Gary Lupyan

Assistant Professor, Psychology, University of Wisconsin Madison

Metaknowledge Interests

My primary interests as a meta-knowledge network member are twofold. First, I am interested in understanding why certain types of explanations are epistemologically satisfying for some people, but not others. For example, why are explanations of complex structures such as stress emergence and self-organization satisfying to some individuals, while others are drawn to explanations with clearly identified parts and causes? This question is important both for knowing why certain scientific ideas gain traction among scientists and the general public, but also because insofar as the purpose of science is not just prediction but “understanding,” we need a better model of the epistemological appeal of various types of theories for different individuals. Second, I am interested in understanding how different population dynamics influence the spread of ideas (“cultural variants”). In prior work, we have argued that the structure of human languages appears to adapt to the socio demographic environment in which the language is learned and used (e.g., languages spoken by more people tend to be grammatically simpler). This has led to a more general interest in the role of population structure (e.g., large, small) and connectivity (e.g., dense, sparse) as a selective pressure on the form that cultural variants take and the consequences for their spread.


Language is one of the defining traits of our species. It, of course, allows for the accumulation and communication of knowledge. But in addition to its uses in communication, the acquisition and use of language appears to augment the human brain in important ways. The aim of my primary line of research is to investigate and delineate these extra-communicative functions of language:

How is our ability to place objects into categories altered by language? Does language literally change what we see? How does naming an object affect visual representations? How does using language change our memories? Do people who speak different languages see and remember things differently? Are there ideas that are unthinkable without language?

In addition, I have investigated the relationship between grammatical structure and social structure (Lupyan & Dale, 2010) and have a continued interest in the ways that the communicative (and cognitive) needs of a population shape the grammatical structure of languages.

I also have a broad interest in the dynamics of neural coding and the way in which perceptual and conceptual representations are dynamically shaped by an individual’s goals, expectations, and task context.

I have employed a wide range of experimental paradigms and tools to address the questions that interest me. These have included behavioral experiments, neural network modeling, large-scale corpus analysis, eye-tracking, neuroimaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

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