Tag Archives: social learning


Elaine Wethington elected fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science

Elaine Wethington is elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. Dr. Wethington is recognized for distinguished contributions to medical sociology.

Aging stereotypes are bad for older adults' health

Corinna Loeckenhoff says that shifting stereotypes is no simple feat. People develop their views on aging when they are toddlers, but they also change based on experience. Unfortunately, negative beliefs are often built on inaccurate impressions.

Combating loneliness important for a healthy, long life

Research has found that loneliness is a known risk factor for cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, disability and depression. Anthony Ong urges addressing the direct, indirect, and moderated effects of social isolation and loneliness on health.

Access Cornell Race and Empathy Project online

Since its launch in September 2016, the Cornell Race and Empathy Project has recorded, archived and shared the everyday stories of Cornellians that evoke racial empathy. To continue fostering the ability to identify and understand the feelings of someone of a different background, the project has evolved into an online presence.


John Eckenrode - What is translational research?

John Eckenrode

John Eckenrode and Karl Pillemer discuss the origins of translational research, and how it differs from "basic" and "applied" research. There are some examples of translational research projects and throughout the conversation they touch on why this research method is so effective and more and more in-demand by funders, policymakers and practitioners.


The Human Development Graduate Program - an interview with Tamar Kushnir's students

Three of Tamar Kushnir's graduate students--Teresa Flanagan, Alyssa Varhol, and Alice Xin Zhao--reflect on what led them to work with Dr. Kushnir and enroll in the Department of Human Development Graduate Program.


Tamar Kushnir, professor of human development

Tamar Kushnir is Director of the Early Childhood Cognition Laboratory in the Department of Human Development. Dr. Kushnir's research examines mechanisms of learning in young children, with a focus on social learning. She continues to explore the role that children's developing knowledge - in particular their social knowledge - plays in learning, a question with implications for the study of cognitive development as well as for early childhood education. Three of her graduate students--Teresa Flanagan, Alyssa Varhol, and Alice Xin Zhao--reflect on what led them to work with Dr. Kushnir and enroll in the Department of Human Development Graduate Program.


Teresa Flanagan

Can you tell me a little about your background and why you came to the Human Development program at Cornell?

Before graduate school, I attended Franklin & Marshall College for my undergraduate career. There I studied Scientific and Philosophical Studies of the Mind with a focus in Cognitive Science and was the lab manager of the three developmental psychology labs. I came to the Human Development program at Cornell because I admired the interdisciplinary mindset, something I am incredibly passionate about. I knew that this program would provide me with opportunities to learn and conduct research from multiple academic perspectives.

What research projects have you been involved with during your time here at Cornell?

I have been working on a few different projects. I am currently analyzing and overseeing a study that addresses the relationship between children’s free will beliefs and ability to imagine different possibilities. I am also preparing for a study that addresses the influence of culture on children’s understanding of other’s preferences. The last study I am working on addresses children’s free will beliefs and trust of humanoid robots after playing a collaborative game with one.

When you are not doing research or teaching, what do you like to do?

Outside of academia, I am the secretary for Cornell’s Graduate Women in Science [GWIS], an organization that aims to supporting marginalized identities in scientific fields (GWIS is a national organization that was founded in 1921 by women graduate students at Cornell--Ed.). I also love acting and comedy and so I have been rehearsing with an improv comedy group based in downtown Ithaca. Outside of all of that, I love doing yoga, going on hikes, and hanging out with friends!


Can you tell me a little about your background and why you came to the Human Development program at Cornell?

Alyssa Varhol

I met my now-adviser, Tamar Kushnir, at the biennial conference for the Cognitive Development Society last year. She was one of the first academics who didn’t flinch after hearing how many topics I wanted to incorporate into my research. Instead, she enthusiastically supported (and matched!) the breadth of my interests and encouraged me to apply for the Human Development PhD here. At the time, I was a lab manager for Melissa Koenig’s and Dan Berry’s labs at the University of MN’s Institute of Child Development, and before that, I earned undergraduate degrees in Psychology and English in Atlanta, GA and a MSc in Psych Research Methods in Sheffield, UK, (Alyssa received a Fulbright Award to study at the University of Sheffield--Ed.) and I had spent those 8 years of trying to find a way to integrate all of my diverse interests (including language, social cognition, individual differences, learning, parent-child dynamics, social norms, creativity, etc.) into a reasonable research program.  Now, after my first semester, I can’t imagine a better place to begin establishing that research program in the integrated topic that, with Professor Kushnir’s guidance, I have finally chosen: the development of social learning across different contexts.

What research projects have you been involved with during your time here at Cornell?

I am interested in the ways children learn anything from words to social norms from other people early in life and how that might vary across individual differences (e.g., in cognitive and social skills or in parenting style ) and group differences (e.g., culture or socioeconomic status). I have been working on different stages of 3 projects related to this topic. I have primarily been working on a study of preschoolers’ learning from adults who demonstrate different knowledge states-- specifically, their willingness to learn the names and functions of unfamiliar objects from an adult who previously admitted she did not know the name of a familiar object like a cup-- to explore how children begin to evaluate people as sources of information. Professor Kushnir, Tess Flanagan, and I have also been preparing to begin an NSF funded study exploring how children learn to evaluate people’s behavior as social norms versus personal preferences across two cultures, but we will really get moving on that project in early 2019.

When you are not doing research or teaching, what do you like to do?

I feel incredibly fortunate that my cohort of 1st year grad students is very social, so we spend a lot of time doing things together outside of our working hours, like having reading groups about topics of mutual interest, watching the series Dark, and going bowling.  My favorite of our activities is always our hiking trips to Tremen, Taughannock, and Buttermilk-- it’s unbelievable how many beautiful places are nearby! I also love anything that has to do with animals, especially dogs, so I help out my neighbors with their golden retriever puppy every week, which is delightful.


Can you tell me a little about your background and why you came to the HumanDevelopment program at Cornell?

Alice Xin Zhao

Before coming to HD, I did my undergrad in Psychology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China (Tsinghua University is one of China's C9 League elite universities with a long history of international partnerships--Ed.). During my undergrad study, I was fortunate to work as a research assistant remotely for two cross-cultural projects on children’s causal reasoning and free will beliefs led by Alison Gopnik’s lab at UC Berkeley. I thus found my research interest in children’s early social cognitive development and applied to work with Tamar Kushnir (who is an expert in the area I’m interested in).

What research projects have you been involved with during your time here at Cornell?

During my time at Cornell, I’ve been working on a series of projects on children’s beliefs about choices, and their implications on children’s behavioral regulation and social evaluations. Some questions my studies have tried to answer include: 1) What do children perceive to be choices in light of various constraints (e.g. social and moral norms, physical constraints)? 2) How these beliefs relate to children’s self-control experience? 3) How do children evaluate someone who overcomes temptations to fulfill social and moral obligations? Do they understand the virtue of self-control?

When you are not doing research or teaching, what do you like to do?

In my free time (I try to have some…), I enjoy reading, playing board games, skiing, shopping and baking.

Reprinted from the College of Human Ecology, NewsHub

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

Brian LaGrant ‘17; Photo by Mark Vorreuter

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Brian LaGrant ’17, a human development major from New Hartford, N.Y., discusses his research on factors surrounding imitation among children and adults:

What are you working on this summer?

I’m working on social learning in children and adults. I’m in the Affect and Cognition Lab. We work primarily on neuroscience research, but we’re also doing another project on social learning.

We have this apparatus like a puzzle box, and it’s supposed to simulate something that you haven’t seen before. People can watch somebody else see how to open it and then they can have their turn trying to open it. So that’s what we’re using to measure imitation.

When you copy somebody, they can have different characteristics, like they might be smart or they’re not sure how to open the box. They might be a very prestigious individual or a very well-respected individual or not so much. We want to see how those two factors—knowledge and prestige—can affect how much that model is imitated by children and adults.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

I’ve done a lot of neuroscience research, and this is a little different from what I’m used to, but I really like it because it ties into human culture and how we have evolved over many generations. Social learning is a very important aspect of development, especially a concept called the “ratchet effect,” which is how we innovate new technology over time. I haven’t really focused on social learning throughout my undergraduate years, but it’s a nice complement to the other kind of education I’ve been focusing on.

Who are your Human Ecology mentors?

I’ve formed a few close relationships within the College of Human Ecology as a whole, and specifically human development. Professor Marianella Casasola has been there with me since day one. When I lived in Donlon Hall, she was a faculty-in-residence and from there we formed a close relationship, and I was able to do some research with her, and she’s taught some of my classes over time. Professor Eve De Rosa, one of the principal investigators in my lab, has been a great help, and she’s so nice and so welcoming to any ideas that I have. They’ve both been very important to my development at Cornell.

What excites you about your research?

What excites me the most is that this is my first time having more of an independent role in the research where I can design the experiments and start running them on my own. Having that authority and independence is really, really exciting, and it makes me want to perform research in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

One thing I’ve been looking at recently is how autistic children might act differently at these tasks, and that’s something I could study in the future. For the area of research I’m focusing on, social learning, this kind of research hasn’t been done before. I think it’s important because looking at two or three different conflicting factors like I am is a better simulation of what the real world is like. Previous research has only looked at one factor, but there are so many different factors at play—whether a person is knowledgeable, prestigious, and things like that. I think my research is delving more into that area.

Brian’s summer project, The Influences of Model Social Status and Knowledge State on Imitation in Children and Adults, is funded by a College of Human Ecology summer research stipend, which provides undergraduate students will funding for full-time research with a faculty member.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17; photo by Mark Vorreuter.