We are broadly interested in how infants and children (and sometimes even adults) think about and learn from other people. Here are a few of the topics our research focuses on:
Understanding Other Individuals
How do infants and children understand others' goals, emotions, and beliefs about the world? How do they use these states of mind to predict others' behavior?
Understanding Relationships and Social Behaviors
People's interactions with one another reflect their relationships, and also the nature and meaning of social behaviors. Some social behaviors are culturally specific (e.g. particular conventions like waving or clapping), while others, such as helping, cooperation, and competition, are observed across cultures and settings. How do infants and children learn about and understand these components of social interactions?
Building Social Expectations
Although infants and children may understand and evaluate a wide range of social behavior, they often also have expectations about what kind of people and interactions they are most likely to encounter. These expectations -- of benevolent vs. indifferent interactions, of parochialism vs. generosity, of cues that will signal important information -- are likely very important for how infants and children approach social interactions, the relationships they build, and what they learn from others. We ask how these expectations are influenced by age and experience.
Learning From Others
Other people are obviously a rich source of information about the social world, but they also teach us, both intentionally and inadvertently, about the objects, environment, and technology of the physical world. What allows humans to be so adept at learning about these things from others, and how do we develop this ability?
How are we studying these things in infants?
Here are some of the way we are tackling these questions!
Many of our studies address the questions above using behavioral methods. This involves asking how infants, children and adults respond, verbally or nonverbally, to scenarios or people they encounter in our studies. For example, we may ask how long infants look at a surprising social behavior, how toddlers choose to interact with an adult who has or has not exhibited kindness, or how children predict others will act during social interactions.
We also use functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to study how the human brain develops, and how this development relates to the way infants and children think about and respond to the world. fNIRS uses near-infrared lights and light sensors to measure changes in blood flow caused by brain activity. The lights and sensors are attached to a soft, flexible cap that kids can wear while they sit on their parents’ laps and participate in studies.