Research

Our research addresses basic issues of cognitive development during childhood.

The following topics represent the main fields of our studies:

Development of Intuitive Knowledge

From early on, young infants acquire intuitive knowledge about the physical, social, and biological world by interacting with their environment. It is widely assumed that this knowledge is based on innate systems of core knowledge, which becomes enriched and more sophisticated in the years to follow. Whether, or to what extent, the early competencies found with infants actually develop continuously, and can be expressed verbally by older children, is the focus of our research. To this end, we employ different research methods depending on children’s age and the research question (see below). The knowledge domains we investigate include everyday knowledge about physics (naïve physics) and psychology (Theory of Mind) as well as non-symbolic and symbolic number knowledge (intuitive mathematics). Our research findings suggest both continuity and discontinuity in early cognitive development.

Development of Mental Representations

Perception of our environment leads to internal representations of it, for example, the mental representation of a physical object. Mental representations of objects can be maintained even without any perceptual input, and they can be changed or transformed. In our research, we investigate, based on which feature and under which conditions, children conceive of different vs. numerically identical objects if they are temporarily occluded (object individuation). We also investigate how the ability to transform mental representations develops during childhood with a focus on the role of perceptual and motor processes (mental rotation and embodiment).

Learning by Imitation

From birth, infants begin to imitate facial gestures and extend their ability to imitate others continuously over the first years of life. Imitation is not only important for social interactions but it also plays a major role as an efficient learning mechanism. Young children, in particular, acquire much of their knowledge and skills by observation and imitation. In our research, we are interested in factors determining the frequency and fidelity of children’s imitative behavior.

Research Methods

Particular task demands, concerning linguistic and general cognitive abilities, often prevent young children from expressing their intuitive knowledge. Therefore, in addition to exploring child-appropriate interview techniques, we also employ various indirect measures, such as motor behavior, reaction times, looking behavior, and pupillary reactions.