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Developmental Program

Program Overview

The Developmental Area is inherently interdisciplinary, studying social, cognitive, and neural processes in infants, children, and adolescents as they grow and change. The area focuses on ontogenetic change and the mechanisms that underlie it in typically developing populations. We primarily use experimental methods to uncover these mechanisms and we have a particular strength in the area of social cognition in birth through elementary school age children.

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The area focuses on ontogenetic change and the mechanisms that underlie it in typically developing populations.

Our area has had a tremendous scientific impact. Meltzoff’s work concerns the roots of social cognition in infants and young children. Meltzoff is one of the international leaders in this area, and his work is very well-cited. He is also extending beyond his core discipline and doing collaborative work on developmental neuroscience. Other examples of our excellence in the field of social cognition come from the work of Repacholi, Sommerville, and Olson. Repacholi, for instance, has been a major contributor in her work on infants’ responses to, and understanding of other people’s emotions. She is known for conducting complex and labor intensive studies, tackling challenging theoretical issues that few researchers are willing to address. At least two of her studies have become classics in the field of developmental psychology and are cited in many textbooks. And, Sommerville’s lab recently demonstrated evidence for a developing sensitivity to fairness in infants’ in the second year of life that is related to infants’ prosocial behavior and appears to be experientially mediated. This work challenges existing models of the development of fairness expectations that suggest such expectations are either an innate endowment, or a product of prolonged explicit socialization practices. Olson’s lab has made significant contributions in several areas of social cognition including prosocial behavior, prejudice, and ownership. For example, her work on prosocial behavior has suggested that concerns with one’s reputation can guide even young children’s prosocial and fairness behavior. This work is currently being developed into museum exhibits in two states for further data collection and public outreach purposes. The research of our part-time area members has likewise been significant. Katz was one of the early pioneers to examine how the interplay of children’s physiological functioning and social processes within the family predict child adjustment. Her research on emotion coaching has made a significant impact, and there are now several laboratories across the United States and in Australia that have been developing emotion coaching interventions with a variety of clinical and non-clinical populations. Kahn’s research seeks to address - from a psychological stance - two world trends that are powerfully reshaping human existence: (1) the degradation if not destruction of large parts of the natural world, and (2) unprecedented technological development, both in terms of its computational sophistication and pervasiveness. His publications have appeared in such journals as Child Development, Developmental Psychology, Human Development, Human-Computer Interaction, and Journal of Systems Software. He has published 5 books with MIT Press (2 single-authored and 3 co-edited)