Professor Gert Westermann

Professor, Head of Department

Research Overview

For more information on my research group and our publications see our lab webpage:

My research is in developmental cognitive science: In my group we use a variety of methods (eye tracking, EEG, NIRS, fast mapping, computational modelling) to study mainly infants' cognitive and early language development. In general I am interested in the question how intrinsic and environmental factors combine to shape a developmental trajectory and eventually, the adult system.

Main research areas:

Curiosity-based Learning and Development

Infants are curious learners and explore their environment freely. In my group we study if there is systematicity to this exploration and we aim to understand how infants actively shape their learning environment to optimize their learning. We also use computational models to develop mechanistic explanation of curiosity-based, intrinsically motivated learning.

Object and Word Learning

We explore how infants learn about objects in the world during their first year of life, and how they learn words for these objects (and actions) during the second year of life. Using eye tracking and pupil dilation, we have investigated how infants combine different object properties (e.g., visual appearance and sound) into a coherent whole, how early words enable infants to shape object categories, and how knowing the name of an object affects the mental representation of this object. We have also investigated how temperament, and specifically shyness, affects early word learning.

Neuroconstructivist Development

I am interested in the relationship between brain and cognitive development and have used computational models to explore this link. This work has so far focused on the development and adult processing of verb inflections, demonstrating how experience-dependent brain development can lead to specialized processing structures that internalize the statistical properties of the environment in the ‘hardware’ of the brain.

Selected Publications

Early Word Learning
Westermann, G., Mani, N. 10/11/2017 London : Routledge. 161 p. ISBN: 9781138843523. Electronic ISBN: 9781315730974.

Curiosity-based learning in infants: A neurocomputational approach
Twomey, K.E., Westermann, G. 1/07/2018 In: Developmental Science. 21, 4, 13 p.
Journal article

Learned labels shape pre-speech infants’ object representations
Twomey, K.E., Westermann, G. 31/01/2018 In: Infancy. 23, 1, p. 61-73. 13 p.
Journal article

Labels constructively shape object categories in 10-month-old infants
Althaus, N., Westermann, G. 11/2016 In: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 151, p. 5-17. 13 p.
Journal article

All the Right Noises: Background Variability Helps Early Word Learning
Twomey, K.E., Ma, L., Westermann, G. 1/05/2018 In: Cognitive Science. 42 Suppl 2, Suppl. 2, p. 413-438. 26 p.
Journal article

The effect of shyness on children's formation and retention of novel word–object mappings
Hilton, M., Westermann, G. 11/2017 In: Journal of Child Language. 44, 6, p. 1394-1412. 19 p.
Journal article

Pupillometry in infancy research
Hepach, R., Westermann, G. 06/2016 In: Journal of Cognition and Development. 17, 3, p. 359-377. 19 p.
Journal article

From altered synaptic plasticity to atypical learning: a computational model of Down syndrome
Tovar Y Romo, A.E., Westermann, G., Torres, A. 1/02/2018 In: Cognition. 171, p. 15-24. 10 p.
Journal article

A neuroconstructivist model of past tense development and processing
Westermann, G., Ruh, N. 2012 In: Psychological Review. 119, 3, p. 649-667. 19 p.
Journal article

A student's guide to developmental psychology
Harris, M., Westermann, G. 2014 Hove : Psychology Press. 320 p. ISBN: 9781848720176.

Westermann, G., Mareschal, D., Johnson, M.H., Sirois, S., Spratling, M.W., Thomas, M.S.C. 01/2007 In: Developmental Science. 10, 1, p. 75-83. 9 p.
Journal article

The shape of words in the brain
Kovic, V., Plunkett, K., Westermann, G. 01/2010 In: Cognition. 114, 1, p. 19-28. 10 p.
Journal article

Light Up Lancaster

Infants’ curiosity-based Exploration tested in the context of a novel theoretical framework
Oral presentation

“Stick to what you’ve learned and go from there”: How infants’ curiosity-based exploration is guided by first experiences and learning progress
Oral presentation

“Let me see that!”: Self-directed Exploration in Infants & Adults tested in the context of a new theoretical framework
Oral presentation

Capturing curiosity from the cradle: the early development of curiosity and active learning
Participation in conference -Mixed Audience

Let me see that: Self-directed Exploration in Infants tested in the context of a new theoretical framework
Oral presentation

Active social learning in infancy: Epistemic information seeking and transmission.
Oral presentation

“I don’t know but I know who to ask”: 12-month-olds actively seek information from knowledgeable adults.
Oral presentation

“I don’t know but I know who to ask”: 12-month-olds actively seek information from knowledgeable adults
Oral presentation

From curiosity, to wonder, to creativity: a cognitive developmental psychology perspective
Oral presentation

Curiosity in social learning: 12-month olds selectively seek information from more knowledgeable informants
Oral presentation

Information transmission in two-year-old children: preference for less complex but not pedagogically demonstrated actions
Oral presentation

Cognitive Development (Journal)
Editorial activity

British Journal of Developmental Psychology (Journal)
Editorial activity

  • Developmental Research Group
  • Lancaster Intelligent, Robotic and Autonomous Systems Centre
  • Language and Cognition
  • LIRA - Society and Human Behaviour