Highlighting Faculty Member Scott Johnson
Date published: 2/4/2015
The principal focus of our research is perceptual and cognitive development. Infants are born with no visual experience, and are suddenly confronted with a barrage of new sights and sounds. How do they begin to make sense of this new sensory input? We explore this question, and many others, with studies that investigate visual and auditory perception and learning processes in infants, children, and adults.
Our research focuses on the origins of knowledge in humans. The past several decades have witnessed a blossoming in research on perceptual and cognitive development in infancy, and a view has emerged that infants take in far more information, and are more aware of their surroundings, than we often give them credit for. Despite these advances, fundamental questions remain concerning how this state of knowledge comes to be. Because our lab's focus is on origins, we are less interested in participating in traditional "nature-nurture" debates (though we do it anyway) than in understanding and elucidating precise developmental mechanisms, no matter what they might be: endogenous prenatal or postnatal organization, the role of experience in shaping responses to recurring patterns, contributions of perceptual (i.e., low-level) skills to cognitive (i.e., high-level) functions, and so on. The question of origins of knowledge, then, lies at the intersection of developmental psychology, vision science, cognitive science, and developmental neurobiology.
Evidence from our lab strongly suggests that much of the development of infant cognition can be explained with some simple learning mechanisms (e.g., associative learning), a time to observe the world, the ability to direct attention via eye movements, and the rapid pace of brain development known to occur from the initial formation of neurons (early in pregnancy) extending through the second year after birth. Current research in the lab includes studies of social attention, statistical learning, and visual attention.
I have moved many times and I am not really sure where to call "home," having lived in large cites (Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New York) and small towns (e.g., Galgate UK, Northfield MN, Alfred NY, Ithaca NY). I received my BS and PhD degrees at Arizona State University, and did a postdoctoral fellowship in the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester. I have worked at UCLA since 2007, and I love LA!