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Tamar Kushnir

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Psychology & Neuroscience
417 Chapel Drive, Box 90086, Durham, NC 27708
417 Chapel Drive, Box 90086, Durham, NC 27708

Selected Publications


Testimony and observation of statistical evidence interact in adults' and children's category-based induction.

Journal Article Cognition · March 2024 Hearing generic or other kind-relevant claims can influence the use of information from direct observations in category learning. In the current study, we ask how both adults and children integrate their observations with testimony when learning about the ... Full text Cite

Children are eager to take credit for prosocial acts, and cost affects this tendency.

Journal Article Journal of experimental child psychology · January 2024 We report two experiments on children's tendency to enhance their reputations through communicative acts. In the experiments, 4-year-olds (N = 120) had the opportunity to inform a social partner that they had helped him in his absence. In a first experimen ... Full text Cite

The development and diversity of religious cognition and behavior: Protocol for Wave 1 data collection with children and parents by the Developing Belief Network.

Journal Article PloS one · January 2024 The Developing Belief Network is a consortium of researchers studying human development in diverse social-cultural settings, with a focus on the interplay between general cognitive development and culturally specific processes of socialization and cultural ... Full text Cite

A Review of “Becoming Human

Journal Article Journal of Cognition and Development · August 8, 2023 Full text Open Access Cite

Building representations of the social world: Children extract patterns from social choices to reason about multi-group hierarchies.

Journal Article Developmental science · July 2023 How do children learn about the structure of the social world? We tested whether children would extract patterns from an agent's social choices to make inferences about multiple groups' relative social standing. In Experiment 1, 4- to 6-year-old children ( ... Full text Cite

The minds of machines: Children's beliefs about the experiences, thoughts, and morals of familiar interactive technologies.

Journal Article Developmental psychology · June 2023 Children are developing alongside interactive technologies that can move, talk, and act like agents, but it is unclear if children's beliefs about the agency of these household technologies are similar to their beliefs about advanced, humanoid robots used ... Full text Cite

Rational learners and parochial norms.

Journal Article Cognition · April 2023 Parochial norms are narrow in social scope, meaning they apply to certain groups but not to others. Accounts of norm acquisition typically invoke tribal biases: from an early age, people assume a group's behavioral regularities are prescribed and bounded b ... Full text Cite

When it's not easy to do the right thing: Developmental changes in understanding cost drive evaluations of moral praiseworthiness.

Journal Article Developmental science · January 2023 Recent work identified a shift in judgments of moral praiseworthiness that occurs late in development: adults recognize the virtue of moral actions that involve resolving an inner conflict between moral desires and selfish desires. Children, in contrast, p ... Full text Open Access Cite

Being me in times of change: Young children's reflections on their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic

Journal Article Children and Society · January 1, 2023 Research from the perspective of parents, educators and mental health professionals has documented the negative impacts of pandemic isolation on children, but few studies have sought children's own perspectives on this difficult year. The current study aim ... Full text Cite

Walking in Her Shoes: Pretending to Be a Female Role Model Increases Young Girls' Persistence in Science.

Journal Article Psychological science · November 2022 Pretend play is a ubiquitous learning tool in early childhood, enabling children to explore possibilities outside of their current reality. Here, we demonstrate how pretend play can be leveraged to empower girls in scientific domains. American children age ... Full text Cite

Imagination and social cognition in childhood.

Journal Article Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science · July 2022 Imagination is a cognitive process used to generate new ideas from old, not just in the service of creativity and fantasy, but also in our ordinary thoughts about alternatives to current reality. In this article, I argue for the central function of imagina ... Full text Cite

Face-to-face learning enhances the social transmission of information.

Journal Article PloS one · January 2022 Learning from others provides the foundation for culture and the advancement of knowledge. Learning a new visuospatial skill from others represents a specific challenge-overcoming differences in perspective so that we understand what someone is doing and w ... Full text Cite

Children's Developing Beliefs About Agency and Free Will in an Increasingly Technological World

Journal Article Humana Mente · January 1, 2022 The idea of treating robots as free agents seems only to have existed in the realm of science fiction. In our current world, however, children are interacting with robotic technologies that look, talk, and act like agents. Are children willing to treat suc ... Cite

Social sampling: Children track social choices to reason about status hierarchies.

Journal Article Journal of Experimental Psychology: General · February 2021 Full text Cite

The Community-Engaged Lab: A Case-Study Introduction for Developmental Science.

Journal Article Frontiers in psychology · January 2021 Due to the closing of campuses, museums, and other public spaces during the pandemic, the typical avenues for recruitment, partnership, and dissemination are now unavailable to developmental labs. In this paper, we show how a shift in perspective has impac ... Full text Open Access Cite

Is children’s norm learning rational? A meta-analysis

Conference Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Comparative Cognition: Animal Minds, CogSci 2021 · January 1, 2021 A good deal of recent research has examined children’s norm learning across a wide range of novel contexts. The typical interpretation of these findings is that children’s norm learning is driven by group-based biases. In this paper, we present an alternat ... Cite

No, Your Other Left! Language Children Use To Direct Robots

Conference 2020 Joint IEEE 10th International Conference on Development and Learning and Epigenetic Robotics (ICDL-EpiRob) · October 2020 Full text Cite

Better together: Young children's tendencies to help a non-humanoid robot collaborator

Conference Proceedings of the Interaction Design and Children Conference, IDC 2020 · June 21, 2020 In child-robot collaborations, a robot may fail to accomplish its part of a task. In this situation, the robot is reliant on the child to recover. Inherently prosocial, a child is inclined to help the robot collaborator if the child can properly identify t ... Full text Cite

Testimony and observation of statistical evidence interact in adults' and children's category-based induction.

Journal Article Cognition · March 2024 Hearing generic or other kind-relevant claims can influence the use of information from direct observations in category learning. In the current study, we ask how both adults and children integrate their observations with testimony when learning about the ... Full text Cite

Children are eager to take credit for prosocial acts, and cost affects this tendency.

Journal Article Journal of experimental child psychology · January 2024 We report two experiments on children's tendency to enhance their reputations through communicative acts. In the experiments, 4-year-olds (N = 120) had the opportunity to inform a social partner that they had helped him in his absence. In a first experimen ... Full text Cite

The development and diversity of religious cognition and behavior: Protocol for Wave 1 data collection with children and parents by the Developing Belief Network.

Journal Article PloS one · January 2024 The Developing Belief Network is a consortium of researchers studying human development in diverse social-cultural settings, with a focus on the interplay between general cognitive development and culturally specific processes of socialization and cultural ... Full text Cite

A Review of “Becoming Human

Journal Article Journal of Cognition and Development · August 8, 2023 Full text Open Access Cite

Building representations of the social world: Children extract patterns from social choices to reason about multi-group hierarchies.

Journal Article Developmental science · July 2023 How do children learn about the structure of the social world? We tested whether children would extract patterns from an agent's social choices to make inferences about multiple groups' relative social standing. In Experiment 1, 4- to 6-year-old children ( ... Full text Cite

The minds of machines: Children's beliefs about the experiences, thoughts, and morals of familiar interactive technologies.

Journal Article Developmental psychology · June 2023 Children are developing alongside interactive technologies that can move, talk, and act like agents, but it is unclear if children's beliefs about the agency of these household technologies are similar to their beliefs about advanced, humanoid robots used ... Full text Cite

Rational learners and parochial norms.

Journal Article Cognition · April 2023 Parochial norms are narrow in social scope, meaning they apply to certain groups but not to others. Accounts of norm acquisition typically invoke tribal biases: from an early age, people assume a group's behavioral regularities are prescribed and bounded b ... Full text Cite

When it's not easy to do the right thing: Developmental changes in understanding cost drive evaluations of moral praiseworthiness.

Journal Article Developmental science · January 2023 Recent work identified a shift in judgments of moral praiseworthiness that occurs late in development: adults recognize the virtue of moral actions that involve resolving an inner conflict between moral desires and selfish desires. Children, in contrast, p ... Full text Open Access Cite

Being me in times of change: Young children's reflections on their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic

Journal Article Children and Society · January 1, 2023 Research from the perspective of parents, educators and mental health professionals has documented the negative impacts of pandemic isolation on children, but few studies have sought children's own perspectives on this difficult year. The current study aim ... Full text Cite

Walking in Her Shoes: Pretending to Be a Female Role Model Increases Young Girls' Persistence in Science.

Journal Article Psychological science · November 2022 Pretend play is a ubiquitous learning tool in early childhood, enabling children to explore possibilities outside of their current reality. Here, we demonstrate how pretend play can be leveraged to empower girls in scientific domains. American children age ... Full text Cite

Imagination and social cognition in childhood.

Journal Article Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science · July 2022 Imagination is a cognitive process used to generate new ideas from old, not just in the service of creativity and fantasy, but also in our ordinary thoughts about alternatives to current reality. In this article, I argue for the central function of imagina ... Full text Cite

Face-to-face learning enhances the social transmission of information.

Journal Article PloS one · January 2022 Learning from others provides the foundation for culture and the advancement of knowledge. Learning a new visuospatial skill from others represents a specific challenge-overcoming differences in perspective so that we understand what someone is doing and w ... Full text Cite

Children's Developing Beliefs About Agency and Free Will in an Increasingly Technological World

Journal Article Humana Mente · January 1, 2022 The idea of treating robots as free agents seems only to have existed in the realm of science fiction. In our current world, however, children are interacting with robotic technologies that look, talk, and act like agents. Are children willing to treat suc ... Cite

Social sampling: Children track social choices to reason about status hierarchies.

Journal Article Journal of Experimental Psychology: General · February 2021 Full text Cite

The Community-Engaged Lab: A Case-Study Introduction for Developmental Science.

Journal Article Frontiers in psychology · January 2021 Due to the closing of campuses, museums, and other public spaces during the pandemic, the typical avenues for recruitment, partnership, and dissemination are now unavailable to developmental labs. In this paper, we show how a shift in perspective has impac ... Full text Open Access Cite

Is children’s norm learning rational? A meta-analysis

Conference Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Comparative Cognition: Animal Minds, CogSci 2021 · January 1, 2021 A good deal of recent research has examined children’s norm learning across a wide range of novel contexts. The typical interpretation of these findings is that children’s norm learning is driven by group-based biases. In this paper, we present an alternat ... Cite

No, Your Other Left! Language Children Use To Direct Robots

Conference 2020 Joint IEEE 10th International Conference on Development and Learning and Epigenetic Robotics (ICDL-EpiRob) · October 2020 Full text Cite

Better together: Young children's tendencies to help a non-humanoid robot collaborator

Conference Proceedings of the Interaction Design and Children Conference, IDC 2020 · June 21, 2020 In child-robot collaborations, a robot may fail to accomplish its part of a task. In this situation, the robot is reliant on the child to recover. Inherently prosocial, a child is inclined to help the robot collaborator if the child can properly identify t ... Full text Cite

When in Rome, do as Bayesians do: Statistical learning and parochial norms

Conference Proceedings for the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Developing a Mind: Learning in Humans, Animals, and Machines, CogSci 2020 · January 1, 2020 It's a familiar point in anthropology that many norms are parochial, meaning they apply to people in certain groups (e.g., one's ingroup) and not to others (e.g., one's outgroup). One explanation for such parochialism is that people are just innately biase ... Cite

Individual differences in fluency with idea generation predict children's beliefs in their own free will

Conference Proceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Creativity + Cognition + Computation, CogSci 2019 · January 1, 2019 The ability to imagine alternative possibilities plays a crucial role in everyday cognitive functioning beginning in early childhood. Across two studies, we ask whether individual differences in young children's (Mean Age = 5.01; SD = 0.78 Range = 2) fluen ... Cite

Preschoolers' Evaluations of Ignorant Agents are Situation-Specific

Conference Proceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Creativity + Cognition + Computation, CogSci 2019 · January 1, 2019 Preschool children's preference for knowledgeable agents over ignorant and inaccurate agents (Sabbagh & Baldwin, 2001; Koenig & Harris, 2005; Rakoczy et al., 2015), is generally interpreted as epistemic vigilance. However, Kushnir and Koenig (2017) recentl ... Cite

She Helped Even Though She Wanted to Play: Children Consider Psychological Cost in Social Evaluations

Conference Proceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society: Creativity + Cognition + Computation, CogSci 2019 · January 1, 2019 Sometimes we incur a high psychological cost (for example, forgo something we really like) in order to fulfill social or moral obligations. How would the information of incurring psychological costs influence children's social evaluations? Prior work sugge ... Cite

The developmental and cultural psychology of free will

Journal Article Philosophy Compass · July 2018 Full text Cite

The choice is yours: Infants' expectations about an agent's future behavior based on taking and receiving actions.

Journal Article Developmental psychology · May 2018 Our social world is rich with information about other people's choices, which subsequently inform our inferences about their future behavior. For individuals socialized within the American cultural context, which places a high value on autonomy and indepen ... Full text Cite

Infants Use Statistical Sampling to Understand the Psychological World

Journal Article Infancy · September 1, 2016 Preverbal infants engage in statistical and probabilistic inference to learn about their linguistic and physical worlds. Do they also employ probabilistic information to understand their social world? Do they infer underlying causal mechanisms from statist ... Full text Cite

Children protest moral and conventional violations more when they believe actions are freely chosen

Journal Article Journal of Experimental Child Psychology · January 2016 Full text Cite

Translating testimonial claims into evidence for category-based induction

Conference Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2016 · January 1, 2016 Inductive generalizations about the properties of kinds are based on evidence. But evidence can come either from our observations, or from the testimony of knowledgeable informants. The current study explores how we combine information from these two sourc ... Cite

Children's Awareness of Authority to Change Rules in Various Social Contexts

Conference Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2016 · January 1, 2016 To investigate children's awareness of authority to change rules, we showed children (ages 4-7) videos of one child playing a game alone or three children playing a game together. In the group video, the game rule was initiated either: by one of the childr ... Cite

The Relationship Between Inhibitory Control and Free Will Beliefs in 4-to 6-Year-Old-Children

Conference Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2016 · January 1, 2016 This study explores the relationship between beliefs about self-control and the ability to exercise self-control in 4- to 6-year-old children. Sixty-eight children were asked a series of questions to gauge whether they believed that they could freely choos ... Cite

Understanding young children's imitative behavior from an individual differences perspective

Conference Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2015 · January 1, 2015 Research has shown that after observing a sequence of object-related actions, young children sometimes imitate the goal-directed aspects of the actions only, but other times faithfully imitate all aspects of the actions. In this study we explore whether th ... Cite

Development links psychological causes to evolutionary explanations

Journal Article Behavioral and Brain Sciences · April 2014 Full text Cite

Knowledge matters: how children evaluate the reliability of testimony as a process of rational inference.

Journal Article Psychological review · October 2013 Children's causal learning has been characterized as a rational process, in which children appropriately evaluate evidence from their observations and actions in light of their existing conceptual knowledge. We propose a similar framework for children's se ... Full text Cite

A comparison of American and Nepalese children's concepts of freedom of choice and social constraint.

Journal Article Cognitive science · September 2013 Recent work has shown that preschool-aged children and adults understand freedom of choice regardless of culture, but that adults across cultures differ in perceiving social obligations as constraints on action. To investigate the development of these cult ... Full text Cite

Giving Preschoolers Choice Increases Sharing Behavior

Journal Article Psychological Science · August 2013 Full text Cite

Infants Are Rational Constructivist Learners

Journal Article Current Directions in Psychological Science · February 2013 Full text Cite

Inferring One's Own Prosociality Through Choice: Giving Preschoolers Costly Prosocial Choices Increases Subsequent Sharing Behavior

Conference Cooperative Minds: Social Interaction and Group Dynamics - Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2013 · January 1, 2013 Prosociality emerges early in ontogeny, but the mechanisms driving its early-emergence are not well understood. We propose that the experience of choice is tied to the expression of children's prosocial behavior. In Experiment 1, preschoolers shared with a ... Cite

Help-Seeking As A Cause of Young Children's Collaboration

Conference Cooperative Minds: Social Interaction and Group Dynamics - Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2013 · January 1, 2013 Young children's collaboration is a topic of great interest, yet what causes children to initiate collaboration in some circumstances but not others is unclear. In this research, we analyzed preschoolers' collaboration as an information gathering activity ... Cite

Developing a concept of choice.

Chapter · January 2012 Our adult concept of choice is not a simple idea, but rather a complex set of beliefs about the causes of actions. These beliefs are situation-, individual- and culture-dependent, and are thus likely constructed through social learning. This chapter takes ... Full text Cite

It’s all about the game: Infants’ action strategies during imitation are influenced by their prior expectations

Conference Expanding the Space of Cognitive Science - Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2011 · January 1, 2011 Infants’ imitation is influenced by causal and intentional cues. Here we examine whether imitation is influenced by prior social expectations. Infants (mean age = 27 months) first played one of three games either: 1) copying the experimenters’ gestures, 2) ... Cite

A Comparison of Nepalese and American Children’s Concepts of Free Will

Conference Expanding the Space of Cognitive Science - Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, CogSci 2011 · January 1, 2011 Recent work finds that children as young as four years old have an intuitive belief in free will. To what extent is this early-developing intuition universal, and to what extent culturally situated? We surveyed school-aged children (4-11) in two countries ... Cite

Understanding the adult moralist requires first understanding the child scientist

Journal Article Behavioral and Brain Sciences · August 2010 Full text Cite

Learning From Doing: Intervention and Causal Inference

Chapter · April 1, 2010 This chapter starts from the premise that much of children's knowledge takes the form of abstract, coherent, causal claims that are learned from, and defeasible by, evidence. This view is consistent with an interventionist view of causal knowledge, formali ... Full text Cite

Inferring Hidden Causal Structure

Journal Article Cognitive Science · October 2009 Full text Cite

The importance of decision making in causal learning from interventions.

Journal Article Memory & cognition · March 2006 Recent research has focused on how interventions benefit causal learning. This research suggests that the main benefit of interventions is in the temporal and conditional probability information that interventions provide a learner. But when one generates ... Full text Cite

Young Children Infer Causal Strength From Probabilities and Interventions

Journal Article Psychological Science · September 2005 Full text Cite