Early numeracy and our mental representations of number
The human cognitive system appears to be equipped to deal with number from a very early age. Yet children's formative numerical skillsappear to offer several paradoxes. Mastery of procedures like counting and sharing, and sophisticated insights into the precise nature of quantity, sit alongside sometimes exasperating reluctance by children to draw legitimate conclusions about numerical relationships. Just how do children come to recognize that six is more than seven? And what exactly does 'eight' mean? Contact Dr Kevin Muldoon for more information.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are characterised by severe impairments in social, communicative and imaginative activities, affecting up to 1% of children in the UK. Individuals with ASC appear to interact with their environment in a different way from "typically developing individuals" (the term applied to those without ASC). We at Heriot-Watt, along with colleagues from Queen Margaret College, the University of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Newcastle University are interested in identifying what is behind these differences, particular in areas such as language, communication and social interaction and how these are responsible for the impairments seen in ASC. Contact Dr Mary Stewart for more information.
Technologies for children, especially with autism
Innormation and Computing Technology (ICT) is now pervasive in children's lives, but we know little about how different technologies might affect children's minds. For example is the embodied nature of movement-based technologies (e.g., Kinect) beneficial for children's cognitive development? Technology is also important for special populations: for example, children with autism seem to have an affinity for ICT. This provides a unique opportunity to both understand and treat autism. Additionally, technology research in developmental disorders offers a unique window to understanding better the typical population – as well as develop improved technologies for everyone. Contact Dr Thusha Rajendran for more information.
Reciprocal social interaction
Whether through gestural or linguistic imitation, or understanding the nature of friendships, reciprocity seems a natural part of human social development. However, when there is a disruption in development (either through a developmental disorder such as autism, or childhood maltreatment) then this important social ability can be studied in particular detail. Using different methodologies (including computer role-play), we can better understand the development of reciprocity, with a view to treatment. Contact Dr Thusha Rajendran for more information.
Social learning and cultural transmission
In collaboration with researchers at the University of St Andrews we are exploring questions surrounding the 'who', the 'what', and the 'how' of social learning. One particular research stream has focused on the phenomenon of 'over-imitation', that is, copying another individual to the extent that task efficiency is actually reduced. More recent research projects, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, seek to explore the evolution and development of prosociality, creativity and trust. Contact Dr Nicola McGuigan for more information.