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Areas of Specialization / Field Affiliations
- Perceptual cognition (adult and developmental), imagery and language, Human cognitive neuroscience EEGs, ERPs, Cognitive Neuropsychology.
Eligible to supervise at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Area of Research
My research is deeply interdisciplinary as it covers cognitive neuropsychology, developmental science, sociology of education, educational psychology and fields for which there are no categories yet (e.g., the critical approach to cognitive neuroscience). In spite of the evident eclecticism, the scientific questions I am after pertain to fundamental issues in human development from a life-course perspective. More specifically, I have been working on theoretical and empirical aspects of perception, memory and non-verbal symbolic thinking (mental imagery) and how these relate to the interiorization, understanding and production of symbols from the “first-person” perspective of an agent embedded in a specific cultural and social context at particular time in one’s development. The applied spin of my research has been on cognitive and environmental factors that are related to optimal learning and performance in educational settings, with specific focus on life-span trajectories of basic neurocognitive skills.
My research contributions can be subdivided in the following five areas (for each area, a representative publication is indicated):
Mental imagery, its ecological relevance and validity. My imagery research has significance in two fields. The first field is memory for everyday events. That is, how we organize retrieval and recall of events in episodic memory through mental imagery, what is the structure of our “subjective organization” for events we remember or have to remember (i.e., mnemonics during educational and leisure activities). One direction towards which I would like to steer my research is how the organization of episodic memories changes and develops from early childhood on. The second field is emotion-cognition interaction. That is, how the subjective experiences of emotions influence, interact and constrain our cognitive abilities (e.g., attention and memory). As examples of my work in this area see D’Angiulli, A. (2002). Mental image generation and the contrast sensitivity function. Cognition, 85, B11-B19 — and one more general — D’Angiulli, A. (2009). Is the spotlight an obsolete metaphor of ‘seeing with the mind’s eye”? … Imagination, Cognition & Personality, 28, 117-135. Also see Bokkon, I. & D’Angiulli, A. (2009). Emergence and transmission of visual awareness through optical coding in the brain: A redox molecular hypothesis on visual mental imagery. Bioscience Hypotheses, doi:10.1016/j.bihy.2009.01.009
Impact of environmental factors on neurocognitive processes associated with perception and attention. One way to study how emotion and cognition interact is investigating experimentally the effects of environmental challenging events (for example, selectively attending to events occurring in the streets of a rundown dangerous neighborhood) on executive attention and learning (in children and adults) mostly implemented in frontal and medial brain regions. Some of the most interesting work in this area is, I believe, the one I am conducting in collaboration with the UBC Psychobiology group. In addition to contributing in the theoretical debate, we are at the forefront in linking different behavioural, cognitive measures and physiological measures of stress reactivity at the levels of cortex (via Event-Related Potentials recording) at the level of sympathetic system (via Heart Variability and Cardiac Impedance measures) and at the level of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system (via essay of salivary cortisol). As an example of my work in this area, please see: D’Angiulli et al. (2008). Children’s event-related potentials of auditory selective attention vary with their socioeconomic status. Neuropsychology, 22, 293-300.
Perceptual symbols in blind and sighted individuals. Most recently, I have complemented my research in imagery with the study of how we explicitly represent perceptual knowledge. This has led me to focus on production of raised-line (haptic) drawings in congenitally totally blind children, because the set of problem solving abilities involved in the production of graphics in total absence of vision makes possible to address many traditional problems in philosophy and psychology of cognition and perception, such as the nature of the connection between symbolic knowledge, sensory-perceptual experience and language acquisition. In addition, understanding the relationship between pictorial and verbal processing in individuals who are blind offers the opportunity to design curriculum, intervention or educational tools based on the use of tactile graphics to boost language acquisition in individuals with visual impairments. The best example of my impact in this field is a paper that has been published in the journal of the APA Division 10 (D’Angiulli et al. (2008). Structural equivalences are essential, learned conventions are not: evidence from haptic drawing development in children born totally blind: Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, Feb 2(1), 20-33.)
Behavioural correlates of cross-modal plasticity in visual deprivation and visual impairment. Another area where I have made significant contribution is the study of the behavioral and cognitive correlates of cross-modal processes in people that have suffered early blindness. I have published in 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2002 on this topic, and I have submitted a number of papers on tactile pattern recognition, drawing and haptic skills in children (with my MA student Rebecca Holtby). I have been among the first researchers to show, behaviourally, that one of the effects of congenital blindness is to sharpen tactual sensitivity as shown by the fact that congenitally blind children outperform sighted children in certain tactile recognition tasks (i.e., tactual pattern recognition, raised-line picture identification). This research has originated in me more interest towards the effects of deprivation and environmental conditions in sculpting the wiring of our brains. A tangible sign of the impact of my research is in the fact that I have been invited to present at the 29thInternational Congress of Psychology in Berlin, in July 2008. Please see the representative paper: D’Angiulli A. & Maggi S. (2004). The depiction of car light beams in a child born completely blind. Perception, 33, 419-428.
Determinants of optimal development of basic cognitive skills supporting literacy. This area is related to work linked to my past Canada Research Chair tenure, work that I am expanding and enhancing at Carleton. Examples of my contribution to this area are portrayed in papers in major peer reviewed journals. Some of these manuscripts are the result of ongoing collaboration with Linda Siegel and Clyde Hertzman on the role of socioeconomic status on the reading and mathematics achievement of children attending schools in the Greater Vancouver area. My contributions have significant implications for optimal development in Canadian children either through understanding of critical predictors of developmental outcomes or through actual experimental universal programs (i.e., Early Development Instrument; North Vancouver’s Reading 44). In addition, these projects involve the creation of methodological connections between statistical models used in epidemiology, in the social sciences and geographical mapping techniques. As an example of my work in this area please see: D’Angiulli, A., Warburton, Dahinten, S., & Hertzman, C. (2009). Population-level associations between preschool vulnerability and grade-four basic skills.PLoS ONE, 4(11), e7692. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007692.