Building Knowledge Networks

Many aspects of human intelligence rely on our knowledge about the world, including our abilities to communicate using language, reason, and plan for the future. We can use our knowledge in these ways because it is not merely a jumble of information, but is instead a network of concepts organized according to meaningful links between them. For example, our knowledge of apples is linked to other concepts such as healthy, snack, and pear. How do these vital knowledge networks develop?

I tackle this question by studying developmental changes in knowledge networks, and the learning processes that may drive them.

Learning Categories

Many of the concepts that make up our knowledge about the world are categories in which we treat groups of objects, people, or other entities as the same kind of thing. For example, our knowledge is rich in categories such as “birds”, “cups”, “chairs”, and so on. These categories are key components of our knowledge because they support many fundamental aspects of intelligence, such as reasoning (e.g., inferring that if chickens have hollow bones, other birds do as well).

I investigate the learning processes that build these categories, and how they change in the course of development. For example, I study how merely encountering members of categories in everyday experience, such as seeing birds while walking outside, may contribute to shaping category knowledge. I also study how category learning processes change with development, including how the ability to selectively attend to characteristics shared by members of the same category slowly matures with development.