Do you see what I see?
Babies and parents sharing interest and attention
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.
"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.
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:
- Figuring out the meanings of unfamiliar words, in some cases
several within the same situation
- Inferring ways to use objects, including novel objects and new
functions or actions that must be learned
- Following instructions or rules during transitions from one
activity to another
- Predicting or inferring changing intentions and goals of other
people, as in shared pretend play or games
- Solving problems by generating different ideas and strategies
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
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
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