Dr Chiara Gambi


Research group:
Cognitive Science
Development and Health Psychology
029 206 88950
Tower Building, Park Place

Research summary

Language is essential to most human activities (e.g., making friends, attending school, managing a team), and the reason it is so important is that language is the most powerful and flexible way we have to communicate with other people. I am interested in understanding how language works (i.e., what are the underlying cognitive mechanisms), how it is used in conversations between people, and how children become expert language users through learning.

To find out, I use a range of behavioural and eye-tracking methods. Behaviourally, I have developed a series of joint language tasks, in which people speak at the same time, or finish each other’s sentences. These tasks allow us to study how the way in which we speak is influenced by the presence of other people and what they say. In other behavioural work, I have looked at turn-taking, the smooth system by which we normally avoid speaking at the same time, or leaving long silent gaps in conversations.
Eye-tracking (both of speakers and listeners) provides a window into the cognitive mechanisms underlying language, as we can infer a lot about how quickly people understand and what they are about to say by measuring where they are looking. Using eye-tracking, I study how prediction helps children and adults understand others more efficiently, speak more fluently, and take turns more smoothly. Linguistic prediction is the ability to guess what somebody will say, how they will say it, or when they will stop speaking. Linguistic prediction is a skill that both adult and children appear to possess, although to different degrees. I want to understand how this skill relates to our ability to express thoughts into words (i.e., language production). Moreover, what other functions does prediction serve? Does it help children learn language in the first place? If you can predict, then you can also compare your guesses to what you actually hear, and this process of comparison may help you learn without explicit instruction. If this process underpins language learning, then does it explain all kinds of learning (e.g., both acquiring your first language as a child and adapting to a new accent when you move to a different town?).

Finally, I am also interested in how linguistic prediction relates to prediction in other domains (action and perception), mind-reading, and imitation.

Teaching summary

I teach on the Language and Memory course (Year 1, PS2020) and also run Year 2 practicals in Thinking and Reasoning.

Previously, I have taught statistics (R) at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Selected publications (2014 onwards)


Full list of publications


Media activities


Research topics and related papers

Joint language tasks
For an overview, see:
Gambi, C., & Pickering, M.J. (2015). Predicting and imagining language. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience, 31(1), 60-72.
Gambi, C. & Pickering, M.J. (2011). A cognitive architecture for the coordination of utterances. Frontiers in Psychology, 2:275.

Turn-taking in conversation
Corps, R.E., Gambi, C., & Pickering, M.J. (2017). Coordinating utterances during turn-taking: The role of prediction, response preparation, and articulation. Discourse Processes.
Gambi, C., Jachmann, T., & Staudte, M. (2015). The role of prosody and gaze in turn-end anticipation. Proceedings of the 37th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Pasadena, CA.

Children’s prediction skills and learning
Gambi, C., Pickering, M.J., & Rabagliati, H. (2016). Beyond associations: Sensitivity to structure in pre-schoolers’ linguistic predictions. Cognition, 157, 340-351.
Rabagliati, H., Gambi, C., & Pickering, M. (2015). Learning to predict or predicting to learn?. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 31(1), 94-105.

Prediction and imitation
Lelonkiewicz, J., & Gambi, C. (2016) Spontaneous adaptation explains why people act faster when being imitated. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

Research group

Cognitive Science
Development and Health Psychology

Research collaborators

Martin Pickering (Edinburgh)
Hugh Rabagliati (Edinburgh)
Jaroslaw Lelonkiewicz (SISSA)
Roland Pfister (Würzburg)
Kate Messenger (Warwick)
Sotaro Kita (Warwick)

Postgraduate research interests

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application here.

Current students

Ruth Corps (co-Supervisor), University of Edinburgh: The role of timing and content predictions in turn-taking.

Undergraduate education

2005-2008: BA in Humanities (Linguistics), Bologna University and Collegio Superiore Almae Matris Studiorum, Bologna, Italy

Postgraduate education

2009-2010: MA in Linguistics, Bologna University, Bologna, Italy

2010-2013: PhD in Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, U.K. Thesis title: Imagining and anticipating another speaker’s utterances in joint language tasks. (supervisors: Martin Pickering and Robert Hartsuiker)


2013-2014: Post-doc, Saarland University, Psycholinguistics Group, Department of Computational Linguistics and Phonetics (with Matt Crocker)

2014-2017: Post-doc, University of Edinburgh, Department of Psychology (with Hugh Rabagliati and Martin Pickering)