Social Learning Lab

Stanford University | Spring 2017

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↞ About Us ↠

Children are powerful learners.

Right from the beginning, they quickly figure out “how the world works.” They seem to do so with little effort.

But how do they do it?

At the Social Learning Lab, we are on a mission to find out. Social learning—how humans learn from other humans—especially interests us. To study how children behave in social situations, our researchers bring fun games to JMZ every month.

See what we’ve been up to!

Hyowon Gweon | Lab Director

Assistant Professor

Dept. of Psychology

Stanford University

PhD in Cognitive Science @ MIT (2012)

↞ Featured Project 1 ↠

Mika Asaba | Graduate Student

I am interested in how humans form representations of themselves and of others. The problem of when, what, and how information becomes incorporated into our knowledge is incredibly fascinating to me.

Do children grasp communication?


Do children know when others tell the truth but not the whole truth? Children communicate with others and learn from others, but not everyone is equally honest.

By preschool, children can distinguish people who provide correct names from those who provide incorrect names for familiar objects (e.g., calling a cup a cup vs. a hat). But can they also differentiate people who leave out relevant information when communicating?


In our previous studies, we had children (age: 4 – 7) watch a series of video clips. Some clips showed a teacher who shared complete information about a toy. Others showed a teacher who shared incomplete information about a toy. Then, children were asked to rate how helpful each teacher was.


We found that younger children (age: 4 & 5) provided lower ratings to the incomplete teacher and higher ratings to the complete teacher! They were able to do this only when they watched the complete teacher before the incomplete teacher. The older children, however, succeeded regardless of the order.


While preschoolers may have the ability to judge others’ informativeness, they are still developing. They still need an example of a “good” teacher or a communicator who “tells the whole truth” to evaluate those who don’t.

↞ Featured Project 2 ↠

Sophie Bridgers | Graduate Student

How might the presence of another mind affect the hypotheses a learner considers? How, when, and why do children choose to teach others? I'm broadly study how children learn with others in different social contexts.

How do children teach others?


As humans, we must often decide what to tell or teach others. But how do you figure out how much the other person knows? Perspective-taking skills are required, which may be challenging for young children. So, we explored whether such an ability develops early in life.


In this study, 5- to 7-year-old children were shown two different toys that varied along two dimensions: (1) how hard they were to operate and (2) how cool they were. After playing, children were told about a naïve stranger who would play with the toys later. They were then asked to choose which toy the experimenter should teach them.


Turns out, children’s choice of which toy to teach varied systematically based on the toys’ costs and rewards. When one toy was “harder and cooler” than the other (i.e., high-cost, high-reward), children overwhelmingly chose to teach this toy. Given two toys that had the same reward but differed in cost, children chose to teach the harder toy. When the cost was the same but the reward differed, children chose to teach the cooler toy.


This study tells us that children have the ability to consider both the costs and rewards of other people. They can make smart choices about what others should learn and how to help others learn!

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↞ Coo for New Research! ↠

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Do young children think about their reputation?

"Don't cheat!"

This is a saying children quickly learn from a young age. Caretakers often worry about how to raise kind, caring children. They praise good actions, punish bad ones, and sometimes read fictional stories that teach morals to children. But what if they tell kids that they have a good reputation to take of? Are kids sensitive to how others think of them – sensitive enough to make moral decisions?

Well, a recent study suggests that by the age of five, young children are less likely to cheat if they have a positive reputation to manage.

Led by a team of researchers from China and the United States, this experiment involved showing a tricky game to preschool-aged children. With a highly desirable prize on the line, the game was manipulated so that the only way for the children to win was... to cheat. Before starting the game, some kids were told that their peers thought very highly of them, while others were told nothing about their reputation.

So, what did the researchers discover?

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the three- to four-year-olds were quick to cheat in the game. However, the five-year-old children who were told that they had a good reputation among their peers were less likely to cheat than those who were told nothing.

This cool new finding indicates that we, humans, have a unique desire to be seen as valued members of society. For others to perceive us as good individuals in social contexts, we constantly make guesses at how our peers think and feel about us. Then, we try to change our behavior to fit a certain image.

And, turns out, little humans love to do this too!

↞ Ongoing Projects ↠

How can I help? | Sophie Bridgers

Do young children reason about others’ competence when choosing whether and how to help others?

Disclosing Information about the Self | Mika Asaba

When and why do we choose to tell others about our successes and failures?

Shared Preferences | Natalia Vélez

Do children prefer people with rare shared preferences over those who share common preferences?

Robot Minds | Kara Weisman

What kinds of mental capacities do children assign to robots, and how do these beliefs affect children’s moral reasoning about robots?

Understanding Effort: Time and Difficulty | Grace Bennett-Pierre & Mika Asaba

How do children reason about effort and related concepts such as the division of labor?

Sentence Structure: It Matters! | Eleanor Chestnut

Do we unintentionally communicate harmful stereotypes about gender and math skill by using certain sentence constructions?

Visual Perspective Taking | Xuan Zhao

Are children sensitive to pedagogical context when they choose to take another’s perspective?

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↞ Recent Papers ↠

Asaba, M., & Gweon, H. (under revision). Order matters: Limitations in young children’s evaluation of under-informative teachers.

Chestnut, E. K., & Markman, E. M. (accepted). Are horses like zebras, or vice versa? Children's sensitivity to the asymmetries of directional comparisons. Child Development.

Bridgers, S., Jara-Ettinger, J., & Gweon, H. (2016). Children consider others’ expected costs and rewards when deciding what to teach. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

Vélez, N., Bridgers, S., & Gweon, H. (2016). Not all overlaps are equal: Social affiliation and rare overlaps of preferences. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

Zhao, X., Malle, B., & Gweon, H. (2016). Is it a 9 or a 6? Prosocial and selective perspective taking at age four. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.