Relevant Degree Programs
Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters
Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
In a noisy world filled with confusion, humans need a toolkit of skills to help discern fact from fiction. In this dissertation, I explore one such tool and its development in childhood: metacognitive reasoning about confidence. In 7 studies, I investigate how children reason about the strength of subjective information, uncovering the properties of childhood metacognition and using its development as a tool to learn about metacognition more broadly.Fueling this research are two families of theoretical accounts: one which conceptualizes confidence as a direct readout of decision noise (Direct accounts), and one where confidence is a combination of information from multiple sources (Inferential accounts). These two accounts make divergent predictions about two properties of metacognition: (1) how tightly bound confidence is to the underlying decisions it evaluates, and (2) how broadly is confidence represented in the mind. I investigate these questions using a developmental lens for testing between these theories.These studies present a force-choice method of measuring children’s sensitivity to confidence by asking how closely they can tell apart two states of confidence. This method of assessing confidence allows me to narrow in on the properties of metacognition that develop independently of children’s overconfidence biases and developing linguistic knowledge. In Chapter 2, I use this measure to look for developmental change associated with confidence judgments when controlling for decision noise, finding age-related change consistent with the Inferential accounts. In Chapter 3, I test whether children reason about confidence using encapsulated systems or a broader metacognitive system, and probe whether these judgments share a unit of representation, finding evidence for both within the domain of perceptual judgments as predicted again by Inferential accounts. In Chapter 4, I investigate whether confidence is processed so broadly as to include reasoning about others’ abilities, but do not find strong evidence of this, suggesting a limit on the generality of confidence processing.All together, this dissertation shows that far from being subject to the whims of others, children possess a sense of confidence that combines multiple sources in information to create broadly-usable assessments of truth in the world.
Our ability to reason about the perspectives of others is associated with many positive life outcomes (e.g., better interpersonal relationships). Unfortunately, when reasoning about the perspectives of others, we are often biased by our own knowledge (i.e., the curse of knowledge). The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that limits our ability to reason about less- knowledgeable perspectives. It leads to overestimations of what others know and clouds our judgements about their beliefs. Critically, this bias is prevalent across various contexts, and it affects our social reasoning across the lifespan. Previous research demonstrated the effects of the bias on children’s social reasoning, however there are several critical theoretical questions that remain unanswered. For instance, is the bias universal among children? I find support for the universality of the bias, in Chapter 2, by showing that even children of a nomadic pastoralist tribe, the Turkana, show the bias. Furthermore, in Chapter 3, I examine how age-related changes in the bias can affect young children’s performance on a widely used measure of Theory of Mind—a false belief task. I examine this question in two experiments; one showing that younger children are more accurate at reasoning about other perspectives when the curse of knowledge is minimized. The other experiment showing that children’s inferences are biased by their knowledge but that minimizing the bias does not improve performance. I discuss potential reasons for the discrepancy between experiments. Finally, I examine two accounts on the mechanisms underlying the curse of knowledge. In Chapter 4, I provide evidence that fluency misattribution (i.e., the tendency to attribute the fluency in processing a stimulus to an inaccurate source) is necessary for the bias to occur. Chapter 5 summarizes my findings, discusses their implications, and highlights avenues for future research.
Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
As humans, we reason about quantity in at least two distinct ways—through our intuitive, approximate perception of quantity and through precise number words. With sufficient development, these two systems interface and interact, allowing us to make quick judgments with crude precision (e.g., how many items are in our shopping basket). To date, two theories have been proposed to explain the underlying mechanism of this interface between perception and language. Under the first—the associative mapping theory—children create item-specific associations between particular number words (e.g., “ten”) and the perceptual representations that they most frequently experience. While under the second—the structure mapping theory—children map number words to their perceptual representations by realizing the inherent similarity in the representational structure of the two systems (e.g., both are linear dimensions where higher values represent more/greater amounts). Existing literature has almost exclusively focused on understanding how children create this interface in one domain of quantity (i.e., number), leaving the critical question of how children map number words to other, non-numeric domains of quantity (e.g., length, area) entirely open. This thesis explores when and how children map number words to a broader spectrum of quantities by examining their estimation abilities in number, length, and area. We find that while the perception of number, length, and area are largely independent of each other, estimation accuracy and variability are tightly linked and show a similar age of maturity, supporting the structure mapping account. These results are discussed in the broader context of how language and perception interact and change with development.