Please click here to find Elizabeth Spelke's page
Department of Psychology
33 Kirkland St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617 - 496 - 9186
My research looks at the development of basic concepts in intuitive physics and intuitive psychology, and how the two domains interact. Children have expectations about how slides will fall, slide, tumble, stop or break, and at the heart of that reasoning is an understanding of forces, mass, friction and elasticity. Children have expectations about how people will help, hinder, pursue, and accomplish, and at the heart of that reasoning is an understanding of goals, beliefs, effort and cost. Understanding how children understand effort, cost, force and mass will then tell us a lot about how they view the social and physical world around them.
My research focuses, first, on how individuals understand others’ minds, and second, on how this understanding and other social capacities (e.g., moral understanding, intergroup cognition, language comprehension) play a role in interpreting social interactions.
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?
I am a linguist interested in how language develops in children. Specifically, I investigate children’s ability to decode and interpret linguistic structures, and their ability to use such structures appropriately in different communicative contexts. My current work aims at identifying the components of grammar and cognition that must be in place in order to master the principles governing cooperative conversation.
My research asks how we come to understand people’s actions in terms of variables like effort, desire, and risk.
My research examines: (i) how we understand what others think, feel, and know; (ii) how this understanding may differ for people in our social group versus outside of our social group; and (iii) what the implications of differences in this understanding may be (e.g., for sociomoral evaluation).
I am interested in how infants start to use concepts in their reasoning about the world. This question is important because conceptual thought lets us understand the surrounding perceptually available world, but it also makes it possible to create completely novel ideas: things that we might never directly perceive (like unicorns, numbers, or the idea of gravity). More specifically in the last years I was trying to figure out how (or whether) infants combine conceptual and perceptual/spatiotemporal evidence when they individuate objects. I’ve been also collaborating on projects about linguistic compositionality, agent individuation, theory of mind, and naive sociology.
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.