We live in a world rich with causal structure. Events do not just occur randomly around us, they result from causal relationships such as rain falling resulting in a slippery ground, or flipping a switch to make the light turn on. As children grow up a major challenge they face is uncovering the world’s causal structure, including understanding the causes and consequences of other people’s behaviour. How do children learn these kinds of causal relationships, especially when the world presents them with sparse, ambiguous data or with multiple, conflicting sources of evidence? Are these sophisticated abilities unique to humans, or are they shared with other animals?
Our lab aims to use experimental and computational techniques to understand the causal and social reasoning abilities of humans and nonhuman animals (specifically dogs). By focusing on social and causal learning, we can address one of the core questions of cognition: How do humans construct sophisticated representations from relatively simple percepts, and how do these cognitive abilities develop?
We investigate dog’s learning in a variety of contexts including dogs’ physical problem-solving abilities (e.g., how to get treats out of puzzles) and their understanding of social information (e.g., following a pointing gesture or learning from a demonstration). Our research takes the form of short, interactive games and training exercises that are designed to be fun and engaging to dogs.
We investigate children’s learning in a variety of contexts including children’s understanding of physical causation (e.g., what makes a toy activate) and social/psychological causation (e.g., why people behave in certain ways). Our research takes the form of short, interactive games that are designed to be fun and engaging to young children.
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We are located in the Metcalf Research Building on the Brown University campus.
Address: 190 Thayer Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02912