Dave Sobel

(401) 863-3038
Office Location: 
Metcalf 238
Research Focus: 
Children’s causal reasoning, theory of mind, cognitive development

I am a professor in the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University. I study children's cognitive development, particularly causal reasoning and theory of mind. I am interested in the cognitive mechanisms children use to acquire their commonsense understanding of the world. Some of the questions we ask in the lab are how do children acquire causal knowledge and make causal inferences; what is the interaction between intentionality and discovery in causal learning; how do children learn from others; and how do children conceptualize fiction and fantasy worlds.

Research Interests:

I study how children represent and learn new pieces of causal knowledge and come to acquire their "folk" or commonsense understanding of the world. My specific research endeavors include: (1) how children use general cognitive mechanisms and specific pieces of developing knowledge to make predictions, generate explanations, and engage in counterfactual inference; (2) how children integrate social information into these processes (e.g., others' history of generating accurate information or the intentionality behind their actions); 3) the role that discovery plays in causal learning, inference, and hypothesis formation; and (4) how children understand various mental states like pretending, learning, and intentionality. My lab investigates these questions using mostly behavioral approaches, but my work is often inspired by computational modeling and links to cognitive neuroscience and education. Almost all of the research in the lab is on toddlers and preschoolers. We investigate this age because these children have less existing knowledge and no experience with formal schooling. This allows us to describe their reasoning and learning abilities as well as how they construct their knowledge. We collaborate with the Providence Children's Museum via a program called MINDLab, which allows us to perform research and outreach with children at the Museum, but we also have a thriving lab environment that utilizes a variety of empirical methods. The lab has been funded by NSF, NIH, and the Dana foundation.