9.914 Seminar in Cognitive Development - Spring 2015

Graduate Course
Instructor: Laura Schulz, Liz Spelke, Joshua Tenenbaum

This seminar, organized in coordination with the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines, will focus on the development of knowledge in the first five years. Drawing on behavioral research on infants and young children, as well as research in cognitive neuroscience, research using controlled rearing methods with animal models, and research developing and testing computational models, we consider both the starting points for human cognitive development and the ways in which early knowledge grows. Topics will be chosen in accord with student interests and likely will include early developing knowledge of objects and their mechanical interactions, of animate beings and their behavior and intentions, of social beings and their communication and relationships, as well as the development of abstract concepts (e.g., causal concepts, mathematical concepts) that apply to all these entities. In addition, we will look at how infants and children learn to represent their own abilities and utilities and how these emerging self-representations support and constrain their learning about the world.


Special Topics, 9.52: Project-based seminar in Infant and Early Childhood Cognition - Spring 2013, 2014

Undergraduate Course
Instructor: Laura Schulz

This course is an advanced, lab-based research class in cognitive development. Enrollment is limited and by instructor permission only. All prospective students must have completed 9.85 (or the equivalent at Wellesley). Interested students should email me either their final class paper in 9.85 (if it meets the requirements below) or a one-page proposal consisting of a few sentence description of their research question followed by a brief sketch of a possible experimental design. Students will only be admitted to the course if the key predictions of their proposal could be tested empirically within a single semester. To meet these criteria, the proposed study must be feasible with less than 50 participants, using a research design and behavioral methods that are accessible to advanced undergraduates; topics and methods must be within the area of the instructor's expertise.


9.85 Infant and Early Childhood Cognition - Fall (annual)

Undergrad HASS Elective
Prereq: 9.00
Units: 3-0-9
Instructor: Laura Schulz

Introduction to cognitive development focusing on children's understanding of objects, agents, and causality. Develops a critical understanding of experimental design. How developmental research might address philosophical questions about the origins of knowledge, appearance and reality, and the problem of other minds.


9.914 Explorations in Exploration - Spring 2010

Graduate Course
Units: 2-0-9
Instructors: Laura Schulz and Rebecca Saxe

All organisms find ways to explore and get new information about their environments. In this class, we will review empirical work on exploratory behaviors ranging from simple orienting behaviors, investigations of spatial terrain, and object manipulation all the way through to human and culture-specific behaviors like question-asking and formal scientific inquiry. We will also look at computational accounts trading-off the utilities of exploring new, vs. exploiting known, information, as well as the brain bases that might underlie selective arousal to novelty and uncertainty and help account for an “exploratory drive.” Methodological approaches will include ethology, evolutionary biology, machine learning, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science.


9.915 Perception, Conception and Action: Grounding Thoughts in Experience (and Vice Versa) - Spring 2008

Graduate course
Units: 2-0-7
Instructors: Laura Schulz, Chris Moore, Noah Goodman

This class will integrate findings from neuroscience, computational cognitive science, and cognitive development to look at A) whether and how the format of perceptual information affects conceptual development B) whether and how conceptual representations affect perception and C) the role of action in binding perceptual information to conceptual development. All students will write one to two paragraph critical responses to readings each week. Registered students will also submit a final paper and present their ideas on the last day of class.


9.916 Conceptual Development: Representation of Theories, Causes, and Things that make you go hmmm - Spring 2007

Graduate Course
Units: 2-0-9
Instructors: Laura Schulz and Susan Carey

Many researchers have argued that intuitive theories are particularly important in our mental life.  Naive theories are characterized by structural features (abstract, ontological commitments), dynamic features (the ability to affect the interpretation of evidence and to be affected by evidence), and functional features (the ability to support prediction, explanation, intervention, and counterfactual claims).  We examine the arguments that this is so, and consider the developmental origin (innate? learned? domain-specific? domain-general?) of intuitive theories.  Arguably however, theories have an additional function: they support curiosity and exploration.  We will think about what you might have to know in order to be curious -- and we will look at how theories and patterns of evidence might affect children's exploratory play, their inferences about unobserved variables, and the contexts in which children search for explanations.