what we do
Humans alone are capable of formal geometry, like the one outlined in Euclid's Elements. We can conceive of points so small they have no size and lines that extend so far they never end. And yet, we conceive of such points and lines without ever perceiving them. Where do such geometric concepts come from? More generally, how does the physical world in which we live shape the abstract world in which we think?
Our research begins to address these questions using behavioral methods to explore the development of uniquely human geometric understanding — from the basic spatial sensitivities of infants to the high-level spatial concepts of adults.
Visit our PARTICIPATE! page to find out how to participate in our studies!
in the lab
With infants, we present live or animated vignettes with people, objects, and/or pictures in contexts that may grab infants’ attention or preference. By recording videos of infants during these presentations, we can code when and where they are looking, which serves as a correlate of their interest.
With children and adults, we evaluate their abilities to discriminate or identify shapes or numbers in visual displays, to navigate small-scale environments, to reason numerically, geometrically, analogically, or verbally, to read or produce maps or pictures, and to inhibit prepotent responses and switch from one task to another. Sometimes, we see whether performance in these tasks is affected by specific kinds of priming or training with numerical, spatial, social, or linguistic content.
We are excited to be partnering with the National Museum of Mathematics! MoMath's mission to spark curiosity in and reveal the wonders of mathematics greatly coincides with our lab's goal to bridge formal geometry and human cognition through psychological research.
Our lab is currently conducting two fun studies at MoMath which aim to explore how children reason about the properties of planar figures through development. The studies are geared towards children between the ages of 2 and 4 years and the ages of 6 and 8 years. Older children who participate will be given a pair of unique LDM and MoMath *shapes of constant width* (inspired after the museum's exhibit, Coaster Rollers) to take home! Younger children who participate will be given a thrilling counting book about the snails they encountered during the study! This book is specially chosen from the LDM and MoMath libraries and comes with a special bookplate. Visit us at MoMath on Sundays to participate in our collaboration that bridges mathematics, psychology, and research in a setting ripe for fun, exploration, and education!
Check out LookIt!: A New Online Lab for Infants and Children!
Families around the world can now participate in our studies from home, without an appointment, and using their own personal computers! We're one of the first labs to use Lookit!, a new online child lab created by our friends at MIT. Study sessions take about 10 minutes and involve watching pairs of videos of triangles, one on the left and on the right of your computer monitor. While your infant watches, webcam video is sent back to the lab for later analysis. We are interested in where infants choose to look, at changes in a triangle’s shape or its size.
At this point, we are specifically looking for babies between 6.5-7.5 months of age to participate in this study, ‘Baby Euclid,' on the Lookit website. However, infants up to 18 months of may also participate.
In the field
Check out our recent work in Science Bringing Cognitive Science to the Field!
Many poor children are underprepared for demanding primary school curricula. Research in cognitive science suggests that school achievement could be improved by preschool pedagogy in which numerate adults engage children’s spontaneous, non-symbolic mathematical concepts. To test this suggestion, we designed and evaluated a game-based preschool curriculum intended to exercise children’s emerging skills in number and geometry. In a randomized field experiment with 1540 children (average age 4.9 years) in 214 Indian preschools, 4 months of math game play yielded marked and enduring improvement on the exercised intuitive abilities, relative to no-treatment and active control conditions. Math-trained children also showed immediate gains on symbolic mathematical skills but displayed no advantage in subsequent learning of the language and concepts of school mathematics.
Hear more about how this work from Dr. Dillon and her collaborators, Drs. Esther Duflo and Elizabeth Spelke: