Developmental Psychology

Prof. Dr. Claudia Friedrich

Research projects

2020-2023, Project B1 "Modal and amodal representations across development", part of the Research Unit "Modal and Amodal Cognition" (FOR 2718) at the University of Tuebingen, funded by the DFG (Principal investigators: Prof. Dr. Claudia K. Friedrich & Dr. Donna Bryce,

The present project investigates representations along the modal-to-amodal continuum from an ontogenetic perspective. The developing system might generate and exploit more modal or more amodal representations, respectively, for different purposes and at different points in time. In the developmental literature, two trajectories are often outlined regarding when and how amodal representations emerge. Consistent with classical views, amodal representations may emerge following a process of abstraction from modal representations. Alternatively, rudimentary amodal representations, which structure modal representations of new experiences, may be available very early in development or emerge very quickly. Throughout childhood, we will investigate the evidence for these two trajectories and the relative dominance of one or the other type of representation across development within three domains of cognition – sensorimotor-language interactions, magnitude estimation, and executive control processes. Within each domain, the developmental stages and contexts under which each type of representational format is available and used, as well as its function, will be assessed. Therewith, this project will improve our understanding of how and when different representational formats become available and are used.

2017-2021, Project B9-N "Getting a grip on non-literal meaning: the dynamics of understanding idiomatic expressions in language learners", part of SFB 833 "The Construction of Meaning. The Dynamics and Adaptivity of Linguistic Structures" at the University of Tuebingen, funded by the DFG (Principal investigators: Prof. Dr. Claudia K. Friedrich & Prof. Dr. Andrea Weber)

Idioms provide a particularly prominent example of language that can be both compositional and appears also to be, at its core, non-compositional. Consider the sentence Lisa got a grip on it. Taken literally, this sentence implies that Lisa grabbed something with her hands. However, there is a second, non-literal meaning, according to which Lisa mastered or controlled something, for example, her exam anxiety. This figurative meaning cannot be directly derived via meaning composition of the individual constituent words of the sentence. One core issue this raises is whether idioms are represented and accessed holistically, or whether they are accessed in tandem with composition of the meaning of their individual constituents. Here we follow the hypotheses that (i) early activation of non-decomposable figurative meaning along with the composition of literal meaning is a hallmark of cognitively and linguistically experienced language users, and that (ii) parallel processing in experienced adult listeners is preceded by serial processing mechanisms in ontogenetic development, and that (iii) strength and timing of figurative meaning activation varies dynamically with linguistic and situational context.

2008-2014 "Parallel activated lexical networks and their acquisition in early childhood", supported by the ERC

The junior research group Spracherwerb (language acquisition) aims to characterize the parallel neuronal processing of spoken language and to trace the serial acquisition of the underlying networks during the first three years of life.

A number of longitudinal studies investigate language acquisition in toddlers and infants. (


2006- 2013 "Plasticity of neuronal lexical representations in dependence on written language acquisition", supported by the DFG (SPP1234, research funding organisation in Germany)

In a preceding project (2006-2009) we have shown that the processing of spoken language is modulated by written language acquisition. Children who were able to read had a more sophisticated lexicon of speech sounds than children who are not yet able to read (Schild et al., 2010).

In the second funding period we are examining what happens with information in the speech signal that is not coded in written language (e.g., word stress). In this context, children who are not yet able to read may use more sophisticated lexica than children who are able to read already. In addition, word stress in blind persons – who experience relatively little written language input – may be weighted stronger than word stress in hearing persons (


2007-2008 "Neuronal language processing of pupils with special educational needs in hearing who are taught bilingually in german sign language and sound speech", supported by the BMBF

At the interface between the education of the hearing impaired and cognitive neuroscience, we are investigating the influence of age during first and second language acquisition as well as the modality of first language on processing efficiency and the neuronal organisation of languages.