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Queen's University

    Early Experience Lab


    Research Team



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    Preschoolers’ Theory-of-Mind Development

    Several projects in the lab are focused on understanding the social, cognitive, and neurodevelopmental factors that shape the timeline and trajectory of young children’s theory-of-mind development. We have been using EEG/ERP and most recently fMRI methodologies in combination with behavioural indices of frontal lobe functioning to identify aspects of brain maturation that might be specifically related to developments in preschoolers’ theory-of-mind. In addition, we are exploring how developments in preschoolers’ theory-of-mind reasoning might be the product of an interaction between neuromaturational factors and experience, particularly parent-child talk about mental states and culture.

    Theory of Mind study sensor net Theory of Mind study MRI

    Theory of Mind study with puppet

    Theory of Mind study reading

    Conventionality and Word Learning

    When children learn a given word meaning, they learn an often arbitrary link between a sound pattern and some object, action or abstract concept. But more important, they also learn a conventional tool that enables them to communicate with other members of their linguistic community about that object, action or abstract concept. Our research is examining the extent to which the cognitive systems that support word learning are driven by a special motivation to learn words that are most likely to be effective communicative tools. In particular, we are looking at:


    • The kind of information that parents provide to indicate that a word is, or is not, likely to be shared.

    • Children’s sensitivity to the kinds of information that parents typically provide when learning words themselves.

    • The cognitive mechanisms that are implicated as children learn, or block learning, words in line with their shared communicative value.

    Conventionality and Word Learning Conventionality and Word Learning


    In addition to this research, we have other projects in word learning that investigate questions such as:


    • Are children’s applications of word learning strategies affected by the extent to which their parents’ labelling practices dovetail with those strategies?
    • What are the neural bases of rapid word learning in young children and adults?
    • How do children coordinate pragmatic, syntactic, and conceptual information in word learning? Does the coordination of information change at different ages?


    Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000