Research projects

Horizon 2020, grant type: Twinning, ID: 952324

This project is aimed at strengthening the interdisciplinary field of research on the emergence, understanding and use of abstract concepts and words in human-human, and in human-machine interaction through the collaboration between the University of Warsaw, the University of Manchester, Sapienza University of Rome and Aarhus University. At the same time, the goal is to strengthen the research potential and research management skills at the University of Warsaw. The grant partners will o jointly develop the field, providing the following expertise:

traincrease graphic, symbols (mathematical signs, words etc.) on the top of interactions (humans, robots, sun, heart etc.)

  • University of Manchester: provides expertise in computational modeling of abstract concepts and words in the context of developmental robotics [1] and in development of early interaction [2].
  • Sapienza University of Rome: provides strong theoretical background and expertise in experimental research, including neuroimaging studies [3].
  • Aarhus University provides a complementary anthropological perspective and expertise in naturalistic research on the social dimension of abstraction [4].
  • University of Warsaw provides expertise in ecological approach to abstraction and in dynamical systems theory and methods, which has integratory potential for the field [5].

The project consists of a series of joint activities logically planned to increase excellence both in the field and in the UW's research and management potential:

  • symposia and workshops focused on theory building and exchange of complementary methods
  • staff, administration and early-stage researchers (ESRs) project-targeted exchanges, including a novel scheme for hands-on training (microtwinning)
  • joint publications and joint grant applications
  • development plans and novel curricula at the University of Warsaw.

The project is aimed to result in the staff's and ESRs' increased research skills in the field, which is envisioned as one of the most crucial for the cognitive sciences and its exchanges with education and AI, stabilization of the improvements through structural and curriculum changes at University of Warsaw, transfer of skills to the grant-managing staff and through development of stable connection within European Research Area and with non-academic stakeholder.

Relevant publications

  1. Cangelosi A., Schlesinger M. (2015). Developmental Robotics: From Babies to Robots. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Bradford Books.
  2. Cameron-Faulkner, T., Melville, J., & Gattis, M. 2018. Responding to Nature: Natural Environments Improve Parent-Child Communication. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 59, 9-15
  3. Borghi, A.M. & Binkofski, F. (2014). Words As social Tools: An embodied view on abstract concepts. SpringerBriefs in Cognition series. Springer: New York.
  4. Heimann, K. S., & Roepstorff, A. (2018). How Playfulness Motivates – Putative Looping Effects of Autonomy and Surprise Revealed by Micro-Phenomenological Investigations. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 13.
  5. Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Nomikou, I., Rohlfing, K. J. & Deacon, T. W. (2018). Language Development From an Ecological Perspective: Ecologically Valid Ways to Abstract Symbols. Ecological Psychology, 30:1, 39-73.

NCN Opus 16, 2018/29/B/HS1/00884

The relation of symbolic cognition to embodied and situated bodily dynamics remains one of the hardest problems in the contemporary cognitive sciences. It directly concerns the fundamental assumptions in theories of such basic cognitive processes as thinking and problem solving or using natural language. The stance one assumes towards this relation has consequences for basic research in these areas as well as applications in such fields as research of cognitive dysfunctions or designing artificial intelligent systems.

The present project aims at elaboration and verifying completeness and coherence of a one of the recent theories of the relation between symbol processing and situated action (Deacon, 1997; Rączaszek-Leonardi, Nomikou, Rohlfing & Deacon, 2018) by the means of agent-based computational modeling. This general theory of symbolic processing in cognitive systems has been proposed on the grounds of ecological psychology, dynamical systems and semiotics and concretized in the domain of natural language acquisition. The novel aspects of the theory are: i) treating informational structures as controls of interaction (rather than representations of the world) and ii) noting that symbolic forms of controls emerge from simpler forms, which are more obviously grounded in action in the environment and iii) basing the proposed mechanisms on data from studying language development processes.

Relevant publications

  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Nomikou, I., Rohlfing, K., & Deacon, T. (2018). Language Development From an Ecological Perspective: Ecologically Valid Ways to Abstract Symbols. ECOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY, 30(1), 36–73. doi:10.1080/10407413.2017.1410387

NCN-DFG Beethoven 1, 2014/15/G/HS1/04536

The main goal of this project is to contribute to the theory of early language development within the emerging embodied, distributed and situated approach to cognition. For decades, the field of language acquisition has been dominated by approaches, which searched for the learning mechanisms for language mainly in the individual mind of a child and focused mostly on word learning as mapping of labels to their referents. However within the emerging approach, in which language is seen as tightly integrated with other cognitive and social skills and inextricably immersed in action, there is a need to redefine language acquisition in terms of an extended set of mechanisms. Congruently with earlier, functionalist theories of language, a child thus learns the controlling power that utterances have in interactions with other people rather than simple correspondences to external objects.

In this project, we propose a series of studies on early interactions between infants (2 to 12 months) and caregivers, aiming at: 1) extending our collaborative work to reveal the background structure of early interactions in which language is immersed; 2) showing the timing and place language assumes in these interactions; 3) demonstrating the difference that language makes in structuring interactions, especially in directing them towards external world; 4) analyzing how language progressively decouples from the ongoing physical activity (decontextualization). Research methods will consist in: A) theoretical analyses within existing frameworks for language development and for linking cognition to action (ecological psychology) and B) empirical methods, which rely on an innovative integration of qualitative microanalysis of existing videocorpora of early interactions, quantitative statistical and novel dynamical analyses of these data, as well as original experimental work.

The project relies on integration of the expertise, infrastructure and resources of two major research centers, which evidence a high degree of compatibility and complementarity: the Faculty of Psychology, U. of Warsaw brings in expertise in ecological psychology and quantitative (traditional and dynamical) analyses and the CITEC, U. of Bielefeld specializes in early semantics, language development, qualitative and quantitative analysis of early interaction.


  • Deacon, T. W. and Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2019, accepted). Abandoning the code metaphor is compatible with semiotic proces. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 42, E224.
  • Korkak, T., Zubek, J., Kuciński, Ł., Miłoś, P., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2019) Developmentally motivated emergence of compositional communication via template transfer. EmeCom workshop within Thirty-third Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2019).
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Krzesicka, J., Klamann, N., Ziembowicz, K., Denkiewicz, M., Kukiełka, M. and Zubek, J. (2019) Cultural Artifacts Transform Embodied Practice: How a Sommelier Card Shapes the Behavior of Dyads Engaged in Wine Tasting. Front. Psychol. 10:2671.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Rossmanith, N., Nomikou, I., Rohlfing, K. (2019). Levels of coordination in early semantic development. Psychology of Language and Communication, 23, 1, 212-237.
  • Rohlfing, K. J., Leonardi, G., Nomikou, I., Ra̧czaszek-Leonardi, J., & Hüllermeier, E. (2019). Multimodal Turn-Taking: Motivations, Methodological Challenges, and Novel Approaches. IEEE Transactions on Cognitive and Developmental Systems, 1–1.
  • Zieliński, K., Szamburski, R., Biernacka, A., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2019). Field study as a method to assess effectiveness of post-laryngectomy communication assistive interfaces. Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces: Companion.
  • Zieliński, K., Szamburski, R., Machnacz., E. (2019). Post-laryngectomy interaction restoration system. Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces: Companion.
  • Białek, A., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2018). Semiotic Relations as Controls of Interactions. Proceedings of the 8th Joint IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning and on Epigenetic Robotics, p. 97-98.
  • Dębska, A., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2018). What Makes Us More Egocentric in Communication? The Role of Referent Features and Individual Differences. Discourse Processes, 55(1), 1–11.
  • Raczaszek-Leonardi, J., & Deacon, T. W. (2018). Ungrounding symbols in language development: Implications for modeling emergent symbolic communication in artificial systems. 2018 Joint IEEE 8th International Conference on Development and Learning and Epigenetic Robotics (ICDL-EpiRob), 232–237.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Nomikou, I., Rohlfing, K. J., and Deacon, T. W. (2018). Language development from an ecological perspective: Ecologically valid ways to abstract symbols. Ecological Psychology, 30(1), 39–73.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. and Frédéric Vallée-Tourangeau (2018). Language As A Part Of Action: Multidimensional Time-Scale Integration Of Language And Cognition, Psychology of Language and Communication, Vol. 22, 1, pp. 281-286.
  • Pérez, D. L., Radkowska, A., Raczaszek-Leonardi, J., Tomalski, P., & The TALBY Study Team. (2018). Beyond fixation durations: Recurrence quantification analysis reveals spatiotemporal dynamics of infant visual scanning. Journal of Vision, 18(13), 5.
  • Zubek, J., & Kuncheva, L. (2018). Learning from Exemplars and Prototypes in Machine Learning and Psychology.
  • López Pérez, D., Leonardi, G., Niedźwiecka, A., Radkowska, A., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., & Tomalski, P. (2017). Combining Recurrence Analysis and Automatic Movement Extraction from Video Recordings to Study Behavioral Coupling in Face-to-Face Parent-Child Interactions. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 2228.
  • Nomikou, I., Leonardi, G., Radkowska, A., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., & Rohlfing, K. J. (2017). Taking up an active role: Emerging participation in early mother–infant interaction during peekaboo routines. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1656.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2017). Time Scales for Understanding the Agency of Infants and Caregivers: In: N. J. Enfield and Paul Kockelman (eds.). Distributed Agency: The Sharing of Intention, Cause, and Accountability, (p. 161-167), Oxford University Press: N.Y. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190457204.003.0017
  • Tatjewski, M. Bańko, M., Kucińska, A., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2017). Computational distributional semantics and free associations: a comparison of two word-similarity models in a study of synonyms and lexical variants, in: Language, Corpora and Cognition, P. Pęzik, J. Waliński, K. Kosecki (eds.). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, pp. 57-72.
  • Zubek, J., Denkiewicz, M., Barański, J., Wróblewski, P., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., & Plewczynski, D. (2017). Social adaptation in multi-agent model of linguistic categorization is affected by network information flow. PloS One, 12(8), e0182490.
  • Leonardi, G., Nomikou, I., Rohlfing, K. J., & Raczaszek-Leonardi, J. (2016). Vocal interactions at the dawn of communication: The emergence of mutuality and complementarity in mother-infant interaction. 2016 Joint IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning and Epigenetic Robotics (ICDL-EpiRob), 288–293.
  • Nomikou, I., Leonardi, G., Rohlfing, K. J., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2016). Constructing interaction: The development of gaze dynamics. Infant and Child Development, 25(3), 277–295.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2016). How does a word become a message? An illustration on a developmental time-scale. New Ideas in Psychology, 42, 46–55.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2016). Reconciled with complexity in research on cognitive systems. AVANT. The Journal of the Philosophical-Interdisciplinary Vanguard, VII(2), 117–138.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Fusaroli, R., & Caramelli, N. (2016). Rethinking Meaning: An Ecological Perspective on Language. Psychology of Language and Communication, 20(2), 92–97.
  • Tuller, B., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2016). A Phase Transition in Theories of Speech: A Metalogue. Ecological Psychology, 28(3), 166–170.
  • Zubek, J., Denkiewicz, M., Dębska, A., Radkowska, A., Komorowska-Mach, J., Litwin, P., Stępień, M., Kucińska, A., Sitarska, E., Komorowska, K, Fusaroli, R., Tylén, K., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2016). Performance of language-coordinated collective systems: A study of wine recognition and description. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1321.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., & Nomikou, I. (2015). Beyond mechanistic interaction: Value-based constraints on meaning in language. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1579.
  • Fusaroli, R., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., & Tylén, K. (2014). Dialog as interpersonal synergy. New Ideas in Psychology, 32, 147–157.
  • Plewczynski, D., Łukasik, M., Kurdej, K., Zubek, J., Rakowski, F., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2014). Generic framework for simulation of cognitive systems: A case study of color category boundaries. In Man-Machine Interactions 3 (pp. 385–393). Springer.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Dębska, A., & Sochanowicz, A. (2014). Pooling the ground: Understanding and coordination in collective sense making. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1233.
  • Tylén, K., Fusaroli, R., Bjørndahl, J. S., Raczaszek-Leonardi, J., Østergaard, S., & Stjernfelt, F. (2014). Diagrammatic reasoning: Abstraction, interaction, and insight. Pragmatics & Cognition, 22(2), 264–283.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Nomikou, I., & Rohlfing, K. J. (2013). Young children’s dialogical actions: The beginnings of purposeful intersubjectivity. IEEE Transactions on Autonomous Mental Development, 5(3), 210–221.
  • Migdał, P., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Denkiewicz, M., & Plewczynski, D. (2012). Information-sharing and aggregation models for interacting minds. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 56(6), 417–426.
  • Pattee, H. H., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2012). Laws, language and life: Howard Pattee’s classic papers on the physics of symbols with contemporary commentary (Vol. 7). Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2012). Language as a system of replicable constraints. In Laws, language and life (pp. 295–333). Springer.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2012). Types of integration in a theory of language. Psychology of Language and Communication, 16(2), 79–88.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2011). Symbols as constraints. Benjamins Current Topics, 161.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2010). Multiple time-scales of language dynamics: An example from psycholinguistics. Ecological Psychology, 22(4), 269–285.
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., & Kelso, J. S. (2008). Reconciling symbolic and dynamic aspects of language: Toward a dynamic psycholinguistics. New Ideas in Psychology, 26(2), 193–207. https://10.1016/j.newideapsych.2007.07.003
  • Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Shapiro, L. P., Tuller, B., & Kelso, J. S. (2008). Activating basic category exemplars in sentence contexts: A dynamical account. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 37(2), 87–113.