The Language and Social Development Lab


What we study:

In order to learn, humans must reason about things that can’t be directly understood via perceptual experience. How do we do this? In the Language and Social Development lab, we study the linguistic, cognitive, and social processes that allow us to acquire, reason about, and communicate knowledge.

We are especially focused on understanding how: (1) we use the structures within natural language (e.g., grammatical, lexical, and discourse structures) as tools for learning about the world and (2) how social reasoning guides our ability to learn from –and about — language. We also focus on understanding how other abstract structures — like those recruited during analogical reasoning — support learning.

In our research, we have shown that children and adults use the structures found in language to make inferences about new words, the number system, and other peoples’ minds. We have also shown that inferences about other peoples’ minds (e.g., “what’s she thinking right now? why is she telling me this?”) shape even the most fundamental processes in learning and language processing.

Our goal is to understand the complex cognitive and social processes that give rise to the human ability to learn and reason — to do this, we study children. Children are in the strange situation of having to learn everything (a new language, culture, set of social norms, concepts/conceptual boundaries, rules, etc…) at precisely the point in their lives when they have the least experience. Despite this challenge, children are expert learners, making them an excellent population of study for answering questions about learning from and about the world. Because children lack many of the skills eventually possessed by adults, we can also study developmental changes in children’s learning and cognition as a way of better understanding how all humans reason.

Who we study:

We study children between the ages of 2 and 8, and adults. We are always interested in recruiting new families and schools who might be excited about participating; please get in touch with us if you or anyone you know might be interested in participating. While the lab is located in Saratoga Springs, New York (on Skidmore’s campus), we are especially interested in recruiting participants from a wide range of backgrounds, and we have the capacity to travel to where you are. The children of white, educated, high socioeconomic status parents tend to be overrepresented in the psychological literature — this means that many children (both in the world and in the US) belong to groups who have not been intensively studied. Because educators and policy-makers are increasingly interested in using psychological findings to justify policy and curricular decisions, we feel it is a priority that our samples are representative of the broader population. Thus, we are actively recruiting participants who may not typically be represented in developmental psychology. In the past, we’ve conducted research in rural and urban Southern California, India, Australia, Canada, and Slovenia. We are open to research collaborations and other arrangements, and can come to you!

Our research:

For our past work, please visit the publications page. In the Language and Social Development lab, our current research focuses on understanding how social, linguistic, and cognitive factors interact to support learning.

Jessica Sullivan is Protected by Akismet | Powered by WordPress