Infant social learning, social attention, and communication; parenting behaviors From birth, infants are immersed in a world of structured social experiences. How does these experiences shape infants’ behaviors? How do infants learn to discriminate and predict other people’s actions, emotions, and signals? How do infants learn to act — to smile, coo, or ‘give a look’ — in order to influence adults’ actions and reactions? Conversely, how do parents choose their behaviors to affect infants’ responses? We use many methods to reveal the complex reciprocal system that emerges in infant-parent interaction.
Young children's cognitive control and flexible thinkingAre young children rigid thinkers? Do they focus on whatever information is most salient, and repeat responses that are not appropriate? Are they unable to reflect upon and manage their activity and thinking? These questions do not have simple ‘yes or no’ answers. We study how cognitive flexibility and control change with age, and factors that help children ‘think flexibly.’ Our special focus is on how words and symbolic cues might help children ‘change their minds.’
Children's language: word learning, naming, and understanding verbal cues Linguists and philosophers have argued that the basic ability to share symbols — which is fundamental to learning language — must be a special, evolved human adaptation. What is special about the ability to learn and use words? Are children ‘little sponges,’ ready to absorb a new lexicon with astounding speed? Or is word learning a twist on everyday learning by children and adults? Our research has exposed several pervasive myths about children’s word learning.
Children's reasoning about abstract concepts Children must learn a wide range of abstract concepts to reason about complex phenomena. For example, concepts like mammal explain why dogs and dolphins are in some ways more similar than tuna and dolphins. Concepts like intention refer to ineffable states of mind that are not always paralleled by actions. The concept function provides an important principle for classifying manufactured objects. Can young children understand such concepts? Can they sort appearances from ‘deeper’ concepts? Our research suggests that they can, given adequate information, but some such concepts do not emerge until 4, 5, or even 6 years of age.