Elizabeth S. Spelke
Spelke’s laboratory focuses on the sources of uniquely human cognitive capacities, including the capacity for formal mathematics, the capacity for constructing and using symbolic representations such as maps, the capacity for developing comprehensive taxonomies of objects, and the capacity for reasoning about other humans and their social groups. Spelke studies these capacities by investigating their origins and growth in human infants and children, by considering human cognition in relation to the capacities of nonhuman primates, and by comparing the capacities of humans from diverse cultures. Current projects investigate: (1) how infants and children recognize objects, extrapolate object motions, and group objects into functional categories such as foods and tools; (2) how infants and children recognize human agents, reason about their goal-directed actions and mental states, and use other people as sources of information about objects; (3) how infants and children develop knowledge of natural number and arithmetic, and how they come to master number words and symbols; and (4) how infants and children represent space and reason about geometry. The core of Spelke’s research uses behavioral methods and laboratory-based tasks to investigate the concepts and cognitive capacities of infants, children and adults. Through collaborations with anthropologists, behavioral biologists, cognitive neuroscientists, and educational psychologists, Spelke has extended her studies of human cognitive capacities to a broader range of populations, settings, and methods.