Please click here to find Elizabeth Spelke's page
Department of Psychology
33 Kirkland St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617 - 496 - 9186
I'm interested in humans as a social species. I have two lines of research. In the first I investigate what infants, toddlers, and children think about social relationships. I've mostly studied how they think and feel about social hierarchy (i.e. situations where there is a 'winner' and a 'loser' or when someone is 'in charge'). Currently, I am postdoctoral fellow working with Elizabeth Spelke and Rebecca Saxe, we're investigating how caregivers influence infant's social evaluations. In my second line of research I'm interested in people's moral judgements of parents, and parenting. I'm also interested in questions like -- where do moral norms come from and how do they change?
My research asks how we come to understand people’s actions in terms of variables like effort, desire, and risk.
My research focuses on how the human brain learns, represents, and manipulates abstract mathematical concepts. In my work, I try to bring real-world situations to the lab, by developing and using naturalistic tasks that complement more traditional and controlled tasks. After studying high-level mathematical thinking in professional mathematicians, I now look at the conceptual changes that occur over the course of math education in children. I am addressing this question thanks to a combination of behavioral and fMRI methods.
My research aims to bridge the gap between intuitive and formal mathematics. Despite being able to calculate approximate solutions to problems of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division when presented with dot arrays, children have enormous difficulty in learning symbolic arithmetic. During my PhD, I plan to investigate why arithmetic is so hard to learn when so much of information on which it depends is accessible to children even before formal instruction. I also hope to create interventions that can help children in making the leap from their intuitive abilities to school-based mathematics.
My research focuses on the origins and development of social and moral cognition. How do we come to understand others' actions and minds? How does this understanding inform how we navigate the social world and interact with other people?
My research focuses on learning mechanisms that may underlie human unique aspects of cognition. I am interested in how early learning may differ between human and non-human primates in ways that allow humans to develop abilities such as causal understanding or joint attention, to name a few. My current research focuses on how we learn from events that violate our expectations.
I am interested in the evolution and development of human cooperation and sociality. My work focuses on social inferences and interpersonal valuation—how we infer others’ values and social relationships from their actions, and how we decide who to cooperate with, who to sacrifice for, who to ignore, and who to punish. I investigate these abilities across developmental time-points, looking to infants, children, and adults to understand the trajectory of social decision-making and relationship building and to uncover the inferential mechanics which render our highly dynamic social world intuitive.
In order to learn language quickly and efficiently, children must be able to take advantage of the learning opportunities that are available in their surroundings. Because these opportunities vary greatly across households, communities, and cultures, children need to be flexible and adaptive in how they learn from those around them. My research investigates how the kinds of input children encounter shape the ways they learn from others, as well as how that input is affected by the values and beliefs of their caregivers and communities.
My research interest is in the origin and early development of human mathematical knowledge. I'm interested in how young children acquire number concepts, how they learn the meanings of number words, and how natural language may foster the development of their number concepts.