Please see the Publications page for a more-frequently-updated list of published papers, including links to full text.

Children's understanding of video chat, and its impact on social cognitive development

In 2020, millions of children shifted to using video chat for core aspects of education and social interaction. While video chat allows for genuine social interaction—in which the partner can see and hear you—affordances in other modalities are limited (e.g., touch). How do children come to understand how video chat differs from prerecorded video, and also from in-person interaction? We find that by age four, children understand that video chat has a mixture of life-like affordances and picture-like limitations. We are currently exploring infant understanding of video chat, and the impact of video chat on social and cognitive development.

Our first published paper on this work is available open access here.
You can see first author Liz Bennett present this work at CogSci 2020 here,
or at the UCSD Undergraduate Research Symposium here.

Several new lines of work on social cognition and video chat are continuing actively in the lab, currently spearheaded by graduate student Chaolan Lin, together with a team of undergraduate researchers, and funding from the Sanford Center for Empathy and Technology, as well as the UCSD Division of Social Sciences.

The development of nuanced perception of auditory events

We use sounds to learn about events in the world. One surprising example of this is that we can accurately judge the temperature of water simply from hearing it being poured. How does this nuanced perceptual skill develop? To what extent does nuanced perception of auditory events depend on extensive experience, versus early-developing perceptual and cognitive abilities?

Our first published paper on this work was published in Developmental Science in 2022, and is available here with an open-access pre-print available here

You can see a presentation from some of our excellent undergraduate researchers who contributed to this project at the UCSD Undergraduate Research Symposium here.

Intuitive Archeology: Social reasoning about people from objects, through inverse planning

Do children use objects to infer the people and actions that created them? We ask how adults and children judge whether designs were socially transmitted (copied), asking if children use a simple perceptual heuristic (more similar = more likely copied), or make a rational, flexible inference (Bayesian inverse planning). We find evidence that both adults and children use inverse planning to reason about artifacts’ designs. When thinking about artifacts, young children go beyond perceptual features and use a process like inverse planning to reason about the generative processes involved in design. 

People are able to derive many kinds of social information from others' possessions or creations - and do so easily and intuitively. We term this reasoning 'intuitive archeology', akin to the reasoning an archeologist uses to learn about people and cultures from their objects. In several lines of work, we are exploring how people intuitively make complex social inferences from objects, and how this ability develops in childhood. 

This work has been funded by the NSF.

You can find our published conference papers on this work in the Proceedings of the Cognitive Sciences Society, including Pesowski, Quy, Lee, Schachner, 2020; Hurwitz, Brady, Schachner, 2019; Schachner, Brady, Oro, Lee, 2018.

You can see former postdoc Madison Pesowski present this work at CogSci 2020, here.

Reasoning about the social meaning of shared preferences: In related work, in collaboration with Lindsey Powell and Mina Cikara, we have explored children's reasoning about the social meaning of shared preferences for things like toys and foods. 

We published this work in the journal Cognition in 2023, and it is available here.

We also published some related work in the CogSci Proceedings in 2021 (Pesowski, Kelemen & Schachner, 2021). You can see Madison present this work at CogSci 2021, here.

From Music to Animacy: Causal reasoning links agents with musical sounds

Similar to tools or visual art, music is an artifact - something designed and produced by people. When listening to music, do we make causal inferences about the movements and animate agents that caused the sounds? We ask whether high-level causal reasoning about how music was generated can lead people to link musical sounds with animate agents, and whether this is this the case even early in development. This work aims to shed light on cognitive mechanisms that underlie this link from musical sound to social cognition.

You can read more about our adult findings in our 2021 CogSci paper (Kim & Schachner, 2021), and see Minju Kim present the work at CogSci 2021 here. You can also read our earlier relevant CogSci paper (Schachner & Kim, 2018). 

You can read more about our recent developmental findings in our 2021 poster at SRCD, also led by Minju Kim.

The impact of musicality and aesthetic appreciation on social judgements

The ability to infer others’ prosocial vs. antisocial behavioral tendencies from minimal information is core to social reasoning. Aesthetic motivation (the value or appreciation of aesthetic beauty) is linked with prosocial tendencies, raising the question of whether this factor is used in interpersonal reasoning and trait attribution. We propose and test a model of this reasoning, finding that evidence of others’ aesthetic motivations impacts judgments of others’ prosocial (and antisocial) tendencies by signaling a heightened capacity for emotional experience. This work is ongoing, led by Tanushree Agrawal, and funded by a grant from the Grammy Foundation.

Our submitted paper (on the impact of aesthetic vs. functional motivations on social judgments) is available as a pre-print, here.

Our first paper on the topic, which finds that people judge musical entities as more wrong to harm, is published in Psychology of Music (Agrawal, Rottman & Schachner, 2021). You can also see Tanush present one of many experiments on the topic at BCEM 2020 here

The developmental origins of dance and musicality

The ability and motivation to move to music is a universal and fundamental human behavior. How early in infancy do children do begin to dance (that is, move rhythmically in response to music)? How variable is this age of onset across children? What form does this early dance take? In this line of work, we aim to shed light on the ontogeny of dance, a fundamental and universal human behavior.

You can read our first paper on the topic, in Developmental Psychology (Kim & Schachner, 2022). There is also an open-access pre-print here

You can also see Minju Kim present these data at BCEM 2020, or read a poster she presented at SMPC 2019.

Evolutionary origins of musicality: The lab also has prior work on the evolutionary origins of musicality, particularly the ability to move in time with a beat in non-human species (Schachner et al., 2009, Current Biology; and follow-up papers in 2010 & 2012). Currently the lab is focusing on developmental origins and not actively conducting cross-species comparative work.