methods Sanchez, A., Meylan, S. C., Braginsky, M., MacDonald, K. E., Yurovsky, D., Frank, M. C. 2019


    The Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES) has played a critical role in research on child language development, particularly in characterizing the early language learning environment. Access to these data can be both complex for novices and difficult to automate for advanced users, however. To address these issues, we introduce childes-db, a database-formatted mirror of CHILDES that improves data accessibility and usability by offering novel interfaces, including browsable web applications and an R application programming interface (API). Along with versioned infrastructure that facilitates reproducibility of past analyses, these interfaces lower barriers to analyzing naturalistic parent-child language, allowing for a wider range of researchers in language and cognitive development to easily leverage CHILDES in their work.

    View details for DOI 10.3758/s13428-018-1176-7

    View details for PubMedID 30623390

  • Still Suspicious: The Suspicious-Coincidence Effect Revisited. Psychological science Lewis, M. L., Frank, M. C. 2018: 956797618794931


    Imagine hearing someone call a particular dalmatian a "dax." The meaning of the novel noun dax is ambiguous between the subordinate meaning (dalmatian) and the basic-level meaning (dog). Yet both children and adults successfully learn noun meanings at the intended level of abstraction from similar evidence. Xu and Tenenbaum (2007a) provided an explanation for this apparent puzzle: Learners assume that examples are sampled from the true underlying category (strong sampling), making cases in which there are more observed exemplars more consistent with a subordinate meaning than cases in which there are fewer exemplars (the suspicious-coincidence effect). Authors of more recent work (Spencer, Perone, Smith, & Samuelson, 2011) have questioned the relevance of this finding, however, arguing that the effect occurs only when the examples are presented to the learner simultaneously. Across a series of 12 experiments ( N = 600), we systematically manipulated several experimental parameters that varied across previous studies, and we successfully replicated the findings of both sets of authors. Taken together, our data suggest that the suspicious-coincidence effect in fact is robust to presentation timing of examples but is sensitive to another factor that varied in the Spencer et al. (2011) experiments, namely, trial order. Our work highlights the influence of pragmatics on behavior in experimental tasks.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797618794931

    View details for PubMedID 30321091

  • With Great Data Comes Great (Theoretical) Opportunity. Trends in cognitive sciences Frank, M. C. 2018


    Is there a 'critical period' for language? Using a viral online grammar test, Hartshorne, Tenenbaum, and Pinker (2018) collected a new massive dataset on the relationship between age and language learning. Their data highlight both the importance - and the challenges - of creating quantitative theories linking 'big data' to cognitive models.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.tics.2018.05.011

    View details for PubMedID 29903691

  • The Role of Design and Training in Artifact Expertise: The Case of the Abacus and Visual Attention COGNITIVE SCIENCE Srinivasan, M., Wagner, K., Frank, M. C., Barner, D. 2018; 42: 757–82


    Previous accounts of how people develop expertise have focused on how deliberate practice transforms the cognitive and perceptual representations and processes that give rise to expertise. However, the likelihood of developing expertise with a particular tool may also depend on the degree to which that tool fits pre-existing perceptual and cognitive abilities. The present studies explored whether the abacus-a descendent of the first human computing devices-may have evolved to exploit general biases in human visual attention, or whether developing expertise with the abacus requires learning special strategies for allocating visual attention to the abacus. To address this question, we administered a series of visual search tasks to abacus experts and subjects who had little to no abacus experience, in which search targets and distractors were overlaid atop abacus "beads." Across three studies, we found that both experts and naïve subjects were faster to detect targets in semantically relevant components of the abacus, suggesting that abacus training is not required to exhibit attentional biases toward these components of the abacus. This finding suggests that the attentional biases that scaffold numerical processing of the abacus may emerge from general properties of visual attention that are exploited by the design of the abacus itself.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cogs.12611

    View details for Web of Science ID 000434272400004

    View details for PubMedID 29687463

  • The Role of Gesture in Supporting Mental Representations: The Case of Mental Abacus Arithmetic COGNITIVE SCIENCE Brooks, N. B., Barner, D., Frank, M., Goldin-Meadow, S. 2018; 42 (2): 554–75


    People frequently gesture when problem-solving, particularly on tasks that require spatial transformation. Gesture often facilitates task performance by interacting with internal mental representations, but how this process works is not well understood. We investigated this question by exploring the case of mental abacus (MA), a technique in which users not only imagine moving beads on an abacus to compute sums, but also produce movements in gestures that accompany the calculations. Because the content of MA is transparent and readily manipulated, the task offers a unique window onto how gestures interface with mental representations. We find that the size and number of MA gestures reflect the length and difficulty of math problems. Also, by selectively interfering with aspects of gesture, we find that participants perform significantly worse on MA under motor interference, but that perceptual feedback is not critical for success on the task. We conclude that premotor processes involved in the planning of gestures are critical to mental representation in MA.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cogs.12527

    View details for Web of Science ID 000427563800006

    View details for PubMedID 28892176

  • Pre-linguistic segmentation of speech into syllable-like units COGNITION Rasanen, O., Doyle, G., Frank, M. C. 2018; 171: 130–50


    Syllables are often considered to be central to infant and adult speech perception. Many theories and behavioral studies on early language acquisition are also based on syllable-level representations of spoken language. There is little clarity, however, on what sort of pre-linguistic "syllable" would actually be accessible to an infant with no phonological or lexical knowledge. Anchored by the notion that syllables are organized around particularly sonorous (audible) speech sounds, the present study investigates the feasibility of speech segmentation into syllable-like chunks without any a priori linguistic knowledge. We first operationalize sonority as a measurable property of the acoustic input, and then use sonority variation across time, or speech rhythm, as the basis for segmentation. The entire process from acoustic input to chunks of syllable-like acoustic segments is implemented as a computational model inspired by the oscillatory entrainment of the brain to speech rhythm. We analyze the output of the segmentation process in three different languages, showing that the sonority fluctuation in speech is highly informative of syllable and word boundaries in all three cases without any language-specific tuning of the model. These findings support the widely held assumption that syllable-like structure is accessible to infants even when they are only beginning to learn the properties of their native language.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2017.11.003

    View details for Web of Science ID 000427208300013

    View details for PubMedID 29156241

  • Early Understanding of Pragmatic Principles in Children's Judgments of Negative Sentences LANGUAGE LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT Nordmeyera, A. E., Frank, M. C. 2018; 14 (4): 262–78
  • The Trouble With Quantifiers: Exploring Children's Deficits in Scalar Implicature. Child development Horowitz, A. C., Schneider, R. M., Frank, M. C. 2017


    Adults routinely use the context of utterances to infer a meaning beyond the literal semantics of their words (e.g., inferring from "She ate some of the cookies" that she ate some, but not all). Contrasting children's (N=209) comprehension of scalar implicatures using quantifiers with contextually derived ad hoc implicatures revealed that 4- to 5-year-olds reliably computed ad hoc, but not scalar, implicatures (Experiment 1). Unexpectedly, performance with "some" and "none" was correlated (Experiments 1 and 2). An individual differences study revealed a correlation between quantifier knowledge and implicature success (Experiment 3); a control study ruled out other factors (Experiment 4). These findings suggest that some failures with scalar implicatures may be rooted in a lack of semantic knowledge rather than general pragmatic or processing demands.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.13014

    View details for PubMedID 29285759

  • Social cues modulate the representations underlying cross situational learning COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY MacDonald, K., Yurovsky, D., Frank, M. C. 2017; 94: 67-84


    Because children hear language in environments that contain many things to talk about, learning the meaning of even the simplest word requires making inferences under uncertainty. A cross-situational statistical learner can aggregate across naming events to form stable word-referent mappings, but this approach neglects an important source of information that can reduce referential uncertainty: social cues from speakers (e.g., eye gaze). In four large-scale experiments with adults, we tested the effects of varying referential uncertainty in cross-situational word learning using social cues. Social cues shifted learners away from tracking multiple hypotheses and towards storing only a single hypothesis (Experiments 1 and 2). In addition, learners were sensitive to graded changes in the strength of a social cue, and when it became less reliable, they were more likely to store multiple hypotheses (Experiment 3). Finally, learners stored fewer word-referent mappings in the presence of a social cue even when given the opportunity to visually inspect the objects for the same amount of time (Experiment 4). Taken together, our data suggest that the representations underlying cross-situational word learning of concrete object labels are quite flexible: In conditions of greater uncertainty, learners store a broader range of information.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2017.02.003

    View details for Web of Science ID 000400232400004

    View details for PubMedID 28288392

  • Semantic Coherence Facilitates Distributional Learning COGNITIVE SCIENCE Ouyang, L., Boroditsky, L., Frank, M. C. 2017; 41: 855-884

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cogs.12360

    View details for Web of Science ID 000400359400008

  • Beyond naive cue combination: salience and social cues in early word learning DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE Yurovsky, D., Frank, M. C. 2017; 20 (2)


    Children learn their earliest words through social interaction, but it is unknown how much they rely on social information. Some theories argue that word learning is fundamentally social from its outset, with even the youngest infants understanding intentions and using them to infer a social partner's target of reference. In contrast, other theories argue that early word learning is largely a perceptual process in which young children map words onto salient objects. One way of unifying these accounts is to model word learning as weighted cue combination, in which children attend to many potential cues to reference, but only gradually learn the correct weight to assign each cue. We tested four predictions of this kind of naïve cue combination account, using an eye-tracking paradigm that combines social word teaching and two-alternative forced-choice testing. None of the predictions were supported. We thus propose an alternative unifying account: children are sensitive to social information early, but their ability to gather and deploy this information is constrained by domain-general cognitive processes. Developmental changes in children's use of social cues emerge not from learning the predictive power of social cues, but from the gradual development of attention, memory, and speed of information processing.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/desc.12349

    View details for Web of Science ID 000395066500001

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4870162

  • The development of children's ability to track and predict turn structure in conversation JOURNAL OF MEMORY AND LANGUAGE Casillas, M., Frank, M. C. 2017; 92: 234-253
  • Adaptive Engagement of Cognitive Control in Context-Dependent Decision Making CEREBRAL CORTEX Waskom, M. L., Frank, M. C., Wagner, A. D. 2017; 27 (2): 1270-1284
  • The Emergence of an Abstract Grammatical Category in Children's Early Speech PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Meylan, S. C., Frank, M. C., Roy, B. C., Levy, R. 2017; 28 (2): 181-192


    How do children begin to use language to say things they have never heard before? The origins of linguistic productivity have been a subject of heated debate: Whereas generativist accounts posit that children's early language reflects the presence of syntactic abstractions, constructivist approaches instead emphasize gradual generalization derived from frequently heard forms. In the present research, we developed a Bayesian statistical model that measures the degree of abstraction implicit in children's early use of the determiners "a" and "the." Our work revealed that many previously used corpora are too small to allow researchers to judge between these theoretical positions. However, several data sets, including the Speechome corpus-a new ultra-dense data set for one child-showed evidence of low initial levels of productivity and higher levels later in development. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that children lack rich grammatical knowledge at the outset of language learning but rapidly begin to generalize on the basis of structural regularities in their input.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797616677753

    View details for Web of Science ID 000396813300003

    View details for PubMedID 28074675

  • Preschoolers Flexibly Adapt to Linguistic Input in a Noisy Channel PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Yurovsky, D., Case, S., Frank, M. C. 2017; 28 (1): 132-140


    Because linguistic communication is inherently noisy and uncertain, adult language comprehenders integrate bottom-up cues from speech perception with top-down expectations about what speakers are likely to say. Further, in line with the predictions of ideal-observer models, past results have shown that adult comprehenders flexibly adapt how much they rely on these two kinds of cues in proportion to their changing reliability. Do children also show evidence of flexible, expectation-based language comprehension? We presented preschoolers with ambiguous utterances that could be interpreted in two different ways, depending on whether the children privileged perceptual input or top-down expectations. Across three experiments, we manipulated the reliability of both their perceptual input and their expectations about the speaker's intended meaning. As predicted by noisy-channel models of speech processing, results showed that 4- and 5-year-old-but perhaps not younger-children flexibly adjusted their interpretations as cues changed in reliability.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797616668557

    View details for Web of Science ID 000396797900010

    View details for PubMedID 28078978

  • Avoiding frostbite: It helps to learn from others BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES Tessler, M., Goodman, N. D., Frank, M. C. 2017; 40: e279


    Machines that learn and think like people must be able to learn from others. Social learning speeds up the learning process and - in combination with language - is a gateway to abstract and unobservable information. Social learning also facilitates the accumulation of knowledge across generations, helping people and artificial intelligences learn things that no individual could learn in a lifetime.

    View details for DOI 10.1017/S0140525X17000280

    View details for Web of Science ID 000423000000083

    View details for PubMedID 29342698

  • Embedded Implicatures as Pragmatic Inferences under Compositional Lexical Uncertainty JOURNAL OF SEMANTICS Potts, C., Lassiter, D., Levy, R., Frank, M. C. 2016; 33 (4): 755-802

    View details for DOI 10.1093/jos/ffv012

    View details for Web of Science ID 000393183900004

  • Understanding the effect of social context on learning: A replication of Xu and Tenenbaum (2007b). Journal of experimental psychology. General Lewis, M. L., Frank, M. C. 2016; 145 (9): e72-80


    Does the source of a piece of data-the process by which it is sampled-influence the inferences that we draw from it? Xu and Tenenbaum (2007b) reported a large effect of sampling process on learning: When a category exemplar was presented by a knowledgeable teacher, learners generalized more narrowly than when it was presented from an unknowledgeable source. In 5 experiments, 4 online and 1 in-person, we attempted to replicate this result. Aggregating across our studies, we replicated the original finding of sensitivity to the sampling process, but with a smaller effect size than the original. We discuss these findings in the context of concerns about replicability more generally, as well as the practical relevance of sampling effects in psychological experiments. (PsycINFO Database Record

    View details for DOI 10.1037/xge0000203

    View details for PubMedID 27560856

  • The length of words reflects their conceptual complexity COGNITION Lewis, M. L., Frank, M. C. 2016; 153: 182-195


    Are the forms of words systematically related to their meaning? The arbitrariness of the sign has long been a foundational part of our understanding of human language. Theories of communication predict a relationship between length and meaning, however: Longer descriptions should be more conceptually complex. Here we show that both the lexicons of human languages and individual speakers encode the relationship between linguistic and conceptual complexity. Experimentally, participants mapped longer words to more complex objects in comprehension and production tasks and across a range of stimuli. Explicit judgments of conceptual complexity were also highly correlated with implicit measures of study time in a memory task, suggesting that complexity is directly related to basic cognitive processes. Observationally, judgments of conceptual complexity for a sample of real words correlate highly with their length across 80 languages, even controlling for frequency, familiarity, imageability, and concreteness. While word lengths are systematically related to usage-both frequency and contextual predictability-our results reveal a systematic relationship with meaning as well. They point to a general regularity in the design of lexicons and suggest that pragmatic pressures may influence the structure of the lexicon.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.04.003

    View details for Web of Science ID 000379558700018

    View details for PubMedID 27232162

  • Learning Mathematics in a Visuospatial Format: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Mental Abacus Instruction CHILD DEVELOPMENT Barner, D., Alvarez, G., Sullivan, J., Brooks, N., Srinivasan, M., Frank, M. C. 2016; 87 (4): 1146-1158


    Mental abacus (MA) is a technique of performing fast, accurate arithmetic using a mental image of an abacus; experts exhibit astonishing calculation abilities. Over 3 years, 204 elementary school students (age range at outset: 5-7 years old) participated in a randomized, controlled trial to test whether MA expertise (a) can be acquired in standard classroom settings, (b) improves students' mathematical abilities (beyond standard math curricula), and (c) is related to changes in basic cognitive capacities like working memory. MA students outperformed controls on arithmetic tasks, suggesting that MA expertise can be achieved by children in standard classrooms. MA training did not alter basic cognitive abilities; instead, differences in spatial working memory at the beginning of the study mediated MA learning.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.12515

    View details for Web of Science ID 000379911900016

    View details for PubMedID 27062391

  • Children's Pragmatic Inferences as a Route for Learning About the World CHILD DEVELOPMENT Horowitz, A. C., Frank, M. C. 2016; 87 (3): 807-819


    This study investigated whether children can infer category properties based on how a speaker describes an individual (e.g., saying something is a "small zib" implies that zibs are generally bigger than this one). Three- to 5-year-olds (N = 264) from a university preschool and a children's museum were tested on their ability to make this sort of contrast inference. Children made some inferences from adjective choice alone (Experiment 1); performance increased as more cues to contrast were added (Experiments 2 and 3). Control studies show that these findings are not due to the particular properties used or the structure of these tasks (Experiments 4 and 5). These findings suggest that sensitivity to speakers' production choices may help children learn about the world.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.12527

    View details for Web of Science ID 000379913500016

    View details for PubMedID 27189407

  • Comment on "Math at home adds up to achievement in school". Science Frank, M. C. 2016; 351 (6278): 1161-?


    Berkowitz et al. (Reports, 9 October 2015, p. 196) described a randomized field experiment testing whether a math app designed to increase parent-child interaction could also bring academic benefits. A reanalysis of the data suggests that this well-designed trial failed to find strong evidence for the efficacy of the intervention. In particular, there was no significant effect of the intervention on math performance.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.aad8008

    View details for PubMedID 26965619

  • Using Tablets to Collect Data From Young Children JOURNAL OF COGNITION AND DEVELOPMENT Frank, M. C., Sugarman, E., Horowitz, A. C., Lewis, M. L., Yurovsky, D. 2016; 17 (1): 1-17
  • An integrative account of constraints on cross-situational learning COGNITION Yurovsky, D., Frank, M. C. 2015; 145: 53-62
  • Predicting the birth of a spoken word PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Roy, B. C., Frank, M. C., DeCamp, P., Miller, M., Roy, D. 2015; 112 (41): 12663-12668

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1419773112

    View details for Web of Science ID 000363130900038

    View details for PubMedID 26392523

  • Quantifying naturalistic social gaze in fragile X syndrome using a novel eye tracking paradigm. American journal of medical genetics. Part B, Neuropsychiatric genetics : the official publication of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics Hall, S. S., Frank, M. C., Pusiol, G. T., Farzin, F., Lightbody, A. A., Reiss, A. L. 2015; 168 (7): 564-572


    A hallmark behavioral feature of fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the propensity for individuals with the syndrome to exhibit significant impairments in social gaze during interactions with others. However, previous studies employing eye tracking methodology to investigate this phenomenon have been limited to presenting static photographs or videos of social interactions rather than employing a real-life social partner. To improve upon previous studies, we used a customized eye tracking configuration to quantify the social gaze of 51 individuals with FXS and 19 controls, aged 14-28 years, while they engaged in a naturalistic face-to-face social interaction with a female experimenter. Importantly, our control group was matched to the FXS group on age, developmental functioning, and degree of autistic symptomatology. Results showed that participants with FXS spent significantly less time looking at the face and had shorter episodes (and longer inter-episodes) of social gaze than controls. Regression analyses indicated that communication ability predicted higher levels of social gaze in individuals with FXS, but not in controls. Conversely, degree of autistic symptoms predicted lower levels of social gaze in controls, but not in individuals with FXS. Taken together, these data indicate that naturalistic social gaze in FXS can be measured objectively using existing eye tracking technology during face-to-face social interactions. Given that impairments in social gaze were specific to FXS, this paradigm could be employed as an objective and ecologically valid outcome measure in ongoing Phase II/Phase III clinical trials of FXS-specific interventions. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/ajmg.b.32331

    View details for PubMedID 26079280

  • A Second Look at Automatic Theory of Mind: Reconsidering Kovács, Téglás, and Endress (2010). Psychological science Phillips, J., Ong, D. C., Surtees, A. D., Xin, Y., Williams, S., Saxe, R., Frank, M. C. 2015; 26 (9): 1353-1367


    In recent work, Kovács, Téglás, and Endress (2010) argued that human adults automatically represented other agents' beliefs even when those beliefs were completely irrelevant to the task being performed. In a series of 13 experiments, we replicated these previous findings but demonstrated that the effects found arose from artifacts in the experimental paradigm. In particular, the critical findings demonstrating automatic belief computation were driven by inconsistencies in the timing of an attention check, and thus do not provide evidence for automatic theory of mind in adults.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797614558717

    View details for PubMedID 26253550

  • Relevant and robust: a response to Marcus and Davis (2013). Psychological science Goodman, N. D., Frank, M. C., Griffiths, T. L., Tenenbaum, J. B., Battaglia, P. W., Hamrick, J. B. 2015; 26 (4): 539-541

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797614559544

    View details for PubMedID 25749699

  • Young children's developing sensitivity to discourse continuity as a cue for inferring reference. Journal of experimental child psychology Horowitz, A. C., Frank, M. C. 2015; 129: 84-97


    Children encounter many opportunities for word learning where a novel word (e.g., "chinchilla") coincides in time with the presence of its referent (e.g., a parent pointing at a fuzzy rodent). These two ingredients are not always paired simultaneously, but they sometimes still occur in succession within a discourse. We investigated children's ability to apply their knowledge of discourse structure to infer the referent of a novel word in the absence of social cues such as pointing and eye gaze. In Experiment 1A, we introduced 2- to 6-year-old children and adults to two novel toys and described each using two sentences. We embedded the introduction of a novel label ("Have you seen a toma before?") between the two sentences about one of the toys, with no cues implying the label's referent other than its position in the discourse. Children older than 3 years and adults were more likely to attribute the label to the toy whose descriptions surrounded the naming event. In Experiment 1B, we tested whether participants made their selections based on temporal associations-choosing the toy that was described closest in time to the naming event-rather than inferences about discourse. Participants heard the novel label introduced after the two descriptions of a toy rather than embedded between them. Both children and adults responded close to chance in this experiment, indicating that temporal proximity alone did not guide their selections. Together, these results suggest that children can use discourse position to make inferences about reference in word learning situations.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.08.003

    View details for PubMedID 25279437

  • Cultural Differences in Perceptual Reorganization in US and Piraha Adults PLOS ONE Yoon, J. M., Witthoft, N., Winawer, J., Frank, M. C., Everett, D. L., Gibson, E. 2014; 9 (11)
  • The role of context in young children's comprehension of negation JOURNAL OF MEMORY AND LANGUAGE Nordmeyer, A. E., Frank, M. C. 2014; 77: 25-39
  • Markers of Topical Discourse in Child-Directed Speech COGNITIVE SCIENCE Rohde, H., Frank, M. C. 2014; 38 (8): 1634-1661

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cogs.12121

    View details for Web of Science ID 000344353500004

  • Visual search and attention to faces during early infancy. Journal of experimental child psychology Frank, M. C., Amso, D., Johnson, S. P. 2014; 118: 13-26


    Newborn babies look preferentially at faces and face-like displays, yet over the course of their first year much changes about both the way infants process visual stimuli and how they allocate their attention to the social world. Despite this initial preference for faces in restricted contexts, the amount that infants look at faces increases considerably during the first year. Is this development related to changes in attentional orienting abilities? We explored this possibility by showing 3-, 6-, and 9-month-olds engaging animated and live-action videos of social stimuli and also measuring their visual search performance with both moving and static search displays. Replicating previous findings, looking at faces increased with age; in addition, the amount of looking at faces was strongly related to the youngest infants' performance in visual search. These results suggest that infants' attentional abilities may be an important factor in facilitating their social attention early in development.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jecp.2013.08.012

    View details for PubMedID 24211654

  • Cultural differences in perceptual reorganization in US and Pirahã adults. PloS one Yoon, J. M., Witthoft, N., Winawer, J., Frank, M. C., Everett, D. L., Gibson, E. 2014; 9 (11)


    Visual illusions and other perceptual phenomena can be used as tools to uncover the otherwise hidden constructive processes that give rise to perception. Although many perceptual processes are assumed to be universal, variable susceptibility to certain illusions and perceptual effects across populations suggests a role for factors that vary culturally. One striking phenomenon is seen with two-tone images-photos reduced to two tones: black and white. Deficient recognition is observed in young children under conditions that trigger automatic recognition in adults. Here we show a similar lack of cue-triggered perceptual reorganization in the Pirahã, a hunter-gatherer tribe with limited exposure to modern visual media, suggesting such recognition is experience- and culture-specific.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0110225

    View details for PubMedID 25411970

  • Throwing out the Bayesian baby with the optimal bathwater: Response to Endress (2013) COGNITION Frank, M. C. 2013; 128 (3): 417-423


    A recent probabilistic model unified findings on sequential generalization ("rule learning") via independently-motivated principles of generalization (Frank & Tenenbaum, 2011). Endress critiques this work, arguing that learners do not prefer more specific hypotheses (a central assumption of the model), that "common-sense psychology" provides an adequate explanation of rule learning, and that Bayesian models imply incorrect optimality claims but can be fit to any pattern of data. Endress's response raises useful points about the importance of mechanistic explanation, but the specific critiques of our work are not supported. More broadly, I argue that Endress undervalues the importance of formal models. Although probabilistic models must meet a high standard to be used as evidence for optimality claims, they nevertheless provide a powerful framework for describing cognition.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.04.010

    View details for Web of Science ID 000322803200013

  • Zipfian frequency distributions facilitate word segmentation in context. Cognition Kurumada, C., Meylan, S. C., Frank, M. C. 2013; 127 (3): 439-453


    Word frequencies in natural language follow a highly skewed Zipfian distribution, but the consequences of this distribution for language acquisition are only beginning to be understood. Typically, learning experiments that are meant to simulate language acquisition use uniform word frequency distributions. We examine the effects of Zipfian distributions using two artificial language paradigms-a standard forced-choice task and a new orthographic segmentation task in which participants click on the boundaries between words in contexts. Our data show that learners can identify word forms robustly across widely varying frequency distributions. In addition, although performance in recognizing individual words is predicted best by their frequency, a Zipfian distribution facilitates word segmentation in context: the presence of high-frequency words creates more chances for learners to apply their knowledge in processing new sentences. We find that computational models that implement "chunking" are more effective than "transition finding" models at reproducing this pattern of performance.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.02.002

    View details for PubMedID 23558340

  • Learning and Long-Term Retention of Large-Scale Artificial Languages PLOS ONE Frank, M. C., Tenenbaum, J. B., Gibson, E. 2013; 8 (1)


    Recovering discrete words from continuous speech is one of the first challenges facing language learners. Infants and adults can make use of the statistical structure of utterances to learn the forms of words from unsegmented input, suggesting that this ability may be useful for bootstrapping language-specific cues to segmentation. It is unknown, however, whether performance shown in small-scale laboratory demonstrations of "statistical learning" can scale up to allow learning of the lexicons of natural languages, which are orders of magnitude larger. Artificial language experiments with adults can be used to test whether the mechanisms of statistical learning are in principle scalable to larger lexicons. We report data from a large-scale learning experiment that demonstrates that adults can learn words from unsegmented input in much larger languages than previously documented and that they retain the words they learn for years. These results suggest that statistical word segmentation could be scalable to the challenges of lexical acquisition in natural language learning.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0052500

    View details for Web of Science ID 000313320900027

    View details for PubMedID 23300975

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3534673

  • An Open, Large-Scale, Collaborative Effort to Estimate the Reproducibility of Psychological Science PERSPECTIVES ON PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Alexander, A., Barnett-Cowan, M., Bartmess, E., Bosco, F. A., Brandt, M., Carp, J., Chandler, J. J., Clay, R., Cleary, H., Cohn, M., Costantini, G., DeCoster, J., Dunn, E., Eggleston, C., Estel, V., Farach, F. J., Feather, J., Fiedler, S., Field, J. G., Foster, J. D., Frank, M., Frazier, R. S., Fuchs, H. M., Galak, J., Galliani, E. M., Garcia, S., Giammanco, E. M., Gilbert, E. A., Giner-Sorolla, R., Goellner, L., Goh, J. X., Goss, R. J., Graham, J., Grange, J. A., Gray, J. R., Gripshover, S., Hartshorne, J., Hayes, T. B., Jahn, G., Johnson, K., Johnston, W., Joy-Gaba, J. A., Lai, C. K., Lakens, D., Lane, K., LeBel, E. P., Lee, M., Lemm, K., Mackinnon, S., May, M., Moore, K., Motyl, M., Mueller, S. M., Munafo, M., Nosek, B. A., Olsson, C., Paunesku, D., Perugini, M., Pitts, M., Ratliff, K., Renkewitz, F., Rutchick, A. M., Sandstrom, G., Saxe, R., Selterman, D., Simpson, W., Smith, C. T., Spies, J. R., Strohminger, N., Talhelm, T., van 't Veer, A., Vianello, M. 2012; 7 (6): 657-660


    Reproducibility is a defining feature of science. However, because of strong incentives for innovation and weak incentives for confirmation, direct replication is rarely practiced or published. The Reproducibility Project is an open, large-scale, collaborative effort to systematically examine the rate and predictors of reproducibility in psychological science. So far, 72 volunteer researchers from 41 institutions have organized to openly and transparently replicate studies published in three prominent psychological journals in 2008. Multiple methods will be used to evaluate the findings, calculate an empirical rate of replication, and investigate factors that predict reproducibility. Whatever the result, a better understanding of reproducibility will ultimately improve confidence in scientific methodology and findings.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/1745691612462588

    View details for Web of Science ID 000310852500020

  • Teaching Replication PERSPECTIVES ON PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Frank, M. C., Saxe, R. 2012; 7 (6): 600-604
  • Learning From Others: The Consequences of Psychological Reasoning for Human Learning PERSPECTIVES ON PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Shafto, P., Goodman, N. D., Frank, M. C. 2012; 7 (4): 341-351
  • Verbal interference suppresses exact numerical representation COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY Frank, M. C., Fedorenko, E., Lai, P., Saxe, R., Gibson, E. 2012; 64 (1-2): 74-92


    Language for number is an important case study of the relationship between language and cognition because the mechanisms of non-verbal numerical cognition are well-understood. When the Pirahã (an Amazonian hunter-gatherer tribe who have no exact number words) are tested in non-verbal numerical tasks, they are able to perform one-to-one matching tasks but make errors in more difficult tasks. Their pattern of errors suggests that they are using analog magnitude estimation, an evolutionarily- and developmentally-conserved mechanism for estimating quantities. Here we show that English-speaking participants rely on the same mechanisms when verbal number representations are unavailable due to verbal interference. Followup experiments demonstrate that the effects of verbal interference are primarily manifest during encoding of quantity information, and-using a new procedure for matching difficulty of interference tasks for individual participants-that the effects are restricted to verbal interference. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that number words are used online to encode, store, and manipulate numerical information. This linguistic strategy complements, rather than altering or replacing, non-verbal representations.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2011.10.004

    View details for Web of Science ID 000300813300003

    View details for PubMedID 22112644

  • Representing Exact Number Visually Using Mental Abacus JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-GENERAL Frank, M. C., Barner, D. 2012; 141 (1): 134-149


    Mental abacus (MA) is a system for performing rapid and precise arithmetic by manipulating a mental representation of an abacus, a physical calculation device. Previous work has speculated that MA is based on visual imagery, suggesting that it might be a method of representing exact number nonlinguistically, but given the limitations on visual working memory, it is unknown how MA structures could be stored. We investigated the structure of the representations underlying MA in a group of children in India. Our results suggest that MA is represented in visual working memory by splitting the abacus into a series of columns, each of which is independently stored as a unit with its own detailed substructure. In addition, we show that the computations of practiced MA users (but not those of control participants) are relatively insensitive to verbal interference, consistent with the hypothesis that MA is a nonlinguistic format for exact numerical computation.

    View details for DOI 10.1037/a0024427

    View details for Web of Science ID 000299584100015

    View details for PubMedID 21767040

  • Measuring the Development of Social Attention Using Free-Viewing INFANCY Frank, M. C., Vul, E., Saxe, R. 2012; 17 (4): 355-375
  • Three ideal observer models for rule learning in simple languages COGNITION Frank, M. C., Tenenbaum, J. B. 2011; 120 (3): 360-371


    Children learning the inflections of their native language show the ability to generalize beyond the perceptual particulars of the examples they are exposed to. The phenomenon of "rule learning"--quick learning of abstract regularities from exposure to a limited set of stimuli--has become an important model system for understanding generalization in infancy. Experiments with adults and children have revealed differences in performance across domains and types of rules. To understand the representational and inferential assumptions necessary to capture this broad set of results, we introduce three ideal observer models for rule learning. Each model builds on the next, allowing us to test the consequences of individual assumptions. Model 1 learns a single rule, Model 2 learns a single rule from noisy input, and Model 3 learns multiple rules from noisy input. These models capture a wide range of experimental results--including several that have been used to argue for domain-specificity or limits on the kinds of generalizations learners can make-suggesting that these ideal observers may be a useful baseline for future work on rule learning.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.10.005

    View details for Web of Science ID 000293312400007

    View details for PubMedID 21130985