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Creating a Language in the Lab

Bruno Galantucci Receives NSF Grant to Research the Design of Human Communication Systems

“When deaf children are not exposed to sign language, they spontaneously develop novel forms of communication,” said Bruno Galantucci, assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva College. “Similarly, adults interacting in the absence of conventional means of communication also have a remarkable talent for developing innovative forms of communication.”

Dr. Galantucci—who has recently been awarded a grant of more than $100,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate the core design of human communication systems—explores this phenomenon in the laboratory by creating conditions in which people must create a new language to convey information to each other.

In Galantucci’s lab, pairs of participants communicate with each other through computers while all normal recourses to language are removed. A digitizing pad constantly transforms what participants write, making the formation of letters or pictures impossible and forcing them to craft a visual communication from its very foundations.  Many pairs fail at the task, indicating that building a language is no trivial task.


In addition to helping understand the origins of existing communications like speech, writing and sign language, these experiments test core design principles of those forms. Galantucci believes this knowledge can be used in a number of ways, from designing more efficient universal communications to developing new technologies and methods to help those with communications disorders.

The grant, the first NSF grant in the social sciences Yeshiva College has ever been awarded, comes with the possibility of similar awards for each of two following years.

“This is a great accomplishment for Dr. Galantucci and recognition of the vibrancy of his research program and, by extension, the research culture established by all of his colleagues in this very young department,” said Gabriel Cwilich, chair of the Department of Psychology.

The funding has already led to the hiring of Gareth Roberts, a post doctoral research associate, who will, according to Galantucci, “provide important contributions to the NSF research and the overall research culture of the psychology department.Galantucci

“To me, this grant means the possibility of doing more and better research, offering even more exciting opportunities to my students.”

His students are equally enthusiastic: “Working with Professor Galantucci has allowed me to learn invaluable skills in the lab and showed me the importance of working closely with faculty while doing research,” said Kelly Gerin, a psychology major at Yeshiva College.