Current Research Topics

Our research concerns two intersecting strands in social and cognitive development: Montessori Education, and how fictional worlds (like pretend play and media) and real life intersect and inform each other. Some current projects in the lab are:

    Montessori Education

    We are currently addressing 3 questions that are related to Montessori and to education more broadly, but we welcome other ideas.

  • 1. What is concentration, and how is it related to constructs like "flow" and mindfulness meditation? Can it be reliably observed externally, and what are its outcomes? In other words, to what other behaviors might it reliably be linked? Does it lead to epigenetic change, specifically to expression of the oxytocin receptor gene? Is there an observable neural signature?

  • 2. How does teacher training change people, in Montessori versus conventional programs? Are Montessori teachers more authoritative (versus authoritarian) for example, and if so, was that a result of training or a pre-existing condition? How long do Montessori teachers stay in the profession, as compared to conventional teachers, and why?

  • 3. What are the long term outcomes of Montessori versus more conventional education, on such measures as well-being, mental health, creativity, and so on, in high school and beyond?

  • We also will continue to address: How does Montessori education compare to traditional schooling for child outcomes like theory of mind, executive function, and academic performance? And how do variations in Montessori implementation influence outcomes?

    Visit the Montessori Science website for more information.

    Learning Through Pretend and Fiction

  • Can children learn new information and/or skills through pretending and fiction? How might this type of learning differ from direct instruction?
  • How are children affected by their experiences with fictional narratives? For example, will children adopt the traits of characters they've heard about in a story?
  • Do children generally prefer pretend or real activities, and why? How do each of these contribute to development?

    Prosocial Media's Effect on Behavior

  • Does viewing prosocial behavior in fictional media (such as books and television shows) lead to increases in prosocial behavior in real life?
  • How prosocial is children's television programming? We recently watched 49 popular shows to find out!
    Visit our Media page to learn what we found!

    Learning from Touchscreens

  • How do children learn from touchscreens and educational apps?
  • Do children view touchscreens as viable sources of information?

    Television and Executive Function

  • How does television viewing impact executive function, cognitive skills, creativity, and attention?

    Pretend-Reality Boundary

  • How do children negotiate the boundary between reality and pretense? For example, does pretending to be an aggressive character lead to increases in aggression once the pretend episode is over?

Living Laboratory Collaboration

In Fall 2015, the Child Development Laboratories at the University of Virginia partnered with the Virginia Discovery Museum to form a Living Laboratory, a nationwide educational research program developed at the Museum of Science, Boston. The goal of this program is to bring together academic researchers (such as ourselves) and museum staff to foster public awareness and understanding of the scientific study of children's learning and development.

Our Living Laboratory is located on site at the Virginia Discovery Museum, and undergraduate and graduate researchers from the Child Development Laboratories visit weekly to recruit participants, conduct studies, and talk with families about child development.

Visit us in the museum on Saturday afternoons from 1:00pm to 4:00pm from September to December 2017!

Learn more about the Virginia Discovery Museum.
Learn more about Living Laboratory.