Catherine Caldwell-Harris

Associate Professor

  • Title Associate Professor
  • Office (617) 353-2956
  • Phone (617) 353-2956

I was trained at UC San Diego, 1985-1991, where I studied under the guidance of Elizabeth Bates, Jeffrey Elman, David Rumelhart, Rama Ramachandran, Ronald Langacker, Patricia Churchland and (via CMU) Brian MacWhinney and Jay McClelland (and of course many other wonderful teachers and scholars). I have been a faculty member at BU since 1991.

My research interests are broad, encompassing diverse aspects of language processing, including second language acquisition, emotional aspects of language, and word recognition. I am the first researcher to document that emotion words elicit larger skin conductance responses in a first language than in a second (see paper in Applied Psycholinguistics pdf). I am currently studying emotional reactivity in the U.S. for speakers who grew up speaking Russian, Mandarin, or Spanish, as well as English native speakers who learned Russian as a foreign language (see powerpoint presentation for overview of this research and 2009 journal article on lying in native vs. foreign language). See also a recent powerpoint which discusses the role of motivation in second language acquisition. I am also interested in how units larger than single words are important for fluency and efficiency in all types of language processing (see paper).

In word recognition, I have expertise in an intriguing visual/cognition illusion called repetition blindness. I have shown how illusory words can be created by embedding word fragments in the visual stream, as in “pain grain avy” (leads to report of “gravy” (see, for example, my paper with Alison Morris, in pdf). I have used repetition blindness and the same/difference task to investigate how diacritic letters are represented in Turkish. With German colleagues Martin Heil and Michael Niedeggen I have used this technique to explore consciousness (see our paper in Neuroreport). We conclude that what viewers perceive is more important for subsequent brain states and processing than what is actually in the visual input. A new model of repetition blindness and orthographic priming appeared in 2009 in the journal Cognitive Psychology.

In my cross-cultural research, I am the originator (with Ayse Aycicegi) of the Personality-Culture Clash hypothesis. We propose that mental health is facilitated by having a personality in tune with cultural values.

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