Drawing of children holding hands in a circleDirector: Rochel Gelman

The Gelman Lab studies the origins of cognitive development. We conduct research on a variety of topics including domain-relevant concept learning and conceptual change; verbal and non-verbal representations and re-representations of arithmetic; representational tools; math and science literacy, and developing experimental methods.

Rochel Gelman´s Biography and Research Interests

My PhD is from UCLA with specializations in Developmental Psychology and Learning. I came to Rutgers in 2000, having been at PENN 21 years and UCLA 11 years. I moved because of its support for cross-discipline work and the strength of the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science (RuCCS). I have been a Co-Director of RuCCS since 2002.

I have developed ways to uncover and study the ease with which young children acquire intuitive understandings of natural number and arithmetic, that different sources of energy support the movement and change over time about separably moveable animate and inanimate objects, that outcomes have causes, learn words and conversational ly appropriate ways of talking. A second major theme is dedicated to describing the difficulties that humans have learning about the nature of rational numbers, algebra, mechanics, biology and so on. On the theoretical side my effort is dedicated to the task of developing the kind of theory of learning that accommodates both the early learnings that occurs on the fly and the later learning that requires effort and a protracted period of time.

We know that humans find it easier to learn material that is related to knowledge structures that they already possess. The evidence collected in my lab (as well as others) has led me to postulate a small set of innate, domain-specific skeletal structures. No matter how nascent, these are structures that can actively engage and find examples from the equivalence class of relevant inputs that can serve to nurture acquisition of domain-relevant knowledge. Later learnings do not offer the presence of such existing leg-ups. Individuals have to mount new mental structure as well as accumulate relevant data for the structure. It is as if learners have to get to the middle of the lake without a rowboat. The theoretical task is two-fold: to spell out how new mental structures are acquired and to achieve a theory of environment that that supports such learning.

Ongoing research in my lab includes studies of both verbal and nonverbal representations of number and arithmetic. Various methods are brought to bear on these topics, including psychophysical and interview ones with adult and children; classification and inference designs for studying preschoolers’ knowledge about the animate-inanimate distinction and machines; the role of causal information on the interpretation of trajectories; and both brief and long training studies. As regards the latter, we are now involved in studying the effect of embedding a preschool science program into classrooms in the New Brunswick area.

I also have students and collaborators studying the development course of learning about quantifiers and numerals; counting systems in different culture; and the nature of inputs for learning verbs. Finally, a group of us are developing a research agenda for studying dyscalculia.