Barbara W. Sarnecka

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I am interested in how people think, and especially in how the mind is put together over the course of childhood. Much of my work looks at how young children acquire number concepts but, following the interests of my graduate student collaborators, I've also worked in recent years on social cognitive development, the development of judgment and decision-making, and adult moral psychology. One recent interest of my own is the question of how the independent experiences we have in childhood and adolescence (independent, meaning not under the direct supervision of an adult) contribute to our development in areas such as social competence (i.e., getting along with other people), problem solving (i.e., finding practical solutions to life's challenges) and autonomy (i.e., feeling in control of one's own life).

One of my favorite things to think about is scientific writing. In my cognitive development research, I have shared my postdoctoral adviser Susan Carey's interest in how people acquire new conceptual knowledge. But I'm particularly interested in how the authors of scientific papers can write in a way that helps their readers to construct conceptual frameworks that match the authors' own. (In other words, how we can communicate better as science writers.)

I believe in open science. So we make the research process in our lab as transparent as possible, and we make all of our scientific outputs (papers, data, code, etc.) immediately and freely available to everyone.

I feel lucky to live and work in Southern California, where I get to work with people from an exceptionally wide variety of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds. If you are a prospective graduate student, I am generally open to accepting new students into the lab every year. You should apply to the PhD program in Cognitive Sciences and when you are invited for an interview, request to meet with me.

Selected Publications

Review Articles/Chapters on Number

Sarnecka, B.W. (2017). Early Number Knowledge In Dual-Language Learners From Low-SES Households. In D. Berch, D. Geary and K. Mann-Koepke (Eds.), Language and Culture in Mathematical Cognition. New York: Elsevier.

Sarnecka, B.W. (2016). How numbers are like the earth (and unlike faces, loitering or knitting). In D. Barner & A.S. Baron (Eds.), Core Knowledge and Conceptual Change. NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0190467630.

Sarnecka, B.W. (2015). Learning to Represent Exact Numbers. Synthese, pp 1-18. Published online 27 August 2015.

Sarnecka, B.W., Goldman, M.C., & Slusser, E.B. (2015). How counting leads to children’s first representations of exact, large numbers. In R.Cohen Kadosh & A. Dowker (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Numerical Cognition (pp. 291-309). NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 978-0199642342.

Sarnecka, B.W. (2014). On the relation between grammatical number and cardinal numbers in development. Frontiers in Psychology: Developmental Psychology. (This article is part of the free ebook Linguistic Influences on Mathematics, edited by Ann Dowker and Hans-Christoph Nuerk)

Sarnecka, B.W. & Negen, J. (2012). A number of options: Rationalist, constructivist and Bayesian insights into the development of exact-number concepts. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 43, 237-268. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Inc.: Academic Press. PubMed Central ID: PMC3116985.

Carey, S. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2006). The development of human conceptual representations. In M. Johnson & Y. Munakata (Eds.), Processes of Change in Brain and Cognitive Development: Attention and Performance XXI, 473-496. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Empirical Articles on Number

Negen, J. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2014). Is there really a link between exact-number knowledge and ANS acuity in young children? British Journal of Developmental Psychology. Published online 18 November 2014. PMID:25403910.

Cohen, D.J. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2014). Children’s number-line estimation shows development of measurement skills (not number representations). Developmental Psychology, 50, 1640-1652.

Sarnecka, B.W. (2014). On the relation between grammatical number and cardinal numbers in development. Frontiers in Psychology: Developmental Psychology. 2014 Oct 9;5:1132. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01132. eCollection 2014. PMID: 25346709.

Sarnecka, B.W. & Wright, C.E. (2013). The idea of an exact number: Children’s understanding of cardinality and equinumerosity. Cognitive Science. PMID:23672476.

Slusser, E. Ditta, A., & Sarnecka, B. W. (2013). Connecting numbers to discrete quantification: A step in the child's construction of integer concepts. Cognition, 129, 31-41. PMID:23831562.

Negen, J. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2012). Number-concept acquisition and general vocabulary development. Child Development, 83, 2019-2027. PMID:22803603.

Negen, J., Sarnecka, B.W. & Lee, M.D. (2012). An Excel sheet for inferring number-knower levels from Give-N data. Behavior Research Methods, 44, 57-66. PMID:21789732. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD EXCEL SHEET

Lee, M.D. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2011). Number-knower levels in young children: Insights from Bayesian modeling. Cognition, 120, 391-402. PMC3116985.

Slusser, E. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2011). Find the picture of eight turtles: A link between children’s counting and their knowledge of number-word semantics. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110, 38-51. PMC3105118.

Negen, J. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2010). Analogue Magnitudes and Knower-Levels: Re-Visiting the Variability Argument. In Ohlsson, S. (Ed.), Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Red Hook, NY: Curran Associates, Inc. ISBN: 9781617388903

Lee, M.D. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2010). A model of knower-level behavior in number-concept development. Cognitive Science, 34, 51-67. PMC2836733.

Negen, J., & Sarnecka, B. W. (2009). Young children’s number-word knowledge predicts their performance on a nonlinguistic number task. In Taatgen, N. & van Rijn, H. (Eds.). Proceedings of the 31st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2998-3003. Red Hook, NY: Curran Associates, Inc. ISBN: 978-0-9768318-5-3

Sarnecka, B.W. & Lee, M. D. (2009). Levels of number knowledge during early childhood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 103, 325-337. PMC3127737.

Sarnecka, B.W. & Carey, S. (2008). How counting represents number: What children must learn and when they learn it. Cognition, 108, 662-674. PMID:18572155.

Sarnecka, B.W., Kamenskaya, V.G., Yamana, Y., Ogura, T., & Yudovina, J.B. (2007). From grammatical number to exact numbers: Early meanings of “one," “two,” and “three” in English, Russian, and Japanese. Cognitive Psychology, 55, 136-168. PMC2322941.

Sarnecka, B.W. & Gelman, S.A. (2004). Six does not just mean a lot: Preschoolers see number words as specific. Cognition, 92, 329-352. PMC3143070.

Research on other topics

Thomas, A.J., Sarnecka, B.W. & Stanford, P.K. (2016). We’re really bad at judging risk to kids. We’re really good at judging parents. Washington Post.

Thomas, A.J., Abramyan, M., Lukowski, A., Thomsen, L. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2016). Preferring the Mighty to the Meek: Toddlers Prefer Novel Dominant Agents. In Papafragou, A., Grodner, D., Mirman, D., & Trueswell, J.C. (Eds.). Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. ISBN: 978-0-9911967-3-9

Thomas, A.J., Stanford, P.K. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2016). Correction: No Child Left Alone: Moral judgments about parents affect estimates of risk to children. Collabra, 2(1): 12, pp. 1–15.

Thomas, A. J., Stanford, P. K., & Sarnecka, B. W. (2016). No Child Left Alone: Moral Judgments about Parents Affect Estimates of Risk to Children. Collabra, 2(1), 10.

Thomas, A.J. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2015). Exploring the relation between people’s theories of intelligence and beliefs about brain development. Frontiers in Psychology: Cognition. Published online 03 July 2015. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00921.

Goldman, M.C., Negen, J. & Sarnecka, B.W. (2014). Are bilingual children better at ignoring perceptually misleading information? A novel test. Developmental Science. 2014 Nov;17(6):956-64. doi:10.1111/desc.12175. PMID:24702852. Published online 7 April 2014.

House, B.R., Henrich, J., Sarnecka, B.W. & Silk, J.B. (2013). The development of contingent reciprocity in children. Evolution & Human Behavior, 34, 86–93.

Gelman, S.A., Goetz, P.J., Sarnecka, B.W., & Flukes, J. (2008). Generic language in parent-child conversations. Language Learning and Development, 4, 1-31. PMC3137552.