Seminar: Laura Schulz, PhD, “What Really Matters: Children’s Inferences about Learning, Trying, and Caring”
March 2 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Laura Schulz, PhD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
About the Talk: I have long been interested in children’s ability to make rich, inductive inferences from sparse, noisy data. Here I look at how these inferential abilities support children’s reasoning about their own and others’ competence and motivation, with implications for everything from children’s task persistence to their moral and pragmatic judgments. This evidence from my own lab, and many others, suggesting the sophistication of children’s early social cognition is in tension with some claims about children’s early emotion understanding (e.g., that it may be limited to distinctions based on valence and arousal, or focused on a small set of “basic” emotions). I will suggest instead that very young children make fine-grained distinctions among emotional reactions and map these onto their probable eliciting causes. I will conclude by discussing our new, open source, online developmental laboratory (Lookit!), which has the potential to expand both the questions we ask, and the populations we reach.
About the Speaker: The infrastructure of human cognition—our commonsense understanding of the physical and social world—is constructed during early childhood. I study the representations and learning mechanisms that underlie this feat. My research looks at 1) how children infer the concepts and causal relations that enable them to engage in accurate prediction, explanation, and intervention; 2) the factors that support curiosity and exploration, allowing children to engage in effective discovery and 3) how these abilities inform and interact with social cognition to support intuitive theories of the self and others.
Computational models of human cognition inform much of the research in the lab. I have been especially interested in understanding trade-offs in the inferential process, such that the same inductive biases that constrain the hypothesis space and allow us to draw rich inferences from sparse data can also make it difficult for us to revise our beliefs. This paradox poses a challenge for educators but also provides insight into the factors that might promote effective learning and teaching.
Most of the research in the lab involves babies and children. Since babies and children have limited prior knowledge and no formal training, understanding how children reason about the world can give us insight into the origins of knowledge and fundamental principles of learning. We have on-site laboratories that constitute the PlayLab at the Boston Children’s Museum, where we use a variety of approaches, ranging from infant-looking time methods to free-play paradigms in our studies.
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Credit Designation Statement:
The University of Wisconsin-Madison ICEP designates this live activity for a maximum of 1.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.
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The seminar series is funded by the John D. Wiley Conference Center Fund, the Friends of the Waisman Center and NIH grant U54 HD090256.