Child Thinking




Lab Opportunities

For Parents

Contact Us

Department of Psychology
UC San Diego

Research Projects

Theory of Mind Development

The recognition that mental states – such as beliefs, desires, and intentions – underlie people’s actions is central to social interactions and understanding. An everyday folk psychology of mental states allows people to predict, explain, and understand their own and others’ actions. Thus, developing an understanding of mental states is fundamental to children’s social-cognitive development. And it provides an interesting test case of how children acquire unobservable, theoretical concepts.

In our lab, we are studying why children develop certain aspects of theory of mind before others. We are examining why children understand desires before they understand beliefs and why children have an implicit understanding before a much later explicit understanding.

Children's Trait Reasoning and Social Cognition

People’s everyday folk psychology includes a tendency to predict consistency in people’s actions. Yet, young children do not reliably expect consistency in people’s actions and traits. Still, we are exploring how children do expect trait-consistent actions in certain contexts and domains. We are examining how children make attributions when asked contrast between individuals displaying different trait-relevant actions. We are also examining how children decide whether to trust informants who have previously displayed accurate or inaccurate actions. Our lab is also conducting studies on how children reason about others’ abilities and performance and how this influences their theories of achievement.

Neural Underpinnings of Social-Cognitive Devevelopment

We are interested in how brain development is associated with children’s developing understanding of mental states and other social concepts. We collect human event-related brain potential (ERP) data as children and adults reason others’ mental states and actions. Recently, we have also started to examine EEG alpha desynchronization data as another measure of functional neural activity related to social-cognitive processing.

Learning from Social Feedback

As part of children’s great interest in understanding people and the social world, children learn considerably from other people. By examining ERP data, we have found that the neural signals associated with feedback learning are stronger in social situations than non-social situations. We are exploring how this relates to children early reliance on social feedback.