Current projects in the lab

Intuitive Archeology: Detecting social transmission of ideas

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 explicit reasoning an archeologist uses when using objects to make inferences about past cultures and groups. We ask how people intuitively make similarly complex inferences, and how this ability develops in childhood. Several projects aim particularly to characterize how we infer whether copying (social transmission of ideas) has occurred, given the physical features of others' designs. This work uses Bayesian models to formalize the predictions of different cognitive accounts, and test which best predicts the judgments of adults and children.


Schachner, A., Brady, T.F., Oro, K., & Lee, M. (2018). Intuitive archeology: Detecting social transmission in the design of artifacts. In C. Kalisch, M. Rau, T. Rogers, & J. Zhu, Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. PsyArXiv Preprint.
Causes of musical sounds: Inferring agency from sound

Similar to tools or visual art, music is an artifact - something designed and produced by intentional actions. Does the perception of music involve inferences about the movements and animate agents that caused the sounds? 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.

Recently we have explored the hypothesis that the orderliness or organization of musical sound leads people to infer that an animate agent created it. We find that causal reasoning explains the link between order and agents, and that people can reason about the movements needed to cause the musical sounds they hear.


Schachner, A., & Kim, M. (2018). Alternative causal explanations for order break the link between order and agents. PsyArXiv Preprint, Open Data and Stimuli.
Schachner, A., & Kim, M. (2018). Entropy, order and agency: The cognitive basis of the link between agents and order. In C. Kalisch, M. Rau, T. Rogers, & J. Zhu, Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. PsyArXiv Preprint.
Hearing temperature: Development of cross-modal auditory event perception

We use sounds to learn about events in the world, often without conscious reasoning. One surprising example of this is that adults can accurately judge the temperature of water simply from hearing it being poured (Velasco, Jones, King, & Spence, 2013). How do these nuanced cross-modal skills develop? Some aspects of cross-modal perception are present in infancy, but many aspects are thought to depend on extensive experience. In a series of ongoing experiments, we are characterizing the development of this cross-modal skill, asking if children can hear water temperature, and probing for developmental change over childhood.

Music and moral judgments

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 experimentally exploring the cognitive underpinnings of a possible effect of musicality on moral status and moral judgments, particularly the wrongness of harming another entity or individual.

The origins of dance in infancy

This line of work explores the developmental trajectory of early dance: 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? We aim to shed light on the ontogeny of dance, a fundamental and universal human behavior.

Default effects in childhood: Children's reasoning about preferences from defaults

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 defaults that are similar to adults'.

Some other lines of work in the lab
  • Understanding Skype: How do infants/ preschool children understand social and physical interactions over videochat?
  • Synchrony and prosocial behavior: Does synchronized movement lead to prosocial behavior, and why might that be?
  • Goal inferences, and the concept of dance: How do movement-based goals play a role in lexicalized action concepts?