Nitya Sethuraman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Psychology
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College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters
Behavioral Sciences
MW 10 - 10:50 and 12:30 - 1:30, and by appointment

Teaching Areas:


Research Areas:

Child Cognition, Child Language, Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology

Biography and Education

My research focuses on how children construct domain-general knowledge through their perceptual and motor experiences in the world.  I specifically examine how children rely upon knowledge of their body and their bodily experiences in constructing their knowledge of language, particularly action words. I am particularly interested in how the verb-learning process varies cross-linguistically; languages I am currently studying include English, Tamil, Hebrew, Japanese and Telegu.


I am also interested in how our sensorimotor experiences in the world contribute to the way adults process the language used to describe everyday actions. One of my current projects with adults examines the association between cortical activation for basic sensory-motor system experiences (bodily actions) and verb perception (language), and further evaluates the theoretical position that embodiment is important for language processing. 


Ph.D., Cognitive Science & Linguistics, University of California, San Diego, 2002

B.A., Cognitive Science and Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, 1993

Teaching and Research

Courses Taught

Selected Publications

Boyer, T.W., Maouene, J., & Sethuraman, N. (2017). Attention to body-parts varies with visual preference and verb–effector associations. Cognitive Processing, 18(2), 195-203.

Maouene, J., Sethuraman, N., Maouene, M., and Otieno, S. (2015). Contingencies between verbs, body parts, and argument structures in maternal and child speech: a corpus study. Language and Cognition, 1-46.

Sethuraman, N., and Smith, L.B. (2013). Verbs and attention to relational roles: A cross-linguistic study. Journal of Child Language, 40, 358-390.

Maouene, J., Sethuraman, N., Laakso, A., and Maouene, M. (2011). The body region correlates of concrete and abstract verbs in early child language. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, XV:4, 449-484.

Sethuraman, N., Laakso, A. and Smith, L.B. (2011). Verbs and syntactic frames in children’s elicited actions: A comparison of Tamil- and English-speaking children.  Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 40, 241-252.

Sethuraman, N. and Smith, Linda B. (2010). Cross-linguistic differences in talking about scenes.  Journal of Pragmatics, 42, 2978–2991.

Gasser, M., Sethuraman, N., and Hockema, S. (2010). Iconicity in Expressives: An Empirical Investigation.  In S. Rice and J. Newman (Eds.), Empirical and Experimental Methods in Cognitive/Functional Research, CSLI Publications, Stanford, CA, pp. 163-180.

Goodman, J.C. and Sethuraman, N. (2006). Interactions between the development of constructions and the acquisition of word meanings. In E.V. Clark and B. Kelly (Eds.), Constructions in Acquisition, CSLI Publications, Stanford, CA, pp. 263-282.

Goldberg, A.E., Casenhiser, D. and Sethuraman, N. (2005). The role of prediction in construction-learning. Journal of Child Language, 32(2), 407-426.

Goldberg, A.E., Casenhiser, D. and Sethuraman, N.. (2004). Learning argument structure generalizations. Cognitive Linguistics, 15-3, 289-316.