Current Research

The Early Development Laboratory at UVa is currently engaged in two main projects:
1. Pretense: We study how engaging in fictional worlds (pretending, video, books) can change children. We know that watching violent television makes children more aggressive, and that engaging in violent video games makes them even more so.  What about aggressive pretense--does it have the same influence, or do children really quarantine pretense from real worlds, as some have suggested?  And what of other behaviors: do children become more polite after engaging in fictions in which people are polite, or more smart when the fictional world is characterized by intelligence?  Do they learn in pretense worlds and transfer that learning to the real world?  If they are cognitively depleted in pretense, does that carry over to the real world?   Along with behavioral studies of children in the laboratory, we also collaborate with Jamie Morris (Social Psychology at UVa) on an fMRI study of how people's brains are activated when they observe pretend acts versus those same acts done for real.  Our aim is to better understand how pretense is processed neurally, and thus how our brains manage to take information as make believe, when clearly real world knowledge is much involved.

2. Early Childhood Education: We study how different forms of early child education, especially comparing different implementations of Montessori versus conventional schooling, impacts children's theory of mind, executive function, and early academic stills.  We have embarked on a study of children at the public Montessoris in Hartford, CT, comparing those who were admitted by random lottery with those who lost the lottery and attended other schools instead.

Other lab projects include:
- When pretending ends (with Eric Smith)
- How early social skills, social knowledge, social behavior, and executive function are linked across time
- The relationships between symbolic understanding, theory of mind, and pretense across early childhood (with Bob Kavanaugh, Williams)
- How young children interpret pretense acts (with Lili Ma, Asst. Prof. of Psychology, Ryerson University)
- Play-Based Social Skills Interventions for children with autism (with Matt Lerner, Clinical Intern University of Chicago Medical School and UVa)
- How television impacts executive function (Eric Smith, Marissa Drell)
- Pretense object substitution (Emily Hopkins, Rebecca Dore)