We live in a world rich with causal structure. Events do not just occur randomly around us, they result from causal relationships – rain falling makes the ground slippery, flipping a switch makes the light turn on, turning a doorknob makes the door open. From learning to flip a light switch to using a remote control, 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 answer these questions, using experimental and computational techniques to understand children’s causal and social reasoning abilities. 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?