Current Studies

Joint Attention and Social Bonding 

Human children seem to be particularly attuned to sharing experiences with others. For example, they enjoy situations in which they can focus on something (e.g., a toy or a book) with an adult and will even try to prompt adults to engage in these behaviors. This sharing of attention and sharing of experiences seems natural to us as adults, but many people do not realize that this is one of the key elements in psychology that makes us different from other species. Even our closest primate cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos, do not seem to initiate or participate in this type of sharing. So why, then, do children share in this way? This series of studies seeks to investigate this question with a specific aim of determining whether the psychological processes underlying these sharing activities initiate a unique way of connecting with others, which may therefore be the basis of human cooperation.

We are currently recruiting children of the following ages to participate in this study:  4.25 – 4.75 year olds


We Framing

The present study investigates the effects of “we-priming” on children’s prosocial and affiliative behavior, i.e., their helping, sharing, and commitment towards a partner. The task children participate in is a decorating task – they “decorate for a party” by decorating colorful sheets of paper so that “everyone can have fun at the party later.” We manipulate how the decorating task is construed to children, namely, either as something “we” do or as something “you” do. The idea is that framing the task using terminology indicative of a group or collaborative context will cause children to tend to distribute resources more equally with their partner (an adult experimenter who is decorating alongside them). Additionally, we-priming is expected to cause children to be quicker to help their partner retrieve an out-of-reach object, as well as to feel a greater sense of commitment or obligation towards their partner during the task (e.g., the sense that one cannot simply get up and walk away from a collaborative task unless they take leave from the task in some way).

We are currently recruiting children of the following ages to participate in this study:   3.5 – 4.5 year olds


Music Affiliation 

In a uniquely human way, children are largely able to share and enjoy experiences with others by visually focusing on something, like a toy or a movie. The enjoyment of this experience with another (both adults and other children) translates to an increased sense of affiliation with that individual. In our study, we look to see if this guiding principle is shared with auditory stimuli, specifically music. Does jointly listening to music together have the same bonding effect as sharing other activities?

We are currently recruiting children of the following ages to participate in this study:   4 – 5 year olds


Liking Gap

Upon first meeting individuals tend to like their partners more than they think their partner likes them. This underestimation is referred to as the liking gap. We are exploring the liking gap as well as children’s perception accuracy over a large age range to help us determine when this might come online for children. In the present study two children who don’t know each other are paired up and asked to do a collaborative task (build a tower together). At the end of the building session the two children are then separated and asked questions about how they feel about the other child as well as how they think the other child feels about them. We are looking at both male-male, female-female, as well as male-female relationship dyads.

This study is conducted at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC on Thursday afternoons as well as at various events through out the triangle area.

We are currently recruiting children of the following ages to participate in this study:   4 – 12 year olds