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. There are two main ways that children learn about the world around them: gaining first-hand experience (e.g., tasting a lemon and figuring out that it’s sour) and learning information from other people (e.g., hearing that lemons are sour, and believing what they’re told). Understanding the process by which children learn from others is particularly important because much of what children need to know about the world cannot be learned through first-hand experience (e.g., the fact that the earth is round), instead, they must simply listen to others and trust what they are told. Learning from others also requires that children be discerning in terms of who they trust: they need to identify and rely on those who are knowledgeable and helpful, and identify and ignore those who are ignorant or deceptive. My research is focused on better understanding how and when children choose to learn from others. One line of my research asks whether children evaluate others’ nonverbal cues (i.e., pointing gestures), in addition to their spoken language, to determine good sources of information. Another, more recent, line of my research explores the variation and complexity in how children learn from others. In this line of research, we explore whether individual differences, previous experiences, and context affect children’s decisions to trust others as good sources of information.