Cognitive Development Lab at Lehigh University

Our Research

How do babies and kids think about the complex world of people, objects, animals, and events? Do they understand the world solely through what is available on the surface—what is observable, concrete, and obvious—or do they look beyond the surface to reason about deeper, hidden constructs?

Our research explores how young children move beyond what is perceptually available and reason about the non-obvious. We address this central theme through two distinct, but related lines of work. In particular, (1) how do infants and children understand the social world, and (2) how do they organize their knowledge about the world into categories?

Imagine the following scene: a woman walks toward the door, stops right before she exits, looks in her purse, and then turns around and starts walking back in the opposite direction. We could interpret this action in terms of the physical motion that took place (moving in the direction of the door, stopping, reaching in purse, etc.). But instead, we interpret this action in terms of the woman’s underlying psychological states: we reason that she had the intention of going somewhere, remembered something that she needed, checked to see if she had it, realized that she didn’t, and then went back to get it. In our studies, we examine whether infants also understand the behavior of others in this way.

In particular, our studies explore when infants develop an understanding of human behavior as motivated by intentions, thoughts, and beliefs. In these studies, babies watch sequences of simple human actions (for example, a person reaching over a barrier for a ball or searching for an object in a box) presented on a computer monitor. Using a computer program, we measure where infants are looking and how long they look at the actions. These data help us understand what infants think about people’s actions and mental states.

We are also investigating how an understanding of mental states develops by examining how performance on the above tasks is related to experiences in babies’ everyday lives. In particular, we are interested in how infants’ emerging motor and social abilities (for example, walking and crawling, pointing and following the direction of another person’s point, imitating others’ actions) may contribute to an understanding of others. These skills and experiences will be assessed through parent questionnaires and/or observations of parent-child interactions in the lab.

People are extremely social creatures. We spend much of our time interacting with family, friends, and even strangers, and thinking about their words, actions, thoughts, and emotions. Although we do this relatively easily, these are not trivial tasks. For example, how do we know that the people around us have thoughts, emotions, desires, and beliefs? How do we interpret the contents of those mental states (for example, “What is Sally thinking?” or “Why is Joey angry at me?”)? And how do we make use of this knowledge to communicate, cooperate, empathize, or even deceive the people around us?

Child development research has shown that even babies show some awareness of the thoughts and goals that motivate others’ actions. However, both the understanding of others’ mental states and the ability to use that understanding in social interactions continues to mature and change throughout the preschool, elementary, and middle school years.

In our research, we are interested in how children think about the minds of others and how they apply that understanding to navigate the social world. Our studies also explore how these abilities develop with age and the extent to which they differ among children of the same age.

A central task of childhood is to learn broad generalizations about categories in the world. For example, children must learn that birds lay eggs, milk builds strong bones, and stoves are hot. One question of interest is what is the the nature of children’s early categories? Categories enable us to gloss over surface differences that exist among individual category members and to consider deeper principles about what category members have in common. For example, the category ”bird” refers to members of a species that share many properties, some of which extend beyond obvious surface features (e.g., wings, beaks, feathers) to encompass deeper, non-obvious similarities (e.g., diet, reproduction, internal parts, genes). These deeper, non-obvious similarities are captured in adults’ category representations. In some of our studies, we are examining the extent to which they are also captured in young children’s category representations.

To investigate children’s thinking about categories, some of our studies also explore children’s use and comprehension of generic language. Generic language is language that refers to categories (for example, “Stoves are hot”, “Birds lay eggs”). In contrast, non-generic language is language that refers to a limited set of category members (for example, “The stove is hot”, “Those birds lay eggs”). For example, the generic “Birds lay eggs” makes a claim about the category of birds. Generics express broad generalizations about shared properties of category members. Previous research has shown that generics appear frequently in natural speech and provide an important means of conveying information about categories. In our research, we examine how children use and interpret generic language and what this can tell us about their reasoning about categories.

Our Team

Amanda Brandone, Ph.D.

Amanda Brandone, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

I am an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at Lehigh University. I joined the Lehigh faculty in 2010 after completing my Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Michigan. Broadly, my research examines the development of knowledge in infancy and early childhood. My current research explores how infants and young children develop an understanding of people and how young children organize their knowledge about the world into categories.

Wyntre Stout

Wyntre Stout

4th Year Ph.D Student

I am a doctoral student within the psychology department at Lehigh University. I came to Lehigh from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I obtained a B.A. in Psychology and Outdoor Leadership as well as an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. My research interests focus on the development of social cognition in early childhood. In particular, I am interested in theory of mind and its relevance to real-world social functioning, as well as individual differences in theory of mind development based on parent-child interactions.

Eugene Rohrer

Eugene Rohrer

1st Year Ph.D Student

I am a doctoral student in Psychology at Lehigh University. I received my bachelor’s degree in Brain & Cognitive Sciences from the University of Rochester. After completing my undergraduate studies at Rochester, I began work as a Research Coordinator at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. During my graduate studies, I am broadly interested in researching how children learn and reason about the concepts in their world.

Kelsey Moty

Kelsey Moty

Collaborator

I am a Ph.D. student at New York University studying psychology. Before NYU, I received my B.A. in Psychology and Linguistics with a minor in Polish Language and Literature from UC Berkeley, then worked as a pre-doctoral research associate within the Cognitive Development Lab at Lehigh University. I am interested in how kids think and learn about categories. Specifically, my research explores how children’s sensitivity to the language used to describe categories as well as their developing socio-cognitive skills influences the inferences they make about categories. 

Brittany Klimek

Brittany Klimek

Collaborator

I graduated from Lehigh in 2015 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Health, Medicine and Society. While there, I worked with CDL as a research assistant for three years and completed an honors thesis exploring children’s perceptions of the controllability of typical/disordered mental states. After Lehigh, I worked as a clinical research assistant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia before moving to my current position as a lab manager at the Montefiore Medical Center. I plan to pursue a doctoral degree in child clinical psychology, with a specific interest in the treatment of childhood traumas.

Our Publications

Brandone, A. C. (2017). Changes in beliefs about category homogeneity and variability across childhood. Child Development88, 846-866. pdf

Brandone, A. C. (2015). Theory of mind and behavior. In R. Scott & S. Kosslyn (Eds.), Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons. Link

Brandone, A. C. (2015). Infants’ social and motor experience and the emerging understanding of intentional actions. Developmental Psychology, 51,512-523. pdf

Brandone, A. C., Gelman, S. A., & Hedglen, J. (2015). Young children’s intuitions about the truth conditions and implications of novel generics. Cognitive Science, 39, 711-738. pdf

Brandone, A. C., Horwitz, S., Wellman, H. M., Aslin, R.N. (2014). Infants’ goal anticipations during failed and successful reaching actions. Developmental Science, 17, 23-34. pdf

Rhodes, M. & Brandone, A. C. (2014). Three-year-olds’ theories of mind in actions and words. Frontiers in Developmental Psychology, 5, 263. link

Brandone, A. C., & Gelman, S. A. (2013). Generic language use reveals domain differences in young children’s expectations about animal and artifact categories. Cognitive Development, 28, 63-75. pdf

Brandone, A. C., Cimpian, A., Leslie, S. J., & Gelman, S. A. (2012). Do lions have manes? For children, generics are about kinds rather than quantities. Child Development, 83, 423-433. pdf

Cimpian, A., Brandone, A. C., & Gelman, S. A. (2010). Generic statements require little evidence for acceptance but have powerful implications. Cognitive Science, 34, 1452-1482. pdf

Cimpian, A., Gelman, S. A., & Brandone, A. C. (2010). Theory-based considerations influence the interpretation of generic sentences.  Language and Cognitive Processes, 25, 261-276. pdf

Gelman, S. A., & Brandone, A. C. (2010). Fast-mapping placeholders: Using words to talk about kinds. Language Learning and Development, 6, 223-240. (Invited article). pdf

Brandone, A. C., & Gelman, S. A. (2009). Differences in preschoolers’ and adults’ use of generics about animals and artifacts: A window onto a conceptual divide. Cognition, 110, 1-22. pdf

Brandone, A. C., & Wellman, H. M. (2009). You can’t always get what you want: Infants understand failed goal-directed actions. Psychological Science20, 85-91. pdf

Chan, C., Brandone, A. C., & Tardif, T. (2009). Culture, context, or behavioral control? English and Mandarin-speaking mothers’ use of nouns and verbs in joint picturebook reading. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40, 543-566. pdf

Wellman, H. M., & Brandone, A. C. (2009). Early intention understandings that are common to primates predict children’s later theory of mind. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 19, 57-62. (Invited article). pdf

Maguire, M. J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., & Brandone, A. (2008). Focusing on the relation: Fewer exemplars facilitate children’s initial verb learning and extension. Developmental Science, 11, 628-634. pdf

Brandone, A., Pence, K., Golinkoff, R.M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2007). Action speaks louder than words: Young children differentially weight perceptual, social, and linguistic cues to learn verbs. Child Development, 78, 1322-1342. pdf