The researchers in the Center for Early Childhood research recruit innovative and varied methods to investigate the early development of critical abilities, including language, social understanding, mathematical and spatial abilities, higher order thinking skills, empathy, and moral reasoning.
The Child Neurosuite
What is the developing interplay between moral judgment, perspective-taking, prosocial behavior and caring for others? What neurobiological and genetic mechanisms underpin moral cognition? How do these develop normally in infants and children? When do individual differences in moral sensitivity and prosocial motivation emerge? To what extent are social hierarchies and in-group/out-group status impacting moral judgment and moral behavior? Are these dispositions, behaviors and social evaluations expressed differently across cultures and situations?
In the Child Neurosuite, we are examining, using the social neuroscience multi-level approach (from genes to behavior), the development of social evaluations, moral judgment, and prosocial behavior in children. We combine high-density EEG, emotional reactivity, eye-tracking and genetics with behavioral tasks that assess various basic elements of morality, including sensitivity to fairness, self regulation, social reasoning, distinguishing between good and bad actions, empathy and sharing. In older children and adolescents, we also use functional MRI with eye-tracking to study prosocial behavior and decision-making from a developmental neuroeconomics perspective. Some of our studies are also conducted in Canada, China, Colombia, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and South Africa, to examine how moral development unfolds across the world.
Infant Learning and Development Lab
Babies and children grow up in a sea of social activity. Learning and developing in this social world requires that they understand the intentions, perceptions and emotions that organize and motivate others’ actions. At the Infant Learning and Development Laboratory we investigate infants' and young children’s understanding of these aspects of the social world and the ways in which they learn from their social partners.
We make use of a number of research approaches to investigate these abilities in infants and young children, including visual habituation, eye-tracking, and imitation paradigms. Our findings have revealed that even young infants see others’ actions as structured by intentions, and that this knowledge supports their learning from others. We also study the factors that support the emergence of social cognition, including how infants’ learn about actions from their own actions, how infants and young children learn by collaborating, and how children learn from social partners in varied social and cultural contexts.
Human Performance Lab
In our lab, we study cognition in the context of education. One major goal of our research is to understand how stressful academic situations (such as high-stakes tests) affect students’ performance in the classroom. By understanding how stressors affect the brain and body, we are in a position to develop simple psychological tools that can help students perform at their best when it matters most. All of our work is done with the goal of informing educational practice and policy.
Developmental Investigations of Behavior and Strategy (DIBS) Lab
An old adage in public relations expresses a basic truth about being human: reputation is everything. As we navigate the complex social world, we learn that many of our opportunities depend less on who we are and more on who others think we are. Research in the Psychology and Development (PAD) lab draws on methods from developmental psychology, behavioral economics, and social psychology to investigate the ways in which people modify their behavior to change how others see them. The labs primary line of work investigates fairness and how people's decisions about how to share resources with others relates to their alliance psychology. In a secondary line of work the PAD lab examines the reputational factors that drive children’s emerging objections to violations of intellectual property, and suggests that part of the reason children and adults object to idea theft is that they dislike when plagiarizers falsely gain reputations as creative or talented individuals. In a third line of work, the PAD lab examines other aspects of reputation: the behavioral strategies that people deploy to manipulate their public image, and counter-strategies that others use to see through such self-promotion.
Cognitive Development Lab
Our lab studies languange and cognitive development in typically developing children and children with pre- or perinatal brain injury. We are particularly interested in how the early experiences children have relate to their developmental trajectories. Our research ranges from naturalistic studies of parent-child and teacher-child interactions to laboratory studies examining how particular kinds of instruction impact children's learning. Much of our research focuses on children's mathematical and spatial learning, and examinces cognitive as well as affective factors relating to achievement in these domains. Our team is led by Dr. Susan Levine, the Rebecca Ann Boylan Professor in Eduction and Society.
Current research in the Goldin-Meadow lab addresses three questions.
Which properties of language are so fundamental that they will arise in a communication system even if the creator of that system does not have access to linguistic input? We address this question by observing the home-made gestures, called homesigns, that profoundly deaf children create when they have not been exposed to sign language by their hearing parents. Homesign offers insight into the linguistic properties that are at the core of human language. These properties are not only those that children can invent on their own, but they are also properties that conventional sign languages are likely to have contained at the earliest stages of their creation. To explore this prediction, we are studying homesign in Nicaragua, where a new sign language has been evolving since the late 1970’s. Our goal is to determine which aspects of Nicaraguan Sign Language are already present in homesign and which need other factors (e.g., a community of users, fresh generations of signers) to appear.
Can the gestures that hearing speakers (adults or children) produce when they talk play a role in learning––in particular, in the transition from an understanding that is grounded in movements in space, to an understanding that is abstract and generalizable? The gestures that hearing speakers produce when they talk are robust––they appear in congenitally blind individuals even though they have never seen anyone gesture, and in deaf children who use sign language as their primary language. These gestures often reflect thoughts that don’t appear in the speaker’s language, sign or speech. But gesture can do more than reflect thought––it can play a role in changing thought. We are currently exploring the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.
What role does linguistic input, both spoken and gestured, play in the acquisition of language. We have videotaped 60 typically developing children and 40 children who suffered pre- or perinatal focal brain injury from 14 months through 10 years during naturalistic interactions at home. Many of these children are at risk for school failure, either because they received inadequate linguistic input prior to school entry (environmental risk) or because they suffered brain injury prior to or at birth (organic risk). Our goalis to understand the joint effects that brain injury and environmental variation can have on how children use language and gesture to communicate and engage in higher order thinking.
The Development of Social Cognition Lab
The Development of Social Cognition Lab seeks to explore children’s earliest reasoning about the social world. We are interested in children’s reasoning about other people – their social identities, actions, minds, and relationships – and how this early thinking lays the foundation for adult reasoning.
Much of our research focuses on children’s thinking about language as a social category. Beyond the literal communication it provides, language conveys powerful information about a speaker’s social identity. Before they can speak themselves, infants prefer to interact with native speakers of their native language. Older children’s attention to a speaker’s language and accent influences their social preferences, essentialist reasoning, learning from others, and face processing. Current projects are investigating children’s reasoning about linguistic diversity in both monolingual and multilingual environments.
We are also interested in investigating the social influences that guide infants’ and children’s selection, consumption, and reasoning about foods. This research program is funded by the NICHD. Additional research topics explored in the lab include children’s reasoning about fairness, disgust and contamination, communication, and the structure of cultural norms and human social relationships. Most generally, we believe that to best characterize, understand, and potentially effect positive change on human social behavior, studying early development is critical.
Children are amazing learners, both in and out of school, and the Learning Lab seeks to understand how their thinking skills develop and change over time. Our aim is to discover more about how children draw connections, make inferences, and do higher order thinking in a variety of settings in order to better understand these incredible minds, as well as to learn about how to best create learning enviornments in schools that match children's curiosity and thinking skills. We are particularly interested in ways to improve mathematics and science classroom instruciton. We use a range of settings and methodologies to study preschool through undergraduate learners. Studies take place in the laboratory or in the everyday enviornments of homes, classrooms, and museums, and sometimes we collect data in other countries in order to do cross-cultural comparisons.