I was an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh and received my Ph.D. from the University of Oxford (where it is called a D.Phil.) in 1979/80. For a number of years I was a Medical Research Council Senior Scientist at the University of London before moving to Rutgers in 1993. I’ve been a visiting professor at the Universidad Autonoma in Madrid, Spain, the University of Chicago, and UCLA. In 2008 I was elected a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
I am interested in the design of the cognitive system early in development. I’m struck by the fact that certain very abstract ideas emerge early in life before formal schooling. Such ideas include cause and effect, enduring object, one, two, three, social agent, believing, pretending, desiring, purpose, and moral transgression. I’m trying to understand what kinds of neurocognitive mechanisms make it possible for us to think about these abstract entities and relations. This leads me to be interested in domain-specialized learning.
My lab runs experiments with babies where we measure looking times and with preschool children where we use other kinds of tests. We also run related studies with children who have an autistic spectrum disorder. I was a member of the team in London who, some twenty years ago, discovered the ‘theory of mind’ impairment in autism. My work continues today trying to understand how normal development works and how it goes wrong in autism.