Main Logo for Providence College
playology, the science of fun


Current Projects

We are busy investigating some really interesting questions. Read a little more about them below.

What is the role of play and guidance in early science education?

Play-based learning and discovery-based learning are often encouraged in science classrooms. However, the evidence for this pedagogies is not clear. In this project, a series of studies in the Kid Think lab and in schools will test whether either of these techniques or the combination of the two is most effective in teaching kindergartners and first graders scientific concepts. This project is made possible by generous funding from the Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood.

Can children learn in pretend play?

Do children ever confuse pretense and reality?  Do children bring real-world rules into pretending? Recently, we found that after one person taught a pretend rule to a child, he or she did not then transfer it to the real world. Now we are testing if encountering the pretend rule with two different people will lead a child to transfer it to the real world.  We are also testing what types of knowledge children are willing to learn in pretending. That is, do children accept new words? Can they learn about emotions?

Past Projects

How do children conceive of pretending?

Currently, we are studying toddlers to find out how they think about pretending. Specifically, do they think of it as something you use your mind for, or is it simply an action, such as running or throwing a ball?

Are pretending and inhibitory control related?

Several of our studies probe the link between the ability to control one’s own mind and body and other cognitive abilities.  For example, we have found a relationships between inhibitory control and preschoolers’ prosocial behaviors, like helping and sharing, as well as adolescents’ abstract reasoning. And, our results strongly suggest that having good control is good for pretending!  Now we are investigating whether pretending and inhibitory control are correlated in toddlers.

How do children understand ownership transfers?

By 5 years old, most children basic conventions about transfer of ownership, like giving a gift involves transferring ownership but stealing does not. We are investigating older children’s and adult’s understanding of more complex ownership transfers to see how this understanding develops.

Do children prefer to learn from people have the same beliefs as they do?

Young children equate pretending with behaving, while older children realize pretending involves the mind and brain. We found that children would rather learn about pretending from a person who understands pretending in the same way they do. This study was done in collaboration with David Sobel at Brown University.

How do people mentally represent pretend actions?

When you think about someone pretending, how does your mind process that information? Does a child’s mind process it in the same way as an adult’s does? We have studied this question by having children and adults listen to or read about people pretending. Then we measure how quickly they are able to respond to ideas that were present in those stories. Now we are exploring it in toddlers by measuring how long they look at various pretend episodes.