Title: Professor II
Areas: Cognitive Psychology
Phone: 848-445-6154 / 6655
Building: Psychology Bldg. Annex: RuCCS A137; Psychology 107
My PhD is from UCLA with specializations in Developmental Psychology and Learning. I came to Rutgers in 2000, having been at PENN 21 years and UCLA 11 years. I moved because of its support for cross-discipline work and the strength of the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science (RuCCS). I was Co-Director of RuCCS from 2002 -2011. In the latter role, I joined in the development of collaborative research platforms with various labs in other countries, including the Institute of Psychology in Beijing China.
I have developed various ways to uncover and study the ease with which very young children acquire intuitive understandings of natural number and arithmetic, that different sources of energy support the movement and change over time of separately moveable animate and inanimate objects, that outcomes have causes, and the learning of words and conversationally appropriate ways of talking. A second major theme is dedicated to describing the difficulties older humans have learning with understanding about the nature of rational numbers, algebra, mechanics, biology, a second language, and so on. On the theoretical side, my effort is dedicated to developing a theory of learning that accommodates both the early learnings that occur on the fly and the later learnings that require considerable effort, quality inputs, and a protracted period of time.
We know that humans find it easier to learn material that is related to knowledge structures they already possess. The evidence collected in my lab (as well as others) has led me to postulate a small set of innate, domain-specific skeletal structures. No matter how nascent, these are structures that can actively engage and find examples of relevant inputs that can serve to nurture acquisition of domain-relevant knowledge. Many later learnings do not benefit from the presence of such existing mental ‘leg-ups.’ Individuals have to mount new mental structures as well as accumulate relevant knowledge for each structure. It is as if learners have to get to the middle of the lake without a rowboat. The theoretical task involves spelling out how nascent and new mental structures are acquired and to achieve a theory of environment that supports learning with understanding.
Ongoing research in my lab includes: (1) Studies of both verbal and nonverbal representations of number and arithmetic in young and older individuals. Various methods are brought to bear on these topics, including psychophysical and interviews with adults and children; (2) Classification and inference designs for studying preschoolers’ knowledge about the animate-inanimate distinction and machines; (3) The role of causal information on the perception and interpretation of the trajectories of different kinds of entities; and (4) Both brief and long training studies. As regards the latter, we have been involved in developing learning paths that foster math and science learning in preschool and high school. I also have students and collaborators studying the developmental course of learning about quantifiers and numerals; counting systems in different cultures; and the nature of inputs for learning verbs.