This year, there are opportunities in three specific areas:
The perception of animacy and its development
Humans have complex psychological processes designed for detecting and attending to living things. Understanding the psychological processes that underpin the perception of animacy is prerequisite to understanding interactions between people. Perhaps most fundamental is an understanding of how we discriminate animate and inanimate objects… those we interact with and those we do not. The purpose of this research program is to explore both adult functioning and the developmental trajectory of these psychological processes. One study tests for evidence that infants attend to animate visual objects preferentially over other visual objects, and another tests which cues infants use in order to categorize motion as animate. Two studies explore animacy perception in adult observers: One tests whether the perception of animate objects is categorical, and the other compares processing between animate and inanimate categories.
The Early Autism Study
This study is a continuation of a longitudinal study tracking a group of children from infancy who may be at risk for developing with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and a group of control participants. This next phase of the study will 1) test whether the relationship between social cognition and IQ is stronger for those developing with ASD than for controls and 2) Test whether early attention to social information has the same power to predict autism diagnoses in girls as it has in boys and 3) Complete a battery of social cognitive test with a 12-year-old cohort to see whether early attention to social information predicts social cognition differently in those at risk for ASD and controls. If differences in early social orienting can identify which children are developing with ASD, children may benefit from this study via enhanced health care and enhanced health outcomes. Earlier diagnosis is associated with improved prognosis.
Big Data and current social issues
Big Data and Big Data analytics give us new opportunities to explore what is going on in the world. Consistent with the goals of this lab, we will use big data to see what impact social categories can have on outcomes in peoples lives. Some predictors of interest include gender, race and ethnicity, religion and socio-economic status, especially during childhood. Outcome measures include school completion, voting habits, marriage and childbirth, and incarceration. Big Data provides the opportunity to look at patterns in specific geographic regions as well as to explore interactions between predictor variables.