Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Gelman, Susan
Location University of Michigan
Primary Field Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
 Election Citation
Gelman's work has had great impact in developmental psychology and cognitive science. Her elegant studies of inductive inference, kind representations, and generic nouns show that young children (even 2-year-olds) are biased to be "psychological essentialists," assuming that hidden causes explain the invisible and surface properties of natural kinds.
 Research Interests
My research examines the development of concepts and theories in young children, and the role of language in this process. I have examined the bases of children's categories, how children extend their knowledge by means of inductive inferences, and the intuitive causal theories that children construct. I have found that in the preschool years, children incorporate non-obvious features into their concepts when learning words, generalizing information to new category members, reasoning about the role of nature versus nurture, and constructing causal explanations. These findings contradict the standard view of children's early thought as concrete or limited to obvious features. I have also studied how certain linguistic devices (e.g., count nouns, generic sentences) influence these cognitive processes, with data from unrelated language families. In our research, my group uses a combination of experimentation and fine-grained linguistic analyses of natural conversations.

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