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.
My research interests in linguistics are in semantics and its interfaces with syntax and pragmatics. As a cognitive scientist, I’m also interested in how language interacts with other cognitive domains including social, event and numerical cognition, as well as domain-general processes. In my experimental work, I use eye-tracking and other methodologies from cognitive and developmental psychology to study online language comprehension in adults and children. My dissertation explores the linguistic and psychological underpinnings of alternatives (i.e., possibilities) and scalar phenomena as manifested in natural language.
My research interests are broadly in the social cognitive development of infants and young children. Specifically, I am interested in how they divide the world into social groups & relationships and how this affects their behavior toward others. My research also focuses on which social relations are most salient and influential across contexts and how infants and children reason about kinship.
My research asks how we come to understand people’s actions in terms of variables like effort, desire, and risk.