Our Research

Executive Functions

In a large-scale, 5-year-project funded by the EU we are looking at the topic of Executive Functions and their Development in Early Childhood. Executive Functions are a set of core cognitive abilities such as attention shifting, inhibitory control, and working memory – abilities critical for success in the classroom and life in general. We aim to study the emergence of these abilities in the preschool years, and their relationship to one another. The challenge of exploring this in young children is that other skills are developing rapidly as well, such as their language skills. Therefore, we have developed novel tests with minimal verbal content, designed as fun games for children.

We have two main goals: First we want to develop Executive Function tasks for 3- to 5-year-olds that show individual variation in performance – this kind of tool kit will be very valuable in making accurate tests of children’s abilities in the future. Second we want to find out how children’s performance in these tests can predict their performance in other, real-world tasks such as problem-solving, tool-use, social understanding and causal reasoning. In other words, we want to find out what it is that makes some children better problem-solvers, planners or perspective takers than others – can differences in core abilities such as inhibitory control and attention shifting explain these differences?

Further information about the studies already completed within this project can be found here.

Dealing with indirect evidence: Can children imagine unseen causes or do they learn associations?

This study aims to investigate how children develop the ability for causal reasoning. Extracting causal information that are present in the world is one of the cognitive capacities humans have evolved to better adapt to their changing environments. It endows us with the ability not only to make predictions but also to intervene for novel and desirable outcomes. Children are highly motivated to observe and explore their surroundings; they track regularities and are curious about the underlying mechanisms. However, the causal relations between events are not always obvious. Children have to infer these relations to solve problems. This research explores whether children can extract causal information using auditory cues or instead rely on associations between events to locate rewards.

Context Development Memory in 4-7 Year-Olds

Research project investigating how our ability to remember the past develops. This ability appears to develop relatively late in humans, and undergoes interesting changes during early childhood that we are looking to better understand.

Episodic thinking, executive function and theory of mind in Autism Spectrum Disorders

This research project examines young children’s ability to form memories, imagine future experiences and understand what other people are thinking. It investigates how children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders develop the ability to think about other times and other minds.  It has been suggested that these abilities are linked, and examining how they hang together in both typical and atypical development can give us a really useful insight into the nature of these abilities and the connections between them.

Cognition and tool use in children

Research has shown that between 2 and 3 years of age, children’s physical problem solving is fragile.  For example, we have found that children in this age group struggle in physical problem solving of tasks if they have to use a tool but can successfully solve the same task if they can use their hands.  We are trying to find out how children learn to use tools to solve problems. Specifically, we are comparing learning from personal experience and learning from others’ demonstrations.

Did I do that? Influences of Social Interactions on Memory and Action Learning

This research aims to investigate how children develop accurate memories for new actions learned when working with people. As a social species, interacting with others is critical to everyday life. Especially early in life, interactions with others are rich with opportunities for learning and are particularly salient events in early memories. Given the universality of social interactions in childhood, it is important to identify what children learn and remember from these interactions throughout development.

Understanding how memory for actions develops in pre-schoolers and how this memory relates to other ongoing development in motor and social learning gives us important insights into the nature of the human mind. The knowledge and understanding gained may also be useful for designing educational strategies in the future.