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​Current Projects


We are busy investigating a wide variety of really interesting questions. Read a little more about them below.


Can children learn in pretend play?

Do we ever confuse pretense and reality?  Do children bring real-world rules into pretending? We are doing 3 studies right now related to this question: 

1) In a study conducted this summer, we found that after one person taught a pretend rule to a child, he or she did not then transfer it to the real world. In an upcoming study, we will test if encountering the pretend rule with two different people will lead a child to transfer it to the real world. 

2) Do preschoolers remember more details from fantastical stories than realistic ones? Children will be told a story about characters in a fantastical setting or characters in a real-life setting. Then, they will be asked questions about the story to see how much they remember.

3) Can children learn prosocial behavoirs in fantastical stories?

How do children conceive of pretending?

Currently, we are studying toddlers (18-24 months) to find out how they think about pretending. Specifically, do they think of it as something you use your mind for, or is it simply an action, such as running or throwing a ball?


Are pretending and inhibitory control related?

Several of our studies probe the link between the ability to control one's own mind and body and other cognitive abilities.  For example, we have found a relationships between inhibitory control and preschoolers' prosocial behaviors, like helping and sharing, as well as adolescents' abstract reasoning. And, our results strongly suggest that having good control is good for pretending!  Now we are investigating whether pretending and inhibitory control are correlated in toddlers.


Recent Projects

Do children prefer to learn from people have the same beliefs as they do?

Young children equate pretending with behaving, while older children realize pretending involves the mind and brain. We found that children would rather learn about pretending from a person who understands pretending in the same way they do.

This study was done in collaboration with David Sobel at Brown University.


How do people mentally represent pretend actions?

When you think about someone pretending, how does your mind process that information? Does a child's mind process it in the same way as an adult's does? We have studied this question by having children and adults listen to or read about people pretending. Then we measure how quickly they are able to respond to ideas that were present in those stories. Now we are exploring it in toddlers by measuring how long they look at various pretend episodes. 

How does pretend play influence literacy skills in preschool?

We know that play and literacy are positively related.  But, we don't know why this might be. In collaboration with Marcy Zipke, Assistant Professor of Education, we have explored why play is good for literacy skills.

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