Current Lab Members
Laura Schulz - Primary Investigator
The infrastructure of human cognition -- our commonsense understanding of the physical and social world -- is constructed during early childhood. I study the representations and learning mechanisms that underlie this feat. My research looks at 1) how children infer the concepts and causal relations that enable them to engage in accurate prediction, explanation, and intervention; 2) the factors that support curiosity and exploration, allowing children to engage in effective discovery and 3) how the social-communicative context (e.g., demonstrating evidence, explaining events, disagreeing about hypotheses) affects children’s learning.
Computational models of human cognition inform much of the research in the lab. I have been especially interested in understanding trade-offs in the inferential process, such that the same inductive biases that constrain the hypothesis space and allow us to draw rich inferences from sparse data can also make it difficult for us to revise our beliefs. This paradox poses a challenge for educators but also provides insight into the factors that might promote effective learning and teaching.
Most of the research in the lab involves babies and children. Since babies and children have limited prior knowledge and no formal training, understanding how children reason about the world can give us insight into the origins of knowledge and fundamental principles of learning. We have on-site laboratories that constitute the PlayLab at the Boston Children’s Museum, where we use a variety of approaches, ranging from infant-looking time methods to free-play paradigms in our studies.
Curriculum Vitae (updated March, 2012)
Julian Jara-Ettinger - Graduate Student
I am interested in how Theory of Mind (ToM) supports learning and moral reasoning, how we can implement it on a machine, and how individual differences affect social cognition, as in autism. My current work looks at how we infer motivational states and the role they play in our moral intuitions. To do this, I use qualitative studies with children, probabilistic bayesian models, and quantitative studies with adults.
Melissa Kline - Graduate Student
I am interested in language and conceptual development, and in particular how children (and adults) use abstract linguistic structure to make inferences about what sentences mean. In my current work I am exploring how children use their conceptual and linguistic representations of causation to make inferences about the meanings of constructions such as the transitive (Jane broke the lamp) and periphrastic causative (Jane made the lamp break). I use methods including corpus linguistics, computational modeling, and behavioral studies in the traditions of psycholinguistics and cognitive development. I am especially interested in exploring how insights from cognitive development and computational approaches inform our understanding of the language learning process.
Hilary Richardson - Graduate Student
While I was a research assistant at the University of Michigan I became extremely interested in developmental neuroscience and studies surrounding the theory of mind. I am intrigued by the different hypotheses explaining the development of the theory of mind, and am interested in how various life experiences affect this development. I am excited to be a part of the effort to clarify when and how this complex construct forms in the human brain.
Kimberly Scott - Graduate Student
I'm broadly interested in early consciousness and organization of perceptual experiences. In particular, my work focuses on how children perceive and organize their representations of time, as well as how infants connect percepts in the two cerebral hemispheres. I'm also working on reaching out to a broader population of participants by making some of our experiments available online.
Pedro Tsividis - Graduate Student
Children are incredibly capable learners - they form rich, structured representations of the world with exposure to far sparser data than what state-of-the-art computational models require for similar performance. I believe that a key component of children’s ability to learn so well and so quickly is their sensitivity to statistical distributions in the world, and in particular, their use of this information to guide decisions about what events and objects to pay attention to. I am currently investigating the ways in which children are optimal learners in this respect. I am also interested in concept acquisition and representation, and in moral reasoning.
Yang Wu - Graduate Student
Within the first few years, infants’ conceptual knowledge develops dramatically. How do they build and enrich their conceptual structures? Specifically, I am interested in the learning process underlying this conceptual development, and the way children use their knowledge to make explanations and predictions. I expect to study these issues with behavioral experiments as well as computational models. The neural basis for this development might also be a direction of my future studies.
Hyowon Gweon - Postdoctoral Associate (Saxelab)
Humans possess a powerful learning mechanism which allows to make sophisticated inferences from very sparse data. This mechanism not only allows us to learn so much from so little but also to learn from many different sources of information. The data can sometimes be generated by the learner, by a naturally occurring events, from another person’s unintentional actions, and sometimes by someone who has the explicit intent to teach. And in each of these contexts, the learner makes different assumptions and inferences. How can we formally characterize the differences between these contexts, and how do they affect what is learned? How do learners make use of others’ knowledge in order to learn about what they have no direct access to? What is the role of Theory of Mind in social learning, and what neural mechanisms underlie our ability to learn from others?
Paul Muentener - Postdoctoral Associate
My research explores the development of causal reasoning in infancy and early childhood. What is the range of events that we are able to reason about causally early in development? What kind of information enters into these causal representations? I am particularly interested in the role that representations of intentional agency play in causal reasoning. In my infant studies, I employ looking time measures and action-based tasks to explore our earliest causal reasoning skills. I also study children’s descriptions of causal events to investigate the relationship between children’s conceptual and linguistic representations of causality across development.
Nathan Winkler-Rhoades - Postdoctoral Associate
My research asks what makes it possible for humans to communicate with each other. Because the media through which we express ourselves are not exclusive to communication--we do more than talk with our vocal sounds, hand motions, scribblings, etc.--infants face the challenge of figuring out what counts as communication and what doesn't. Some of my studies have focused on how infants decipher the referential intentions behind spoken language, and others have examined how young children interpret the referential intentions behind visual representations. Currently I am studying one offshoot of children's representational understanding--their ability to engage in pretend play--where I ask what impact pretending has on cognitive development more generally.
Rachel Magid - Lab Coordinator
As people, we encounter and learn new things everyday. Learning would be much more difficult if we couldn't figure out what parts of siutation to pay attention to. I am interested in how children figure out what information is important in both social and non-social contexts. I am also curious about young children’s pretend play behavior and how milestones in imagination relate to other areas of development such as theory of mind and symbolic understanding.
Undergraduate Research Assistants
My name is Grace Assaye and I'm a sophomore at MIT studying Brain & Cognitive Sciences, as well as being pre-med. I've always been interested in the way children learn language, a process that is not nearly as seamless and effective for adults as it is for kids. I'm hoping to be a pediatric neurologist in the future, and working in the lab has not only given me great exposure to working with children, but has also introduced me to the research process.
I am a rising senior at Oberlin college, majoring in psychology. I am interested in studying the biological and behavioral characteristics of autism spectrum disorders. I am especially interested in the the deficits of theory of mind and cognitive empathy that children and adolescents with ASD appear to have. I plan to pursue an independent research project in this field during my senior year at Oberlin. I love working with children, and I'm very excited to be doing research in the ECCL!
I am an MIT junior majoring in Brain and Cognitive Science with particular interests in cognitive learning and development. My work in ECCL will be centered around causal learning in infants and I’m excited to see what insight we can find into the inner workings of the developing mind as it finds a way to understand and navigate the physical world.
I’m a sophomore at Wellesley College majoring in Psychology. Psychology is particularly interesting to me when I can connect what I’ve learned to real life situations. I’m excited to be working in the Early Childhood Cognition Lab, because I want to further explore my curiosity in the way that children perceive and learn about the world around them. Moreover, I also hope to expand my knowledge of how children make connections between everyday objects. I’m looking forward to the discoveries I’ll make during my time at the ECCL.
I am an MIT Sophomore majoring in Brain and Cognitive Science. I am particularly interested in emotional cognition and early childhood development. My work at ECCL will focus on exploring causal reasoning in infancy and early childhood, and I am extremely excited to delve into the human mind and how it develops.
I'm a first year Mechanical Engineering student at MIT. Along with engineering I'm also very interested in how the human mind truly works. I hope to one day be able to integrate human cognition and developmental learning into my study of engineering. Children show the very basis of cognitive development and I look forward to being able to understand this more and explore the possibilities of bringing many sciences together.
I am an MIT undergraduate majoring in Brain and Cognitive Sciences. I am especially interested in cognitive development in moral decision-making and how a sense of justice is developed in children. What goes through the mind of a child before he or she makes a morally questionable decision? What are the origins of self-accountability and our sense of what is right and wrong? I am looking forward to exploring these questions as I work in the Early Childhood Cognition Lab.
I am an undergraduate at MIT majoring in Brain and Cognitive Sciences with a minor in Theater. I enjoy working with children and am fascinated with how humans develop and begin to interact in the real world. After graduation, I plan to attend medical school to become a pediatric psychiatrist. Working in the ECCL gives me the opportunity to experience first hand how children develop that will benefit me in the future. I'm particularly interested in how children learn language and then use it to communicate effectively.
I am a psychology major, education minor at the University of San Diego, where I am currently studying the longitudinal assessment of intentional conceptual change. I am particularly interested in studying methods ofcultivating intrinsic motivation in children and other means of maximizing learning in educational environments. Specifically, how can we promote the development of a growth mindset in children with fixed epistemological beliefs? I hope to apply my work at the ECCL to the school setting, to improve students’ academic achievement.
I am a Freshman studying at MIT, and I very excited to work in the Early Childhood Cognition Lab. I love children, and I find them so curious: how do they think about and see the world around them. We were all children once, and I believe that understanding the cognitive development of children will lead to greater understanding of the people in the world around us.
I'm a junior at Wellesley College, majoring in Neuroscience. I have always loved working with children at summer camps, so I'm looking forward to studying children from a research perspective. I will be involved in examining the role of cost perception in children's reasoning about an agent's motivation and competence in moral reasoning scenarios. I'm very interested in autism, and am excited that this research will help contribute to the field.
I am an undergraduate at MIT, and I am interested in exploring how children learn to infer about the world around them. Children possess a fresh, insightful outlook on all that they encounter, as their views are relatively untainted by outside influences. I am excited for the opportunity to study this unique group of research subjects with the ECCL. As I conduct experiments with toddlers at the Boston Children's Museum, I am looking forward to discovering more about how young children determine cause-effect relationships and make inferences about unseen causes.
I'm an undergraduate student at Wellesley College studying Psychology and Computer Science. I'm so excited to be researching for the Early Childhood Cognition Lab through MIT and the Boston's Children's Museum. Children have extraordinary imaginations, allowing them to fight pirates on the open sea, go on safaris through the Serengeti, and perform the Nutcracker with the Boston Ballet (all from the comfort of a home-built fort). In the future, I hope to further explore the impact of imagination on our cognitive development and understanding of our environments.
I am a sophomore Neuroscience Major at Wellesley College and I am amazed that there is a molecular cause behind everything that we do and think. As an undergraduate researcher in the ECCL lab, I am excited to study how children, themselves, think they should learn. At such a young age, children develop language, social skills, and personality and I look forward to understanding more about how they are able to acquire theses abilities during my time in the ECCL.
I'm a third year brain and cognitive science major at MIT. I'm interested in every aspect of childhood development. Understanding developmental processes is the key to discovering the underlying causes of a wide range of disorders. My work in the Early Childhood Cognition Lab will focus on moral development. We will investigate the basic principles children use to make moral decisions and apply our findings to develop a more complete understanding of Theory of Mind.
I am a sophomore at MIT majoring in Math and minoring in Brain & Cognitive Science. I enjoy working with children and learning how they perceive the world around them. Specifically, I am interested in the psychology of learning, particularly in young children. I am excited to work in the ECCL and explore these interests and make further discoveries.
I am a freshman double majoring in Brain & Cognitive Science and Linguistics. I am fascinated by how children learn so much about the world through play and exploration alone, even with little instruction or guidance. I hope to study how children learn so quickly, and in particular what external cues they focus on and use in exploratory play. I look forward to working with everyone at ECCL to contribute to our ongoing understanding of these topics!
I'm a junior at MIT majoring in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and minoring in Chemistry. How the mind works and processes all the information around us is fascinating to me and I'm particularly interested in how children begin to use all of this information. After MIT I hope to go to medical school and become a doctor, possibly dealing with pediatrics
I am interested in the mysterious and complex mechanisms of children’s fast learning. It seems to me that they learn everything, such as language, so quickly and effortlessly, yet so well. In my current research I am utilizing Google CourseBuilder to create online courses so that I can carry out experiments by making different sets of modifications to the learning modules to compare and contrast learners’ responses. I hope to discover some efficient learning patterns and ways in which learners can be better motivated and supported. I believe if we can find a way to apply the fundamental component of children’s fast learning ability to adults, we will make a real difference in the world.
Meiji Yue I am a freshman at MIT pursuing a major in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Brain and Cognitive Science. Human brains are more than just computer-like machines that gather and process information; rather, the ability to learn makes us inherently human, and influences who we are as unique individuals and how we interact with the complex world around us. With a better understanding of how children’s minds work, I hope to learn how the people we used to be created the people we are today.