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Diane Poulin-Dubois wins the Acfas prize for social science

L’Association francophone pour le savoir recognizes the Concordia professor’s body of work in cognitive development
October 19, 2016
By J. Latimer

Poulin-Dubois: “Winning this award has a special; sentimental value for me because it was recently renamed after my mentor.” | Photo by Concordia University Poulin-Dubois: “Winning this award has a special, sentimental value for me because it was recently renamed after my mentor.” | Photo by Concordia University

When infants learn two languages, how does it affect their future language and academic skills? At what age can children explain people’s behaviours as being guided by their mental states? Who do toddlers trust to teach them new things — and why?

These questions, and others like it, have been the focus of Diane Poulin-Dubois’s research for the last 31 years at Concordia. The psychology professor from the Faculty of Arts and Science leads the Cognitive and Language Development Lab.

On October 18, Poulin-Dubois is being honoured with a career award — the Prix Acfas Thérèse Gouin-Décarie for social science. The Association francophone pour le savoir (Acfas) hosts the largest multidisciplinary gatherings of research and knowledge in the French-speaking world.

“Professor Diane Poulin-Dubois’s groundbreaking scholarship in early cognitive and language development is widely esteemed by peers and practitioners,” says Justin Powlowski, interim vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies at Concordia.

“We are delighted to see her receive such prestigious recognition from Acfas for the impact she has made within and beyond academe, nationally and internationally.”

This isn’t the first time that Acfas has recognized Poulin-Dubois’s contributions. In 1996, she won the Prix du meilleur article de vulgarisation scientifique de l’ACFAS (faculty award). She was also on the organizing committee when Concordia hosted the 2014 Acfas conference, “Research: Zones of Creativity and Convergence, ” welcoming 5,100 scholars and offering 173 colloquia.

Previous Acfas winners from the Concordia community include Michel Laroche, John Molson School of Business marketing professor, André Roy, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, Sherry Simon, French professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science, Marguerite Mendell, professor and graduate program director for the School of Community and Public Affairs, and François-Marc Gagnon, founding director of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art.

A mentor feels ‘resurrected’

“Winning this award has a special sentimental value for me because it was recently renamed after my mentor, Thérèse Gouin-Décarie,” says Poulin-Dubois. “She is now retired but we talk frequently. She joked that my win has been like a resurrection for her.”

This career award has also been gratifying for Poulin-Dubois, who is donating a portion of her $5,000 Acfas prize money to La Fondation du Dr. Julien which provides support to underprivileged children.

“We work hard and this is recognition for what we do.” Just last year, her team published a study that proves that toddlers who learned more doublets (for example, “dog/chien”) over a seven-month period were ahead of the monolingual toddlers in executive function. This relates to skills such as planning, inhibition control and self-regulation.

Her other recent work is in a relatively new field of social cognition called “trust,” which is the study of how children detect who to believe when acquiring new information.

“We already know that preschoolers are more likely to learn from individuals with a history of making accurate claims over individuals who have been inaccurate or ignorant,” says Poulin-Dubois.

“My particular contribution and insight is determining the origin of this ability. Which characteristics of the model are they sensitive to? Then you can speculate how our species has evolved differently or similarly to others.”

Praise from the department

William Bukowski, psychology professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science and director of the Centre for Research in Human Development, is thrilled that Acfas is recognizing Poulin-Dubois.

“Diane has been at the forefront of understanding how the concepts that were popular in a Piagetian perspective can now be applied to other domains of functioning, such as bilingualism,” he says. 

“She is remarkable in her capacity to develop rigorous and very creative laboratory tests.”

Bukowski also points to Poulin-Dubois’s success as a supervisor.

Two of her graduate students, Cristina Crivello and Sabrina Chiarella, have won Graduate Research Communicator of the Year Awards for their papers on the benefits of bilingualism and early trust. “When your students win awards, it reflects well on everyone. Diane was very proud of them”

Learn more about Concordia's Cognitive and Language Development Lab.

To register as a presenter at Acfas 2017, taking place May 8 to 12 at McGill University, visit the Acfas website and access the Concordia-specific page. Click on the PDF at the bottom of the landing page for instructions.

You can also register to present a poster about your research by consulting the Acfas website. The deadline is November 28.


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