Research interests: Attention, social interaction, cognitive development, problem solving, working memory, autism, developmental disabilities
Cognitive Development We are not born with our executive functions fully formed; therefore, understanding how our cognitive abilities grow over the lifespan may provide additional insight into how they function. I am interested in understanding the factors that influence the development of executive functions and cognitive control. For example, how do children switch from environmentally-directed to self-directed attention control? How do children set and execute goals at different stages of development? How do caregiver-child interactions facilitate the development of attention? Finally, how does the knowledge gleamed from such questions fit into current models of cognition?
Social Attention Social attention, the ability to coordinate our attention with another person, is a crucial aspect of social interaction and learning. Social attention facilitates the development of language, theory of mind, symbolic thought, and self-awareness. Understanding the mental processes behind social interaction, specifically social attention, may assist in addressing the developmental challenges faced by children with social and developmental disorders. My research interests in this area are three-fold. First, how do coordinate our attention with others and how do we choose who and what to attend to? Second, are social executive functions (e.g., social attention, social working memory, etc.) truly distinct from traditional accounts of executive functions? Third, does social interaction influence the development of executive functions in childhood? In other words, does engaging in joint attention episodes with our caregivers help us learn how to control attention or maintain goal relevant information?
Attention, problem solving & working memory Cognitive abilities are typically studied in strict laboratory environments. Such stringent conditions are necessary to eliminate extraneous variables from influencing our research; however, they may be limiting the generalizability of our findings. I am interested in understanding how traditional measures of cognitive abilities translate to real-world applications. For example, how does attention and working memory facilitate cooperation and problem solving? How does working memory support or bias our visual attention? How do children and adults filter irrelevant stimuli from their noisy and chaotic environment? How do parents assist children in this filtering process to facilitate learning in "typically" and "a-typically" developing children? Can these abilities be "trained" or improved in both clinical and typical populations?