October 14, 2008

Interesting Research @ UConn

I'm catching up on some old issues of the UConn Advance, the newspaper of news and events at the University of Connecticut, and I noticed some interesting cognitive-related research going on -- in different departments, as you might expect.

Closest to me as the library adviser to the department of communication sciences, is the Sept. 29 article on assistant professor Melissa Tafoya, highlighting her research in "the dark side of human behavior," or as she elaborates: "the real-life stuff - infidelity, jealousy, aggression, and conflict." The Advance article describes her work in several areas, including assessment of the long-term relationships between step-siblings, and the physiological effects of communication. The Advance says:
In one study, she examined how people’s stress levels were reduced by expressing affection through writing a letter.

The participants’ cortisol levels, heart rates, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels were measured. “We found that participants’ stress levels were significantly reduced when they wrote a letter of affection to somebody they cared about,” she says.

I was also interested to read the October 6 article on the creation of a database to compare international sign languages. Linguists Harry van der Hulst and Rachel Channon are developing a database called SignTyp -- which will eventually be available on the Web for all to peruse -- that contains information on nearly 12,000 signs from six different sign languages. Van der Hulst is a phonologist who says “When I started studying sign languages, it changed my perspective on what human languages are. Sign languages are extra interesting in the domain of phonology, because the medium is not sound but visual display.” He adds that since linguistics has traditionally focused on sound, the field has to redefine what it means by phonology to allow for the fact that sign language doesn't have consonants and vowels.

Check out the Advance article for images of Van der Hulst demonstrating the sign for "recognize" in ASL; presumably a taste of what's to come in the SignTyp database.

For More Information
  • Citations to Professor Tafoya's publications are available on her CV.
  • UConn Linguistics Department SignTyp site.

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