My interests lie in understanding the nature of conceptual representations. I’m particularly interested in early developing abstract concepts and their underlying cognitive architecture. In practical terms, my current work divides into two sets of projects.
The first are investigations of the infant's object and number concepts. We are developing and testing a new model of object representation in infancy. We call this model ‘object indexing’. The model aims to specify how the infant brain tracks small sets of physical objects as they pass behind and re-emerge from occluders. We do primarily looking-time experiments, but also use reaching measures. We are currently piloting eye-tracking methods. Typically, our subjects in these projects are aged from 6 to12 months.
The second set of projects are investigations of the child’s ‘theory of mind.’ We are continuing to investigate the Theory of Mind Mechanism (ToMM) model. This has become one of the major models of ‘theory of mind’ development and is the only model that encompasses both normal and abnormal development. The model aims to specify how the young brain is able to attend to other people’s mental states, likepretending, wanting, and believing, and thus to learn about them. We study young normally developing preschool subjects (mainly 3-5 years old) and older abnormally developing children, mainly children with autism and children with Down’s syndrome.
I am actively seeking intellectually committed graduate students who want to contribute to our understanding of cognitive development. Successful applicants may work on one or both of the above sets of projects or on related projects of their own devising. Example topics include: how infants count physical objects, object-based attention in infants, perception of agency, pretending, inhibitory processes in belief-desire reasoning, and moral concepts in abnormally developing children.
My lab is spacious, well equipped, and currently supported by both Rutgers and federal funds (NSF). All my students have personal space in the lab, their own computer with Internet access, and share in other lab facilities. The lab has close connections with the RU Center for Cognitive Science, the Laboratory for Vision Research, the new Gelman lab, and with other research groups at Rutgers, UMDNJ, NYU, and Princeton. These connections are integral to the training students in my lab receive.
Alan M. Leslie