Intuitive Archeology: Social reasoning about 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.

Children use inverse planning to detect social transmission in design of artifacts.pdf
Children use artifacts to infer others' shared interests.pdf
Schachner Brady Oro Lee 2018 IntArch.pdf

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.

If you have a 4- to 6-year-old child, you can click here to participate in this study!

Schachner Kim 2018 Order Agency.pdf

Hearing Water Temperature: 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 cross-modal skills develop? To what extent does it depend on extensive experience, versus early-developing perceptual abilities? In ongoing experiments, we are characterizing the development of this ability, asking at what age children can hear water temperature, and probing for developmental change over childhood.


Music & Moral Judgements

Music has the ability to move people in powerful, prosocial ways. This intuition is supported by extensive research, and has served as the foundation for real-world musical interventions to reduce conflict on a global scale. Less is known, however, about why music motivates prosocial behavior, and how it impacts social cognition. In this project, we are exploring the hypothesis that simply knowing about other's musicality increases our judgements of their moral standing.

The Origins of Dance in Infancy

How early in infancy do children do begin to dance, and how variable is this age of onset across children? How frequently do infants dance in their everyday lives, and how does this change with age? 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.


Children's Social Reasoning About Default Options

Many choices have default options: Consider a default side dish at a restaurant, or a default response on a survey. Adults tend to stick with the default, and interpret it as an implicit recommendation - for example, that the person who made the menu believes that option is better for you. We are exploring whether young children similarly show a default effect, and whether they make social inferences from others' choice (or avoidance) of default options that are similar to adults'.

If you have a 6 to 8-year-old child, you can click here to participate in this study!

Children's Understanding of Video Chat

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.

If you have a child age 6 months to 4 years, you can click here to participate in our parent survey!

Do you see what I see.pdf

Gesture Production and Theory of Mind

This study looks at how people tailor their speech and/or gestures to bring the other to the common ground. In verbal communications, co-speech gestures help us effectively communicate with others. In the absence of speech, silent gestures are often as useful on their own as a communicative tool (e.g. gesturing to other drivers at an intersection). To successfully communicate with others, we often have to perform perspective-taking skills and understand what they know and do not know. With a game similar to Charades, we look at how adults and children customize their gestures for the listener to achieve the communicative goal, by highlighting the information that the listener needs to know.


Strategic Deception and Theory of Mind

The ability to deceive others appears to depend on advancing theory of mind abilities -- the ability to understand what others know and believe. Supposing that theory of mind is not only correlated with but plays a crucial role in lying, what might that predict about how people actually calibrate their lies to other people's beliefs? Informed by computational modeling, we explore how adults and children make strategic social decisions in deception games, and how this changes over development.

If you have a 5- to 8-year-old child, you can click here to participate!