I graduated from Princeton with an A.B. in Psychology in 1998. I spent four years at MIT working with Ted Gibson on prosody and complexity and picked up my Ph.D in 2002. I wanted to find some place colder to work than Massachussetts, so I did a postdoc with Mike Tanenhaus at the University of Rochester. In 2005, I moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2016, I joined the Department of Psychology and Human Development in the Peabody School at Vanderbilt University.
I work primarily on the cognitive processes that underlie interactions between speakers and listeners. Language is typically studied in terms of the words and sentences we choose; however, there are other aspects of language that are at least as important. These fall into the category of not what we say but how we say it. This aspect of language is called prosody. It includes the stress, pitch, rhythm, and intonation of language. Although communication is possible when prosody is absent, as in email or in texts, communication is more challenging. A brief response in an email might be interpreted as curtness rather than the result of the author being in a hurry. An ironic response in a text message might sound like biting sarcasm without the accompanying prosodic information.
Despite its importance, we know very little about the structure of prosody, the cognitive processes that are deployed in constructing it, or how it is interpreted. Understanding prosody is critical for building speech systems, designing interventions for individuals with communication disorders, and in developing pedagogical strategies for people learning English as a second language. A psychological theory of prosody could also answer a very basic question about communication: What makes certain ways of speaking more effective than others for listeners?