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Psychological and Brain Sciences, Spiker Memorial Lecture: Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, New York University

Friday, September 9, 2022 - 3:30pm
Psychological and Brain Sciences Building

Psychological and Brain Sciences Spiker Memorial Lecture

Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Professor of Applied Psychology, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University

The Mountain Stream of Learning and Development in Context

Abstract: Researchers of infant development are committed to advancing science on processes of early learning. But they also confront unique challenges in identifying valid approaches for studying babies—the unruly participants who do whatever they wish, rather than what researchers ask. Notably, how researchers do science (approach) depends on how they think about learning (theoretical orientation). And so, I begin by presenting the developmental systems theory that guides my work: Learning is an active, dynamic, and socially-embedded process. I then raise a few questions that are core to advances in developmental science: (1) How do we generate our research questions? (2) Where do we conduct our studies? (3) How do we conceptualize behavior? (4) How can we best study the whole child? (5) And how can researchers share science to accelerate discovery about learning and development? In addressing these questions, I apply a mountain stream metaphor to illustrate key findings from studies of infant play and language interactions in social and cultural contexts. As infants navigate the spaces, places, and activities of everyday life, they generate rich perceptual and social inputs that are vital to learning. In turn, each new skill opens up new opportunities: Behaviors in the moment affect behaviors in other domains, elicit timely, multimodal inputs from caregivers, and cascade to learning. I close by encouraging researchers to embrace discovery science; observe learning in ecologically valid settings; flip the narrative from that of an immature child moving toward a mature end state to that of an exuberant, adaptive child; engage in collaborative research; and adopt full transparency at all stages of research.