Posted on July 15, 2009 by Tia Lalani

Augustana Campus student, Amanda Zerebeski, studying how children understand gestures as part of her summer research job.

Amanda MacLurg is interested in how children understand gestures. This summer, she’s conducting two different studies with 3-4 year olds for Paula Marentette, Augustana Campus psychology professor, to uncover how they relate gestures to objects.

“This is an area of research that has a lot of unanswered questions. We’re interested in really digging into the assumptions

MacLurg uses the doll "Casey" as a way to engage her participant’s imagination.

that have been made to see if they’re correct,” says MacLurg, one of the 17 summer research students on campus this year. 

MacLurg’s research into gestures and language began with her undergraduate thesis about how children tell stories. Recording 10 year olds as they told both autobiographical and fictional stories, MacLurg designed the study to evoke emotional or narrative responses. “We then analysed and coded for narrative complexities, which includes narrative structure and emotion words. Then we looked at their gestures – what gestures did they use, how many times did they gesture, at what point in the narrative did they gesture.”

Most of MacLurg’s summer work takes place in a small, white room where she can set up a video camera and bring in colourful bags filled with everyday objects used in the study. “We present them with a word, sometimes a made-up word, or a gesture for the object to see if they can find it without a verbal label.” To see if the participant is making a definite choice, a doll named Casey plays a role, “We ask them to bring the object to Casey as a way for us to determine that the child has made the choice.”

The room MacLurg works out of is part of the new Undergraduate Research Lab at Augustana, something she is thankful for as she now has a private place to conduct the studies.

Funded through Tri-Council agencies, with support from Augustana Student Services, the new lab provides space and computers for up to 6 research students, as well as the small room in which MacLurg works. “The lab allows us, as an institution, to better support faculty research and, thereby, provide opportunities for undergraduate students ,” says Marentette who also serves as Associate Dean, Teaching and Research for Augustana Campus.

With the number of undergraduate summer research opportunities doubling from last year, as well as more interest by faculty to employ students during the school term, the lab is an invaluable space resource. Explains Marentette, “If they’re dealing with confidential data, they need a non-public space where they can work and lock the documents up when they’re done.”

With the new lab, research opportunities like the one MacLurg is involved in, are more easily facilitated. It also opens the door for more undergraduate research possibilities.

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