Research Questions


Do you see what I see?
Babies and parents sharing interest and attention


infant-parent in mutual gaze

Attention-sharing is noticing what another person is attending to, and shifting your attention to it in order to share the experience. Attention-sharing is at the heart of imitation, communication, and education. It is a specialized social behavior that helps infants learn language as well as many practical skills. The goal of the MESA project is to increase our understanding of how new attention-sharing skills and behaviors can be acquired.

More information: Current research on infants' social attention

Related Publications: Infants' growing social skills
MESA project website (Modeling the Emergence of Shared Attention)



"Just like sponges??" How young children learn words, facts, and symbols


Many people, including psychologists, think preschool children are very good at learning new words. Some believe children have evolved specialized skills for learning words. Certainly humans have evolved traits that, as we develop, show up as species-unique learning skills, such as for language. However, it is an open question whether these learning abilities are specialized for word learning and vocabulary-building. In past work we argued that "constraints-based" frameworks are not helpful for characterizing children's word learning.

In ongoing work we have found that preschool children are not necessarily adept at learning new words for objects. Under some circumstances they make many errors, and may actually be better at learning other kinds of information like facts or picture symbols. On the other hand, young children are good at applying or accepting different words for a thing (for example, "dog," "pet," and "animal"). Thus, from age 2-3 years their word usage is quite flexible.

More information: Learning and word-usage studies 

Related Publications: Learning studies



Think flexibly: How children develop the ability to "switch gears"


Flexible cognition describes our abilities to adapt to new or unpredictable situations by altering our representations, problem-solving strategies, or patterns of information-seeking. This is important for children in situations such as:
These contexts are in some degrees changing and unpredictable, and require the child to shift attention, generate changing representations, update hypotheses, etc. Nonetheless, by the time children enter school they have learned thousands of words, intended or incidental uses of many objects, appropriate ways to follow instructions (when motivated) during transitions, etc. How does the flexibility to achieve such outcomes develop?

More information: Cognitive flexibility and its Development

Related Publications



Reasoning about a Complex World


One of the most general questions about cognitive development is how, based on limited experience, children make inferences about the world. How do they learn what information is relevant for predicting the future? To what extent are their inference-making processes general, and to what extent are those processes modified for different kinds of content, or domains? For example, perhaps children make inferences about other people's mental states (which, of course, they can never directly observe) that they do about, say, the functions of novel objects. How do they integrate multiple experiences, over time, to make generalizations about the world? Over the years, Professor Deák and his colleagues have done a variety of studies that speak to these questions.

More information: Reasoning

Related Publications