313 Merrill Science
PO Box: AC# 2236
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Departmental affiliation: PsychologyAmherst College
Professional and Biographical Information
Ph.D., University of Virginia (2013)
B.A., The College of William and Mary (2008)
Most of the courses I teach at Amherst are related to developmental psychology. However, the curriculum here allows me to teach a wide range of classes, from larger introductory courses, to more advanced courses of research methods and topics within developmental psychology. While every course is different, my primary goals are twofold: to engage students in some of the important questions of psychology, and to train students in the skills of evaluating claims and building and defending their own theories. We practice these skills using the lens of psychology, but I believe that learning to apply skills in a broad range of contexts is a unique strength of a liberal arts education. Therefore, I also design my courses so that students can identify and practice application of their skills outside of the classroom, in a wide array of experiences and pursuits.
The ability to communicate, especially for the purposes of teaching and learning, may be what distinguishes humans from many of our closest genetic relatives. The goal of my research is to explore the essence of our predisposition to teach and learn from others. Specifically, by examining the ways that young children behave in pedagogical situations, I hope to understand some of the fundamental expectations and assumptions that humans have about communicating for the purpose of conveying information to others. One way I have explored these interests is by examining children's expectations about nonverbal communication, specifically pointing. Results suggest that children's early experience with pointing has led them to expect the gesture to be informative and truthful, and also to believe that those who use pointing are doing so because they have knowledge to share. Thus far, I have used pointing as a means to address important and interesting questions about children's interpretations of pedagogical exchanges. I anticipate continuing this line of research with the particular goal of comparing the inferences that children make about others based on their pointing and those they make based on others' verbal testimony. However, there are also many important and interesting questions to be addressed about pointing itself, including how children decide when someone's point is a good one. Do children have a standard by which they judge pointing? If so, what is included in this standard? I am also interested in whether being able to point changes our cognitive processes. Given that pointing requires understanding what information others may find important or interesting, are infants who can point more likely to understand others' minds than those who cannot? In my future work, I plan to develop lines of research in both domains, using pointing as a tool to understand how children learn about their world, while also investigating the principles of pointing gestures themselves.