Research

What is comparative cognition?

In a very general sense, the study of cognition involves the way we perceive and act in the world as well as the mental abilities and processes that equip us to do so. Comparative cognition is the study of cognition across different species, ages, and cultures.

 

Why do we study children?

Our lab is broadly interested in human sociality, and especially in social accountability. We explore how it develops ontogenetically by studying how children are socialized and learn to participate in social interactions, as well as how they understand and respond to social norms and expectations.

Some questions we are investigating:
-How do children develop social attention including: seeing what others see, understanding communicative signals, and inferring others’ attention by following the direction of their voice?
-What affects a child’s capacity to attend to specific signals and then learn from these observations?
-How do children develop an understanding of sequential structure and timing in social interaction?
-How are gestures acquired through development?
-How do children adopt an understanding of others’ expectations?
-How do children develop a criteria of what is expected of them and others in a social interaction?
-How do children develop and understanding of social norms?
-How do children account for their own and others’ behaviors?
-How are children socialized into different levels of group accountability  (ranging, for example, from how they interact with friends and family, to general species-specific moral accountability)?
-How do children develop an understanding of property rights, value, and justice?

 

Why do we study adults?

Our lab is broadly interested in human sociality, and especially in social accountability. We explore what makes human sociality unique and sustainable cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally across ages and cultures.

Some questions we are investigating:
-Do different cultures assign different meanings to similar behaviors?
-How much of the human behavioral repertoire of social interaction is fundamentally universal?
-To what degree are fundamental social behaviors group specific, socially trained, or cross culturally universal?
-What is our understanding of sequential structure and timing in social interaction?
-How does language specifically change how individuals can make sense of the behavior of others?
-How do individuals take into account their own desires and beliefs, as well as individual and societal expectations about the behavior of others when deciding how to act?
-How do individuals account for their own and others’ behaviors?
-What role does group membership play in potential competition and collaboration with other individuals?
-How does our social understanding of property, value, and justice facilitate and limit our social interactions and cooperation?

 

Why do we study non-human animals?

Our lab is broadly interested in human sociality, and especially in social accountability.
We explore what makes human sociality unique and sustainable by studying the evolutionary development of social accountability. Studying non-human animals, especially great-apes (out closest relatives), offers us a way to determine which socio-cognitive skills are uniquely human, and to what degree there is continuity between our abilities and those of our closest relatives.

Some questions we are investigating:

-How does social attention develop in non-human primates, and what are similarities to the development in humans?
-How do non-human primates develop an understanding of sequential structure and timing in social interaction?
-How are gestures acquired through development?
-How is social action enacted and recognized in different species?
-What aspects of ontogenetic development are specifically human?
-Is there a continuity of social and communicative behavior between humans and other species?
-What facilitates and limits cooperation of conspecifics and social groups?
-What role does group membership play in potential competition and collaboration with other conspecifics?
-What are possible evolutionary origins of concepts like property, value, and justice?

 

 

Find out more about ongoing research projects here →