Research

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” — The Little Prince

Children are rapid learners, and within a short time frame, acquire a vast amount of information about their social and moral world. How do children learn about their social world, and how does the information they gain translate into behaviors towards others?

My current research falls into the following programs:

Developing concepts of choice and agency

Having and making choices is important for our developing social and moral cognition, as well as our sense of agency, self-esteem and well-being. How do we parse our world into choices (vs. obligations)? Why is choice important and how do we learn from it? I am also particularly interested in how early experiences, culture, and developmental maturity contribute to our understanding of choice.

Related papers/manuscripts:

  • A comparison of American and Nepalese children’s concepts of choice and social constraint, Cognitive Science.
  • Self as a moral agent: Preschoolers behave morally, but believe in the freedom to do otherwise, Journal of Cognition and Development.
  • Developing intuitions about free will between ages four and six, Cognition.

Cognitive mechanisms of prosocial behavior

A wealth of recent research has found that children are prosocial quite early on. Yet, we know relatively less about the cognitive mechanisms underlying children’s abilities to be prosocial. In my work, I am interested in exploring how children’s cognitive competencies (e.g., numerical cognition, counterfactual reasoning, theory of mind, causal reasoning) enable social behavior (e.g., sharing, moral evaluation). Thanks to a recently funded grant from the John Templeton Foundation. I am specifically exploring how and when children’s sense of number underpins their abilities to be generous towards others. For more information about this larger project, please visit www.countonsharing.wordpress.com.

Related papers/manuscripts:

Structure and form of early moral cognition

One of the most important cognitive achievements is the acquisition of a moral sense. Young children show an impressive interest in being kind to others both through their moral cognition (i.e., evaluating what is and isn’t fair or just) as well as their prosocial behavior (active helping and sharing). My work in this area focuses on three inter-related questions: (1) How do children solve the complex cognitive task of identifying who and what is worthy of their moral regard?; (2) How do children recognize when they themselves have the responsibility to help others?; and (3) What do our early schemas of fairness and generosity look like? How do our early schemas serve as building blocks for higher-order concepts of fairness, merit, equity, and justice?

Related papers/manuscripts:

  • Equal but not always fair: Value-laden sharing in preschool-aged children, Social Development.
  • Children’s cognitive and behavioral reactions towards a social robot dog, Early Education & Development.
  • “But he didn’t mean to do it”: Preschoolers correct punishments imposed on accidental transgressors, Cognitive Development.

Developing children’s prospective abilities

The ability to think about abstract concepts such as “the future” develops rapidly during the preschool age. What implications does this ability have on children’s developing social cognition? How might we be able to train children to make better better decisions on behalf of their future selves? My interest is in studying the underlying cognitive mechanisms that enable young children’s prospective abilities.

Related papers/manuscripts:

  • Training preschoolers’ prospective abilities through conversation about the extended self, Developmental Psychology.