9.85 Infant and Early Childhood Cognition - Fall (annual)

Undergrad HASS Elective
Prereq: 9.00
Units: 3-0-9
Instructor: Laura Schulz

Introduction to cognitive development focusing on children's understanding of objects, agents, and causality. Develops a critical understanding of experimental design. How developmental research might address philosophical questions about the origins of knowledge, appearance and reality, and the problem of other minds.


9.S912 GPS: Goals, Problems and Stories - Spring 2020

Graduate Course
Units: 2-0-9
Instructors: Laura Schulz and Josh Tenenbaum

This seminar will tackle a cluster of problems of related to our unique ability as humans to invent goals, problems and stories. In particular, we will focus on three topics: 1) How goals, problems and narratives support planning and hypothesis generation; 2) How we assign value to proposals that could (in principle) solve problems or achieve goals independent of the degree to which the proposals are (currently) true, plausible, or feasible; 3) Why, starting in very early childhood, we set arbitrary rewards and incur unnecessary costs in play and the relationship of these seemingly utility-violating behaviors to learning. We will take an interdisciplinary approach, considering work in AI, machine learning, robotics, computational cognitive science, and both adult and developmental cognitive science. The seminar will consist of student-led presentations on the core topics and faculty-guided discussions, and consider both classic and contemporary research.


9.S912 Writing Workshop for Graduate Students - Spring 2019

Graduate Course
Units: 2-0-9
Instructor: Laura Schulz

This class is for graduate students interested in thinking about writing as a craft. I'm offering it not because I am an expert writer but because I would like to become a better one. I'm also interested in accruing metacognitive knowledge about writing so I can do a better job teaching writing to my students and explaining recommendations to my co-authors. If you share these goals, welcome! The class will be half writing workshop (i.e., an hour dedicated to sitting down and writing with the support of classmates doing the same thing) and half seminar and discussion. Please come to class with a project in progress, at any stage from idea to final draft. The project does not have to be at a stage where you're ready to share it. I will assume you already know the nuts and bolts of writing journal papers; we will not have classes on "how to write an abstract" or "how to write a caption". We will focus on setting goals, cultivating a taste for good writing, fine-tuning your ear, and developing your voice. The emphasis will be on scientific writing but we will consider non-fiction writing broadly.


9.914 Seminar in Cognitive Development - Spring 2015

Graduate Course
Instructor: Laura Schulz, Liz Spelke, Joshua Tenenbaum

This seminar, organized in coordination with the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines, will focus on the development of knowledge in the first five years. Drawing on behavioral research on infants and young children, as well as research in cognitive neuroscience, research using controlled rearing methods with animal models, and research developing and testing computational models, we consider both the starting points for human cognitive development and the ways in which early knowledge grows. Topics will be chosen in accord with student interests and likely will include early developing knowledge of objects and their mechanical interactions, of animate beings and their behavior and intentions, of social beings and their communication and relationships, as well as the development of abstract concepts (e.g., causal concepts, mathematical concepts) that apply to all these entities. In addition, we will look at how infants and children learn to represent their own abilities and utilities and how these emerging self-representations support and constrain their learning about the world.


Special Topics, 9.52: Project-based seminar in Infant and Early Childhood Cognition - Spring 2013, 2014

Undergraduate Course
Instructor: Laura Schulz

This course is an advanced, lab-based research class in cognitive development. Enrollment is limited and by instructor permission only. All prospective students must have completed 9.85 (or the equivalent at Wellesley). Interested students should email me either their final class paper in 9.85 (if it meets the requirements below) or a one-page proposal consisting of a few sentence description of their research question followed by a brief sketch of a possible experimental design. Students will only be admitted to the course if the key predictions of their proposal could be tested empirically within a single semester. To meet these criteria, the proposed study must be feasible with less than 50 participants, using a research design and behavioral methods that are accessible to advanced undergraduates; topics and methods must be within the area of the instructor's expertise.


9.914 Explorations in Exploration - Spring 2010

Graduate Course
Units: 2-0-9
Instructors: Laura Schulz and Rebecca Saxe

All organisms find ways to explore and get new information about their environments. In this class, we will review empirical work on exploratory behaviors ranging from simple orienting behaviors, investigations of spatial terrain, and object manipulation all the way through to human and culture-specific behaviors like question-asking and formal scientific inquiry. We will also look at computational accounts trading-off the utilities of exploring new, vs. exploiting known, information, as well as the brain bases that might underlie selective arousal to novelty and uncertainty and help account for an “exploratory drive.” Methodological approaches will include ethology, evolutionary biology, machine learning, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science.


9.915 Perception, Conception and Action: Grounding Thoughts in Experience (and Vice Versa) - Spring 2008

Graduate course
Units: 2-0-7
Instructors: Laura Schulz, Chris Moore, Noah Goodman

This class will integrate findings from neuroscience, computational cognitive science, and cognitive development to look at A) whether and how the format of perceptual information affects conceptual development B) whether and how conceptual representations affect perception and C) the role of action in binding perceptual information to conceptual development. All students will write one to two paragraph critical responses to readings each week. Registered students will also submit a final paper and present their ideas on the last day of class.


9.916 Conceptual Development: Representation of Theories, Causes, and Things that make you go hmmm - Spring 2007

Graduate Course
Units: 2-0-9
Instructors: Laura Schulz and Susan Carey

Many researchers have argued that intuitive theories are particularly important in our mental life.  Naive theories are characterized by structural features (abstract, ontological commitments), dynamic features (the ability to affect the interpretation of evidence and to be affected by evidence), and functional features (the ability to support prediction, explanation, intervention, and counterfactual claims).  We examine the arguments that this is so, and consider the developmental origin (innate? learned? domain-specific? domain-general?) of intuitive theories.  Arguably however, theories have an additional function: they support curiosity and exploration.  We will think about what you might have to know in order to be curious -- and we will look at how theories and patterns of evidence might affect children's exploratory play, their inferences about unobserved variables, and the contexts in which children search for explanations.