Our developmental studies involve one-on-one interviews with children. We read them short stories, ask them questions, or play brief games with them.

Imaginative Cognition

How do fictional stories affect our understanding of the real world?

One current series of studies asks how children learn about the real world from stories. We present children with new information in the course of a story by reading them a book or showing them a video. We then ask children some questions about the new information to see what they learned. Different children hear slightly different stories so that we can determine what kinds of stories teach best. Finding out how children learn information presented in stories can help us to create better educational media and more effective curricula for young children.

This project asks:

  • How do children think about the stories they hear?
  • Can children learn to transfer lessons learned from storybooks to real life?
  • Do the fantasy elements in children’s media affect their learning?
  • How do children distinguish between real and fantasy? What factors influence this ability?

Another current series of studies investigates how engagement with fiction might change adults’ beliefs and attitudes. These projects ask:

  • Does engaging with different fictional genres (especially science fiction and fantasy) change how adults think about reality?
  • Can reading a story about the effects of climate change improve adults’ attitudes towards the environment?
  • Does seeking out counterfactual information (that is, information about what might have happened) affect adults’ problem-solving abilities?
  • How do adults respond to creative works that have been generated by AI as opposed to by humans?

Children’s Educational Media

Early childhood educators stress the importance of reading to children as a major component of language acquisition and development. Children also learn about the world through videos and other media. Our lab examines children’s educational stories to see what kind of information they might be learning from these books and videos.

This project asks:

  • Which science concepts are being taught to children through fictional media? Are some topics more prevalent than others?
  • What kinds of misinformation or misconceptions are presented in children’s educational media?
  • What kinds of characters do these books and videos portray? How might that affect children’s learning from these media?