Social Learning Lab

Stanford University | Fall 2018

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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 our partner museums and schools.

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

Who am I, and how do I know who I am? I am fascinated by how we form, maintain, and update representations of the self through observations and social interactions, and I am particularly interested in the developmental roots of these processes. My work is broadly centered around how young children learn about the self through interactions with others and how they strategically communicate about the self to others.

Do children understand others’ emotions?


Do children understand that others’ emotions are dependent on what others thought would happen? Understanding other people's emotions can be challenging for young children. This is especially true when they have to consider what other people want or believe.

Children understand that other people are happy after achieving their goals and sad after failing to meet their goals. But do children use others’ expectations of what’s going to happen to make sense of how others feel afterwards?


In our previous studies, we had children (age: 4 – 5) watch two video clips of characters bowling. One clip showed a cartoon character who thought they would knock down 6 pins but only knocked down 3; the other clip showed a character who they thought would knock down 0 pins and knocked down 3. Then, children were asked to rate how happy or sad each character was.


We found that by age 5, children thought that the character with high expectations felt worse than the character with low expectations, even though they both knocked down the same number of pins.


By the end of the preschool years, children are able to use others’ expectations to understand whether someone is feeling happy or sad. They can understand the characters’ expectations of where the ball was heading and use this to make sense of how the characters feel after they knock down the pins.

↞ Featured Project 2 ↠

Grace Bennett-Pierre | Lab Manager

I am currently involved in projects investigating how children develop an understanding of difficulty and how they use this information to make decisions about their own and other’s goals. I'm also interested in how children use difficulty information to make inferences about other's competence, and to plan for future goals.

And Mika Asaba | Graduate Student

Do children understand difficulty?


Do children understand that some tasks are “easy” and others are “hard"?

Recent work reveals that infants and young children understand basic properties of physical objects and people.

Can preschoolers use what they know about objects and people to categorize tasks as more or less difficult?


We had children (age: 3 - 5) look at pictures of people who had built block towers that were different because they had more or less blocks or were taller or shorter (for example). We asked children which one was harder or easier to make and why they thought so.


We found that 3- to 5-year olds could reliably tell us that towers with more blocks were harder to make that towers with fewer blocks, and that taller towers were harder than shorter ones. They could also tell us that two people would find it easier to build a tower than one person working alone. But children couldn't tell us that a person who started with a more complete tower would find it easier than someone who started with a less complete tower (see below!)


Preschoolers are pretty good at thinking about how difficult tasks are! But, they still might find it hard to think about the process people use to finish tasks.

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↞ Coo for New Research! ↠

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(Image from the COD Newsroom, made available through Creative Commons, found here.)

Do Children Learn from Your Persistence?

As caregivers and teachers of young children, we often hear about “grit.” Grit is usually described as persistence and intrinsic interest in a task. It is highly predictive of success, both in the classroom and beyond it.

How does grit happen? Is it a personality trait or is it something a child can learn?

A new study from Julia Leonard, Yuna Lee and Laura Schulz at MIT suggests that it might be the second. These researchers showed that young infants (around 15 months old) spend more time trying a task after they first watch an adult try, fail and repeat several other tasks until they succeed rather than watching an adult try and immediately succeed.

Interestingly, how much infants persisted was influenced by how much the adult engaged the child while trying the tasks. When the adult used infant-directed speech (a high, sing-song voice) and made eye contact with the child while trying the task, children persisted longer than when the adult talked to herself and didn’t make eye contact.

What does all of this mean?

Although it’s hard to say how influential such demonstrations might be in the long term, it seems like struggling in front of the children you interact with – and telling them about it – might help them learn that persistence is a good thing.

(References this paper: Leonard, J.A., Lee, Y., & Schulz, L.E. (2017). Infants make more attempts to achieve a goal when they see adults persist. Science, 357(6357), 1290-1294.)

↞ 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?

Decisions with Difficulty | Grace Bennett-Pierre & Mika Asaba

Do children use difficulty information to make helping and efficiency decisions?

Decomposing Problems | Griffin Dietz

Can young children break problems down into manageable parts?

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↞ Recent Papers ↠

Asaba, M. & Gweon, H. (2018). Look, I can do it! Young children forego opportunities to teach others to demonstrate their own competence. CogSci 2018. [repository] [PDF]

Bennett-Pierre, G., Asaba, M., & Gweon, H. (2018). Preschoolers consider expected task difficulty to decide what to do and whom to help. CogSci 2018. [PDF]

Bridgers, S., Gweon, H., Bretzke, M., & Ruggeri, A. (2018). How you learned matters: The process by which others’ learn informs young children’s decisions about whom to ask for help. CogSci 2018. [PDF]

Gweon, H., & Asaba, M. (2018). Order matters: Children’s evaluation of under-informative teachers depends on context. Child Development. 89(3),e278-e292. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12825 [PDF]

Vélez, N., Yuerui, W., & Gweon, H. (2018). Consistent but not diagnostic: Preschooler's intuitions about shared preferences within social groups. CogSci 2018. [PDF]

Weisman, K., & Markman, E. M. (2017). Theory-based explanation as intervention. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.