We study cognitive development from an interdisciplinary perspective and are interested in developmental approaches to the study of cognition and culture. Topics of research include causal cognition, social learning, and the development of scientific and religious reasoning. In addition to our lab at UT Austin, we have ongoing research projects at field sites in Brazil, China, the UK, South Africa, and Vanuatu.
Causal cognition and science education
A fundamental task for all humans is explaining why things happen. We are interested in how causal explanation develops, what motivates children to construct explanations, and how explanation guides conceptual development, scientific reasoning, and learning. We study how children's explanations and play behavior work in tandem to guide children's learning and the implications of this process for early childhood education.
We are also interested in how children and adults navigate the task of reconciling multiple different kinds of causal explanations for the same events, such as scientific and supernatural explanations.
The objective of this program of research is to examine the universal cognitive foundations of ritualistic behaviour from a developmental and cross-cultural perspective. Humans are a social species and much of what we know we learn from others. Although the majority of research on imitation in early childhood has examined the acquisition of instrumental knowledge, imitation is equally necessary to acquire the social conventions of cultural communities such as rituals. We propose that much of the cultural knowledge learned through imitation is causally opaque and lacks a transparent mechanistic causal structure. In ongoing research we integrate anthropological and psychological approaches to the study of ritual cognition.
This research is part of a Large Grant on Ritual, Community, and Conflict funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), UK.