Research topics

  • Understanding Actions and Agency

How do infants understand what others are doing around them? We study how they know the purposes that drive the behavior of actors, how they predict what others will do next, and how they reproduce actions they have observed. Our findings indicate that, in the absence of other cues, infants view actions as cost-efficiently directed towards some benefit for the actors.

We are also interested in what entities infants consider worthy of treating as agents with capabilities of performing actions. Infants are open-minded: for them, not only people and other animals, but any moving object that drives itself or seems to be pursuing a goal is an agent in its own right.

These studies are partly funded by an ERC grant.

  • Mapping Social Relations

Social interactions can reveal a lot about the intentions and the dispositions of the participants, but it could also indicate their social relations. We study what cues infants use to infer such relations, whether they predict the outcome of  new, previously unobserved interactions, what information children use to choose partners for cooperative tasks, and how they track individuals across social contexts.

These studies are primarily funded by an ERC grant.

  • Ostensive Communication

By their first birthday, infants have learnt some words, understand pointing and other gestures, respond to requests, and are involved in various other communicative interactions. We study how they recognize communcative signals directed to them and towards others, how they figure out what actions are intended to convey messages and how to map those actions to referents, and whether assumptions they hold about human communication help them to learn valuable generic knowledge about the world.

These studies are partly funded by an ERC grant.

  • Word Learning and Bilingualism

It is generally assumed that infants learn words, for example, the names of objects, by simply associating word forms with other perceptually available stimuli, like object shapes and texture. We study whether infants adopt further assumptions when mapping words onto referents. One set of these assumptions concerns the nature of ostensive linguistic communication, in particular, that it will convey generic knowledge, including conventional labels of objects. Another assumption is that words map onto concepts — when such concepts (even abstract ones) are available, infants preferentially map words onto them; when they are not available, infants presume some culturally sanctioned concepts corresponding to the referent.

  • Abstract Concepts and Logic

How do infants acquire a conceptual sophistication necessary for abstract combinatorial thought involved in everyday reasoning? What are the precursors of logical operators in early development? How do infants learn the meaning of logical words? We study the ontogenetic precursors of logical connectives, quantification, and different forms of deductive inferences that are fundamental “ingredients” of rationality providing a repertoire of mental operations that may guarantee a domain independent flexibility of our problem-solving abilities. 

These studies are primarily funded by an ERC grant. A McDonnell Foundation grant supports an extensive collaboration between a variety of research institutes interested in the domain.

  • Episodic Memory and Communication

Memories of past events are often used in justifications of assertions in human communication. We study whether the emergence of episodic memory in children is related to the need of reference to past experience in formulating, or evaluating, arguments in everyday communication.