Broadly, our research addresses two central questions: 

  • How do children make sense of their social world (e.g., judgments about others and their implications for prejudice and stereotyping)? 

  • How do children learn to control their own thoughts and behavior in ways that support cognitive and social functioning in early to late childhood (e.g., staying focused on tasks; making friends)?

Developing ideas about other people

Early in life, young children begin to think about what other people are like, particularly in terms of global trait categories such as “niceness” and “meanness.” We have shown that children pay attention not only to the kind of behavior that they see (e.g., generosity), but also how much evidence they have (e.g., several examples, rather than only one example, of generosity), when making a personality judgment about another person. 

Related articles

Children's Use of Frequency Information for Trait Categorization and Behavioral Prediction (PDF) →
Boseovski, J. J., & Lee, K. (2006). Developmental Psychology, 42,500-513.

Seeing the World Through Rose-Colored Glasses? Neglect of Consensus Information in Young Children’s Personality Judgments (PDF) →
Boseovski, J. J., & Lee, K. (2008). Social Development, 2, 399-416.

Cognitive control of behavior

Many of our lab interests center on how children acquire the ability to control their own behavior in challenging contexts (e.g., stopping themselves from carrying out a well-learned behavior in favor of a novel one). Research in our lab has shown that one way to do this successfully is to maintain the goal in mind, a skill often facilitated by language.

Related articles

Use It or Lose It: Examining Preschoolers’ Difficulty in Maintaining and Executing a Goal (PDF) →
Marcovitch, S., Boseovski, J. J., & Knapp, R. J. (2007). Developmental Science, 10, 559-564.

Goal Neglect and Working Memory Capacity in 4- to 6-Year-Old Children (PDF) →
Marcovitch, S.,Boseovski, J. J., Knapp, R. J., & Kane, M. J. (2010). Child Development, 81, 1687-1695.

Toddlers Benefit From Labeling on an Executive Function Search Task (PDF) →
Miller, S. E., & Marcovitch, S. (2011). Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 108, 580-592.

The Cognitive Cost of Event-Based Prospective Memory in Children (PDF) →
Leigh, J., & Marcovitch, S. (2014). Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 127, 24-35.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other: Distinctiveness and Executive Function in Preschoolers (PDF) →
Miller, S. E., Chatley, N., Marcovitch, S., & Rogers, M. M. (2014). Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 118, 143-151.

Young Children’s Ability to Use Ordinal Labels in a Spatial Search Task (PDF) →
Miller, S. E., Marcovitch, S., Boseovski, J. J., & Lewkowicz, D. J. (2015). Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 61(3), 345-361.

Profiles of personality attribution in childhood

In middle childhood, many children exhibit a “positivity bias” about other people where they attend to information selectively to maintain an optimistic view of others. But not all children exhibit this bias—some children seem to see others in neutral or negative ways. We are interested in understanding the basis of these biases and what they mean for children’s safety and well-being (e.g., excessive trust in others, the ability to make friends). We are currently working with a large NICHD-funded data set in which we are characterizing different profiles of personality attribution and our future plans include cross-cultural extensions of this work in China to understand the degree to which socialization impacts children’s views of other people.

Related articles

Evidence for "Rose-Colored Glasses": An Examination of the Positivity Bias in Young Children's Personality Judgments (PDF) →
Boseovski, J. J. (2010). Child Development Perspectives, 4, 212-218.

Trust in Testimony About Strangers: Young Children Prefer Reliable Informants Who Make Positive Attributions (PDF) →
Boseovski, J. J. (2012). Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 111(3), 543-551.

Theory of Mind and Children's Trait Attributions About Average and Typically Stigmatized Peers (PDF) →
Lapan, C., & Boseovski, J. J. (2015, early view). Infant and Child Development. doi: 10.1002/icd.1923

Cognitive control in social contexts

We are one of the pioneering research groups investigating how cognitive control is related to processing social information throughout early to late childhood.

Related article

The Hierarchical Competing Systems Model Provides a Process Account of Social Decision Making [Letter to the Editor] (PDF) →
Boseovski, J. J., & Marcovitch, S. (2012). Human Development, 7-10. 

We have found that the social act of joint attention (when parent and child attend to the same stimulus) at 14 months of age predicts better cognitive control at 18 months of age.

Related articles

How Theory of Mind and Executive Function Co-Develop (PDF) →
Miller, S. E., & Marcovitch, S. (2012). The Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 3, 597-625. 

Examining Executive Function in the Second Year of Life: Coherence Stability and Relations to Joint Attention and Language (PDF) →
Miller, S. E., & Marcovitch, S. (2015). Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 101-114.

We are also currently conducting studies on how this relation presents itself in older children. For example, preschool aged children begin to experience sophisticated and complex social situations with their peers. While many of these social situations are positive, peer conflict also occurs in the preschool classroom. It is important for children to respond to conflict in a positive, non-aggressive manner to promote acceptance and friendship. We are interested in understanding how children’s abilities to cognitively control their behavior support prosocial responses to peer conflict.  

Learning from others

Young children rely on other people to learn about many aspects of the world. In some situations, children are discriminating learners who pick up on competence readily and disregard inappropriate sources of information. In others, they struggle to do so. We are interested in the factors that contribute to social learning from others and our work in this domain has taken many forms. For example, we have shown that children can differentiate between professionals (i.e., zookeepers) and laypersons when it comes to learning facts about novel animals. Current projects focus on children’s use of social comparison information to inform self-evaluation, children’s cultural learning, and the acquisition of new information in informal, everyday settings such as Science Centers.

Related articles

Evaluating and Approaching a Strange Animal: Children’s Trust in Informant Testimony (PDF) →
Boseovski, J. J., & Thurman, S. L. (2014). Child Development, 85(2), 824-834.

Role of Expertise, Consensus, and Informational Valence in Children’s Performance Judgments (PDF) →
Boseovski, J. J., Marble, K. E., & and Hughes, C. (2016). Social Development.

“Can I Believe My Eyes?” Three- to Six-Year-Olds’ Willingness to Accept Contradictory Trait Labels (PDF) →
Lapan, C., Boseovski, J. J., & Blincoe, S. (2016). Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 62(1), 22-47.

Structuring knowledge about the self

Children acquire and organize information about their worlds, developing networks of knowledge for many subjects while at the same time acquiring and organizing knowledge about themselves. We have started a research program investigating how children’s self-knowledge structure is related to their friendships with peers. In the future, we hope to explore age differences in how self-knowledge is organized across early and middle childhood, as changes are occurring in children’s memory abilities, self-reflection, and cognitive complexity.