A) Bilingualism studies:
Social cognition, selective trust, and bilingualism (lifespan)
In this series of studies, we seek to examine how language experience may affect preschoolers’ and elderly’s sensitivity to communicative cues, referential intention, and selective trust.
Past research found that bilingual children may be better able to use a speaker’s cues (e.g. point, gaze) to understand referential intent. Our present studies continue to explore how language experience (including bilingual children’s code-switching exposure) may affect children’s representational theory of mind and cognition of other social beings, such as referential intent, selective trust, and social affiliation. We are interested in exploring, firstly, whether children would accept and use, communicative cues (e.g., point, gaze, tone of voice) provided by the accurate/inaccurate speaker in a subsequent task, and how such trust may be disrupted by factors such as context (e.g., types of error, accidental vs. intentional) and social group membership (e.g., in-group or out-group based on race and accent; robot vs. human), and secondly, whether bilingual children show attenuation in their trust of inaccurate speakers who gave inaccurate cues or accentuation in their trust of accurate speakers who gave accurate cues.
Current literature has shown that various social cognitive processes, such as the processing and integration of social cues, and inferring of mental states, declined in late adulthood. A decline in social cognitive processes could have adverse effects on social relationships and well-being in older adulthood. Past research has established that social disconnectedness in older adults is related to their physical health, mental well-being, and cognitive functioning. Our latest set of studies seek to investigate the processes of mentalizing that are affected in aging and the age-related changes in brain functional connectivity using behavioral and imaging techniques.
Bilingualism, technology, and aging
The availability and use of technology in reading, literacy and education have increased in recent years (such as e-books, tablets, smart devices, robots, etc.). We are interested in understanding how technology can affect development as well as how to harness it to best affect development through research and design. One of our project investigates whether enhancing multimedia features in e-books (e.g., voice-reading and pointing-animation) and smart devices are effective in (1) directing bilingual preschoolers’ attention to print in the target language in dual-language books, (2) improving preschoolers’ comprehension and (3) increasing their preferences to read books even in their weaker language. Another project begins to look at how children can best learn from robots, how they attribute trust, and how that can inform better design.
We have also embarked on studies that investigate elderly’s attitudes toward technology and seek to understand how technology-driven language intervention can help to slow down the cognitive decline in the elderly population.
Bilingual effects on executive control in young adults and elderly
These studies investigate the effect of bilingualism on the subdomains of executive control processes including inhibition, shifting and updating. Other researchers have found the benefits associated with bilingualism on inhibition and attentional control in young children. Our present studies examine the performance in various behavioral tasks (i.e. stroop, flanker, task switching) of both young adults and elderly in Singapore. We also explore the relationship between executive control and different aspects of language background such as age-of-acquisition in L2, language proficiency and code-switching to better understand the mechanism of bilingual effects on executive control.
Past studies suggest that bilingualism provides a neural and cognitive reserve that protects against the effects of ageing. Furthermore, many elderly cognitive interventions depend on the involvement of staff and caregivers. Such interventions require substantial time commitment on the part of staff and caregivers and not scalable to large groups of patients. Despite many benefits of bilingualism, including the delay of onset of dementia, there have not been any intervention programs based on dual-language engagement in a scalable form that is elderly-friendly. This project works with engineering colleagues to research, design, and implement a scalable, elderly-friendly, dual-language based cognitive intervention program, and make it available to our community day care partner in the form of a multi-modal touch screen technology.
B) Collaborative studies:
Aging and design
In collaboration with architect colleagues, we have investigated how the design of social infrastructure (e.g., the availability of space for physical exercise, the distance between house and medical facilities) is related to the pattern of elderly’s activities and their psychological well-being (e.g. depression, satisfaction). The continual research efforts will focus on using a cross-disciplinary and multi-method approach that combines traditional census, survey-based research and ethnography with data gathered through mobile phone applications and social media platforms to (re)define segments of Housing Development Board town residents. This data will then be brought together and analyzed in a ‘big data’ analytical framework.
We have also embarked on a large-scale project to study the geo-sociodemographics of our population. We engaged in a cross-disciplinary platform to create a collaborative and inspiring neighborhood where people can experience and achieve important moments in their lives as well as to leverage on the social capital of the community to cultivate intergenerational connections to facilitate ageing-in-communities.
Pervasive sensing-based social network study
In this line of research, we collaborate with computer scientists to study the physical and cyber social network of students and its impact on various social, psychological and academic outcomes, such as friendship, belongingness, individual well-being, etc. Innovative pervasive-sensing technologies based on smartphone platform are used to collect anonymous information regarding interactions among students and patterns of language and phone use.