Dr. Laura Ann Petitto is the Principal Investigator (Gallaudet University/Primary) of the grant entitled, “INSPIRE The RAVE Revolution for Children with Minimal Language Experience During Sensitive Periods of Brain and Language Development,” with Dr. David Traum, Co-PI (Virtual Human Science, University of Southern California). Project Scientist leaders are Dr. Arcangelo Merla (Project Scientist PI, Thermal IR Imaging, ITAB, Università D’Annunzio Chieti-Pescara, Italy & NEXT2U), and Dr. Brian Scassalatti (Project Scientist PI, Robotics Science, Yale University).
This 3-year grant award called “Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education,” or INSPIRE, is funded by the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems, Developmental and Learning Sciences Program, and the Science of Learning Centers Program/Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences. The research team expands the boundaries of traditionally separate disciplines by uniting synergistically to explore a transformative learning tool to reduce the devastating impact of minimal language experience on children. Children’s dramatically reduced language experience has been shown to have a deleterious impact on learning language, reading, and achieving normal cognitive functions across life—a problem facing many children in the nation—for example, children from low SES backgrounds, late-exposed bilingual children, and young deaf babies. For the first time, the team’s work will make possible socially-contingent conversation in human-artificial agent interaction that will have broad application to science, engineering, and business, and that will facilitate healthy early language learning in young children. Additionally, the team will train under-represented groups in STEM, students in interdisciplinary science, and young deaf scientists in the advancement of science with transformative translational significance for all society. The broad benefit to society is to enhance early learning gains for populations that would otherwise be at a lifelong disadvantage.