The Cognitive Development Lab at the University of Illinois
Our lab investigates human concepts about the natural and social world, especially from a developmental perspective.
Our species’ conceptual apparatus is incredibly flexible and powerful. This feature of human cognition accounts, in large measure, for our ability to thrive in almost every corner of the planet, as well as for our stunning scientific and technological ingenuity.
In our work, we seek to understand the structure of this apparatus. How do people organize and make sense of their experiences with the world such that they are capable of these feats? In addition, we focus on development because, more often than not, a phenomenon is best understood by considering its history. Understanding how the conceptual system develops—including the starting-state cognitive architecture and the mechanisms by which it grows into the mature state—will be essential to explaining why human concepts are so powerful.
The three main lines of research we have been pursuing to understand conceptual development and its interactions with other psychological processes concern:
(1) the nature of early conceptual representations (e.g., are they general or item-specific? theory-based or purely associative?),
(2) the interface between conceptual representations and the language system (e.g., generic noun phrases), and
(3) the interface between conceptual representations and social processes (e.g., stereotyping, achievement).