My research explores the origins of social cognition, with a focus on the cognitive and motivational bases of cooperation. In particular, my research is concerned with the processes which constitute early forms of cooperation such as altruistic helping and collaboration, identifying the factors which influence its development throughout childhood, and exploring its origins in human evolution. One striking finding of this research is that even very young children engage in various forms of altruistic behaviors such as helping others with their problems or sharing resources with them, suggesting that human infants have a biologically based predisposition for altruism. Recent projects aim at determining how children’s developing apprehension of norms shapes their cooperative tendencies through later childhood.
Methodologically, my laboratory focuses on experimental studies with infants and young children. This is complemented by collaborative projects examining our closest living primate relatives, the great apes. The combination of developmental and comparative methods is critical, as it enables us to disentangle those aspects of human behaviors that are human-unique from those aspects that have deeper evolutionary roots. Moreover, I am involved in projects with researchers from computer science and robotics with the goal of investigating the cognitive processes underlying cooperation by implementing them in robotic systems.