words & Concepts

Human toddlers have a remarkable capacity to learn new words incredibly quickly, but some words are much harder to learn than others. For example, even though many children say words like minute, three, and purple by age 2, it can take months or even years until they have adult-like meanings! Our studies on how children acquire words like these teach us about about how children think about concepts like time, number, and color, and how these concepts differ across different language and cultural groups. Ultimately, we hope that by probing the origins of concepts in children, we can learn more about what they consist of in adults, and how sophisticated abstract thought is possible. 

Time & space

The experience of time is inherently subjective and ephemeral, and yet central to human cognition. Adults use many spatial tools, such as clocks, calendars, and timelines, to precisely represent time. We often even use the same words, like "long" and "short," to talk about both time and space. What is the relationship between time and space in the mind? Our studies explore the development of the "mental timeline," how we gesture and create visual representations of time, how we learn formal calendar systems, and how visual representations of time vary across languages and cultures. 

Past & future

As adults, we think differently about the past and the future. For example, we think our actions right now have the ability to change the future, but not the past. Our studies explore how this understanding of the past and future develops in children, and how it relates to their understanding of cause-and-effect relationships, and their ability to think counterfactually about possible and impossible worlds.