Recently, twin narratives have arisen in both the scholarly literature and in the popular press that depict infants as a. moral judges and b. inherently altruistic. Each of these narratives has a set of corollaries or associated claims: that moral knowledge is built in, thorough, and relatively impervious to experience, and that infants’ moral behavior is unlearned, virtuously motivated, prolific and indiscriminate. In my talk, I will examine these narratives and claims in the context of my laboratory’s research on infants’ sensitivity to distributive fairness norms and infants’ prosocial behavior. Our results contextualize and temper these narratives and claims. First, infants’ socio-moral knowledge emerges over the course of development, is marked by individual differences, and may lack some components of a mature moral response. Second, infants’ prosocial behavior is influenced by experience, and impacted by variables that affect the personal costs and interpersonal benefits of acting prosocially. Together, these findings reveal the limits and limitations of infants’ socio-moral cognition and behavior.
Cognitive neuroscience has witnessed two decades of rapid growth, thanks in large part to the continued development of fMRI methods. In my talk, I will question what this work has told us about brain function, and will propose some new directions that I see as being crucial to the ultimate success of cognitive neuroscience. First, I will discuss the need for approaches that allow selective associations between mental operations and representations and brain activity. Related to this, I will discuss the need to develop and test formal ontologies of cognitive processes. Finally, I will discuss the need to make research practices in neuroimaging more reproducible.
In highlighting young children’s receptivity to, and appraisal of, potential informants, recent research on children’s early cultural learning has neglected their self-appraisals and their concomitant information seeking. Recent evidence shows that human toddlers spontaneously signal their own cognitive states; they use non-verbal gestures (e.g., a shoulder shrug and/or flipping of the palms upward and outward) together with explicit statements (“I don’t know”) to convey their ignorance. They also explicitly affirm what they know (“I know…”) and query the knowledge of an interlocutor (“Do you know…?”). Alongside such self-monitoring, toddlers also display an interrogative stance toward potential informants. They ask for information via pointing, via simple factual questions, and via explanation-seeking questions. Granted that children are likely to vary considerably in the responses they receive to such information seeking, they are likely to arrive at different assessments of the scope of human knowledge, the magnitude of their own comparative ignorance, and the potential role of question-asking in mitigating such ignorance.