Coffee Chat: Mike Frank

Mike Frank, Associate Professor of Psychology, spoke with us on Friday about his research to do with language learning and social cognition in children, his thoughts on the ongoing debate between language as an innate faculty or one that is acquired via general-purpose learning mechanisms, and his assessment of the nature of the gap between machine learning and human cognition. 

Professor Frank's current research investigates questions of language learning in children, from a variety of perspectives ranging from word learning and its relationship to concept learning to pragmatic development and how children learn to participate in a conversation. In addition, he and his lab are collecting large datasets of children's speech in order to answer these questions. Finally, his research focuses on encouraging replication, reproducibility, and openness in the scientific community.  

He also teaches at the undergraduate level about human biology and developmental psychology, and at the graduate level about experimental methods. 

Before becoming the Principal Investigator of the Stanford Language and Cognition Lab, he was a graduate student at MIT under the tutelage of Edward Gibson. While there, he worked on a variety of problems from the development of the mental abacus in Canadian and Indian students to the native speakers of Piraha (a language with no words for numbers) to word learning as pragmatic inference. In our coffee chat, he explained that while he is glad he delved into a breadth of topics as a graduate student, he now employs a depth-first approach in order to meaningfully contribute to our understanding of the world. 

To learn more about Mike Frank, visit his website at

Written by Pratyusha Javangula