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Professor of Psychology
The development of thinking is a complex process affected both by internal maturational factors and by external experiences. My research focuses on the integration of these factors with particular attention to the role of sociocultural experiences in the acquisition, organization, and use of cognitive skill. I have written theoretical papers on this topic. In studying these processes I have concentrated on the ways in which children and adults solve problems in several domains, including spatial thinking and planning skills. Of particular interest in my research is the influence of experience with others, peers and adults, in the development of cognitive skill. Much of this work is guided by theoretical views, such as those by Vygotsky and Piaget, that suggest that collaboration may facilitate the development of thinking as children become exposed to and participate in problem solving that would be inaccessible to them if they were working alone. I have conducted research that supports this point by showing that children who previously planned in collaboration with another planned more on later individual trials than children who did not previously collaborate. Recently I have been investigating how child compliance may regulate collaboration in parent-child dyads. My hypothesis is that noncompliance may function as a coercive way of getting adults to adjust the guidance and support for children they provide during joint problem solving. In addition to examining the influence of social collaboration on cognitive development, I am also concerned with how the structure of a task or experiencewith a setting may influence the development of thinking skills. This interest is central in my research in spatial cognition which has involved studies of the influence of the goal that guides exploration of a space on the development of children's spatial knowledge, the influence of experience in the workplace on the organization and use of spatial knowledge among adults, and the influence of everyday spatial experiences among Navajo children on their ability to plan a route through a familiar setting. Most recently I have conducted a project examining what children do after school. My initial question in this study was "What do children do when they have nothing to do?" However, this question had gradually changed as I discover that many children, particularly those in certain sociocultural communities, rarely have "nothing to do." Many young children today have their time extensively committed both during and after school hours. These patterns have peaked my interest in the ecology of young children's everyday lives, particularly in relation to the larger cultural values and commitments these practices reflect, and I plan to conduct further research on this topic.
Scripps College, Claremont University
2009 Association for Psychological Science, Fellow