About Us

The Early Development Research Group is composed of seven research centres interested in the development of language, learning, and social understanding in infants and children. Read below for more information about what makes each centre unique.

Dr. Andrew Baron’s Social Cognitive Development Lab

Social Cognition and Group Membership | 1-10 Years

My research explores how children (from infancy through adolescence) establish preferences for and beliefs about people. In particular, through our research we hope to better understand how and when social group preferences and stereotypes are learned across development. Our work strives to identify optimal strategies to foster greater tolerance in children’s reasoning about social groups. We study a variety of topics, ranging from children’s understanding of social status, to attitudes and stereotypes about gender and race. For example, we are currently exploring the emergence of stereotypes about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and how we can support greater engagement in STEM among young girls (for more information on this project, click here!). Through our research we examine the conscious and unconscious components of these processes through interactive puppet shows and computer games. In addition to our centre on the UBC campus, we also conduct research at the Living Lab at Science World, where visiting families have the opportunity to meet with researchers from our team to both participate in and learn more about our different research projects.

Centre Website      Living Lab Website     Department Profile

Dr. Susan Birch’s K.I.D. Studies Centre

Knowledge, Imagination and Development | 3-12 Years

My research focuses on how children gain knowledge, evaluate sources of information and infer other people’s perspectives. As humans, and particularly as children, we acquire the vast majority of our knowledge through social transmission – that is, from other people. This is not without its benefits and its pitfalls, as there is a huge range in individuals’ confidence, expertise and reliability. Additionally, our own experiences can influence our perception of other people’s knowledge – for example due to phenomena such as the curse of knowledge bias, where our current knowledge sometimes contaminates our ability to recall what we used to know or make inferences about what others know. How do children navigate such a nuanced social-learning task? At our centre, we explore how children go about this complex process through interactive social games. We are particularly interested in the cues children use to make judgements about others and what they know, and how their abilities or limitations in social perspective taking might impact learning and decision-making throughout development.

Centre Website      Department Profile

Dr. Lauren Emberson’s Baby Learning Lab

Perception, Learning and Language | 0-4 Years

The infant brain has an incredible capacity to learn. Here at the Baby Learning Lab, my research explores how babies use their experiences to build an understanding of the world around them. I use a combination of both behavioural and neuroimaging techniques. I use a neuroimaging method (fNIRS) that is very infant-friendly – infants wear a cap that has light-weight sensors on it while they can sit in their parent’s laps and learn something new! We ask questions about how babies learn from their everyday experiences (for example, looking at objects or listening to adults speak), and therefore most of our studies focus on infant learning in the context of vision, language and attention. We are also interested in how early experiences contribute to later outcomes in life – for example, how being born prematurely or experiencing adversity in infancy may shape the brain and its learning mechanisms.

Centre Website      Department Profile

Dr. Geoffrey Hall’s Language Development Centre

Word Learning and the Meaning of Words | 0-8 Years

My research focuses on how babies and children learn words and their meanings. Young children are spectacular word learners, adding several new terms to their vocabulary every day during the pre-school years. This is by no means a simple task. Imagine that you pointed to a dog and said, “Dax.” How would your child know whether the label refers to the kind of animal (“dog”), to the particular animal (“Rover”), to one of the animal’s properties (“brown”) or to an action the animal is performing (“barking”). Somehow, children solve this complex problem with remarkable ease. Here at the Language Development Centre, we are trying to understand how children perform this astonishing feat, exploring what sorts of information they use to learn words and which specific meanings they assign to these words. We use a variety of techniques to answer these questions, including tracking where children look in reaction to words when we show them objects on a screen and which objects they choose when asked to find the referents of words during an interactive game.

Centre Website      Department Profile

Dr. Kiley Hamlin’s Centre for Infant Cognition

Social and Moral Cognition | 0-5 Years

My research explores the origins of social and moral thought from a developmental perspective. Here at the Centre for Infant Cognition, we examine our tendency to judge individuals’ actions as good or bad, as deserving of reward or punishment, and as morally praiseworthy or blameworthy. In addition, we ask whether and how these social and moral evaluations influence our understanding of others’ future acts, their mental states, and their underlying personalities. We examine these questions using preverbal infants and young toddlers, in order to study the foundational origins of these processes before complex cognitive abilities (such as language and inhibitory control) fully develop, and before extensive influences of cultural norms and values. In studying this young population, we use a wide range of creative methodologies including puppet shows, video studies, and interactive studies. We measure infants’ behaviours, responses, and preferences through both behavioural (e.g. looking time coding, behavioural coding, and choice procedures) as well as more complex methodologies, such as eye-tracking software and physiological technologies. All these different methodologies and technologies allow us to further understand early social and moral development.

Centre Website      Department Profile

Dr. Darko Odic’s Centre for Cognitive Development

Language, Mathematics and Metacognition | 3-12 Years

My centre tries to understand why children learn some things quickly, and other ones very slowly. For example, despite never spending time formally learning how to speak or comprehend sentences, almost every child develops their first language by the time they are three. On the other hand, despite sometimes decades of formal education, many of us still struggle with relatively basic math concepts. To understand these types of differences, my research focuses on the kind of intuitions children bring into the world that later inform the learning of complex subjects, sometimes accelerating them, and sometimes slowing them down. In many of our studies, we investigate children’s intuitive number sense: a kind of gut feeling about numbers that, even as adults, we use to roughly guess how many jellybeans are in a jar. This sense of number varies between people - some of us have a better sense, some worse - and predicts how well we master specific math skills. By linking early intuitions to later complex thoughts, my research seeks to explain how uniquely human abilities, including language, metacognition, and mathematics, emerge throughout development.

Centre Website      Department Profile

Dr. Janet F. Werker’s Infant Studies Centre

Language Acquisition and Speech Perception | 0-4 Years

My research focuses on the acquisition of language and how infants perceive speech during the first years of life. Language acquisition is a mysterious and remarkable event, and we know that a baby’s first few years are a critical period for language development. Our research at the Infant Studies Centre focuses on understanding this amazing process, and investigating the developmental mechanisms that make is possible. We take an interdisciplinary approach using behavioural (such as measuring where babies look) and neuroimaging (such as fNIRS, a baby-friendly way to look at brain activity) techniques to ask all kinds of fascinating questions. How does being raised in a bilingual or multilingual home shape speech perception? How do babies conceptualize their first words? How do babies bring together the multisensory aspects of speech (e.g. watching while listening to talking faces; imitating heard sounds) or learn to recognize different people’s voices? How do these earliest steps launch the child into full language acquisition, and prepare them for later literacy? These are the types of questions that we are addressing, with the help of our wonderful participating families.

Centre Website      Department Profile