Research in the Language and Social Development lab covers three main areas:
The role of cognitive development in early social understanding
Mental state language and the development of social understanding
Interactions between culture, social understanding and wellbeing
Current studies taking place in the Lab
Foundations of Social Understanding in Toddlerhood
We are currently running a longitudinal study which examines how the skills children learn in toddlerhood help them develop social understanding of others.
Our aim is to construct a comprehensive understanding of how various aspects known to influence social understanding relate to each other; at the point at which they emerge - and then - over the course of toddlerhood.
Parent-child Conversations about Mental States
Language which refers to the mind assists children’s social understanding. Our findings suggest that the conversations children have with their parents help them to gradually build on their knowledge of the mind – first by talking about their own desires and then about the thoughts of others.
We also explore how children’s early cognitive development influences the effects of mental state talk. Our work suggests that a child’s ability to recognise themselves as a person is a crucial pivot point – enabling them to benefit from references to what other people might think.
Culture and Social Understanding
Very few studies have examined parent-child conversations in non-Western cultures.
Findings from our recent study with Pacific Island families suggest the possibility of alternative pathways to children’s social understanding. The degree of ethnic identity influenced parents’ tendency to refer to their child’s mental states – with siblings playing an important role in toddlers’ understanding of their social world.
Connectedness and Pacific Teenagers’ Wellbeing
In collaboration with the Pacific Trust Otago and Associate professor Tony Merriman (Biochemistry department, University of Otago), we are working to understand this issue better. Preliminary findings suggest that the more Pacific teenagers feel connected with their Pacific identity, the better their mental health and the more at ease they feel talking with their parents.
If you would like to learn more about our research please contact the Lab manager:
Tel 64 3 470 3497