Research

Here are a few of the research projects currently underway in the lab

Relations between Explanation and Exploration in Parent/Child Interaction and Learning in Museum Settings

Young children are naturally curious. Children's museums are a great arena to foster this curiosity. In collaborative work with Maureen Callanan and Cristine Legare, the lab is investigating how children's and parent's explanations and explorations of museum exhibits relate to their STEM learning. In this project (sponsored by this grant from NSF), we are examining parent/child interaction in three children's museums around the country, coding explanatory and exploratory behaviors at particular exhibits, and exploring how those behaviors relate to aspects of children's STEM learning and knowledge.

In Summer 2015, the lab won an I-Team UTRA project, which funded a group of undergraduates to work in the lab over the summer to assist with this project. These students collect data at Providence Children's Museum and work on coding and analysis.

In 2017, the lab won a supplemental NSF grant for undergraduate research on exploration and explanation. This grant is currently funding several of the honors projects in the lab.

Causal and Scientific Reasoning

There is a long line of work suggesting that young children and even infants understand causality and can make sophisticated causal inferences. There is an equally long line of work suggesting that elementary school children are quite poor at scientific reasoning and inference. Given that causal and scientific reasoning often involve similar cognitive processes, a fundamental question is why is there this gap in children's abilities. We are interested in how children engage in hypothesis formation and belief revision. Funded by a grant from NSF (1661068), we are examining these issues in both the laboratory, but also in the ways in which children explore museum environments. 

Learning from Others

Young children learn a great deal about the world from their observation and interactions with events. But there is so much knowledge and so little time to discover it all, that children must also learn from other people. We examine the ways in which children learn from others and what they know about learning and teaching in general. A large amount of this work focuses on what we call "Rational Social Learning" - the hypothesis that young children use their existing knowledge of the world to appreciate whom to trust when learning new information and how to evaluate new information others generate. Many of the experiments in the lab are designed with this hypothesis in mind, investigating both the origins of learning from others, and the limits of children's capacities.

Children's Understanding of Fairness and Social Behavior

Young children are naturally inclined to treat others equally. When children observe inequity, they both point out unfairness, and go out of their way to restore balance. The lab is interested in the mechanisms behind perceiving fairness and rectifying inequities. To do so, we look at children's understanding of intentionality, defiance, and value when dividing resources or determining whether they should share resources with another person.

Reach Tracking and Children's Flexible Thinking

After the preschool years, children develop remarkable capacities for cognitive control - the ability to shift and focus attention, inhibit certain kinds of responses, and delay gratification for events. In collaboration with Joo-Hyun Song, the lab examines these developmental capacities using a technique called reach tracking, in which we track children's 3D hand movements through space while they respond to questions. The speed and trajectory with which children make responses provides us with insight into children's developing cognitive control. More recently, we have begun investigations into the way in which these cognitive control capacities relate to other aspects of cognitive development, like numerical and social cognition.

Pretense and Fantasy

Preschoolers engage in a great deal of pretend play, and there are huge individual differences in both the quality and quantity of children pretending. The lab examines how children engage in pretend play and what they know about pretending? In more recent work, we have extended our investigation to how children understand stories and fictional worlds, and how that understanding might constrain what they can learn from fiction. We are also interested in the relation between play in general and learning, whether children (and parents) recognize that one can learn from play. Finally, we explore what role imagination and fiction might have in causal and scientific reasoning.