Nancy SojaLab Manager
Debbie Zaitchik-SametResearch Fellow
Many patients with Alzheimer’s disease – and even some healthy elderly – demonstrate conceptual errors that are characteristic of healthy preschool children (saying, for example, that the sun or the wind is alive). At Massachusetts General Hospital (Psychiatry/Gerontology), I investigate the mechanisms underlying these phenomena in adults, while running parallel studies with young children at Harvard. In both sets of studies, I focus on the effect of individual differences in Executive Function on the acquisition and loss of conceptual understanding.
Peggy LiResearch Fellow
I study the relationship between language and conceptual development by comparing children with different language backgrounds.
The broad aim of my research program is to understand the varieties of causal reasoning in the human mind. I use methods from cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and vision science. Causality, in different forms, is a topic of interest in all of these domains, and I hope to bridge some of the gaps between them and connect findings from different fields in a more cohesive understanding of the concept of causality.
Narges AfshordiGraduate Student
I am primarily interested in how infants and young children conceptualize and recognize the relationships between others as third-party observers. What do they understand about different relationships at different ages? What kinds of cues do young children rely on to infer relationships? Do they expect a relationship between two individuals to be stable across different situations? Such questions are important because understanding relationships helps babies and children to view others' social behaviors in context, and to predict their behaviors in the future. My research attempts to answer some of these questions by focusing on friendship and dominance, two canonical relationships that are important to children's own lives.
Alexandra WasGraduate Student
One of humans' greatest sources of information is each other. Humans' propensity for social learning not only enables the preservation of information across generations, but it allows for improvement - the creation of new knowledge and technology. This process of cumulative culture comprises three major stages: social learning, innovation, and teaching. This is a complex process, and is supported by a suite of cognitive abilities, theorized to be both species-specific and species-universal. The abilities underlying all three stages have roots in early childhood. My work explores how young children participate in this transmission of cultural knowledge, focusing specifically on their roles as learner and teacher.
Paul HawardGraduate Student
Human beings are alone in the animal kingdom in developing an extraordinary repertoire of intricate kind representations during the earliest stages of development—representations for kinds of things like dogs, watches, cities, and mountains. A normally developing young child takes as input experience with particular things she encounters, sometimes only one or two particular things, and outputs a representation of an entire category that can then, in principle, apply to indefinitely many novel instances. In my research, I study the structure of these representations, with a particular focus on the formal aspects of representational structure: those aspects of representational structure that are unique to kind representations, originating from a dedicated kind system. Questions I look to address in this research program include: i) What innate constraints are there on the structure of kind representations? ii) All kind representations (e.g., dog) are organized into kinds of kinds, or domains (e.g., animal); which domains are children sensitive to, and why are they sensitive to these domains and not others? iii) The human cognitive system is invested with kinds that emerge early in development and across a variety of cultures and natural languages, but humans also construct scientific kinds (e.g., particle); what are the similarities and differences in early emerging and scientific kind representations? Are they supported by the same mechanisms, or different ones? iv) Kind representations, encoded as count nouns, interface with the combinatorial syntax and semantics of natural language; what format is required for kinds to be used in this manner? I answer these questions by using methods that assess the child’s explanations, normative expectations, and generalizations over known and novel kinds.
Ivan KroupinGraduate Student
Broadly speaking I’m interested in tracing the development of how our cognitive capacities shape our experience, from rich innate expectations of the world and its contents to the complex and varied ways in which adult minds interpret and engage with the world and each other.
Currently I aim to make a start by looking at how representations of and competence with abstract ideas (e.g. ’sameness’ and ‘difference’) and social concepts (e.g. ‘friend’ and ‘dominant’) emerge, develop and interact in early life.
Brian LeahyGraduate Student
When do children correctly distinguish the possible from the impossible? Do children represent possibilities the same way adults do? How does their understanding of possibility relate to their understanding of probability? We must be sensitive to possibility and probability to navigate a world of uncertainty. My research uses psychological, philosophical, and linguistic methods to explore how these concepts develop.