Karen Wynn

Professor of Psychology

Ph.D., 1990, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Address: SSS 210A
Phone: 203 436-1406
Email: Karen.Wynn@yale.edu
Personal Home Page
Lab Page

Research Interests:

My research investigates the core mental mechanisms through which we interpret (and impose structure upon) incoming information, and which enable us to reason about and act upon the world. In the Infant Lab, my students and I study infants and young toddlers, as a means of tapping the core architecture of the human mind as it exists prior to extensive influences of language, culture, education, and experience. We are examining both initial structures - what humans are born with - and also how these initial structures develop over time, with input and experience. Some of our current research interests include:

   1. "Naïve Psychology" or "Theory of Mind," infants' early conception of others' minds:  As adults, we reason automatically and effortlessly about other beings with minds, who possess intentions and goals, and have the ability to act towards their goals. Do we reason differently about intentional agents and inanimate objects from infancy, and if so, what expectations and generalizations characterize our understanding of agents on the one hand, and objects on the other?

   2. "Naïve Sociology," or what we might call "Theory of Minds," the grasp of how intentional agents interact with each other. What principles and expectations characterize our earliest understandings of social interactions? As adults, we automatically interpret interactions between intentional beings as social interactions that both arise from, and influence, these beings' attitudes and predispositions towards each other. And we are sensitive to the many dimensions that influence these interactions: the alliances and enmities of distinct individuals, their relative status, their similarities to each other, the nature of their previous interactions, and so on. What are infants' early expectations about relationships and interactions, and what are the social & relational attributes that influence these expectations?

   3. The foundations of moral cognition: We are exploring the origins and development, in infants, toddlers and preschoolers, of moral concepts such as "good" and "bad." What are the conditions that influence infants and young children to judge certain acts and individuals as good or right, others as bad or wrong?

   4. Early social-emotional processes and development: How do infants assess - and negotiate - their own place in the social world? How do they interact with others, and what factors influence the social signals and emotional expressions that infants produce in social interactions? One guiding hypothesis is that human infants have evolved to assess the level of social threat an individual poses in a given context, and will respond differently depending on this assessment. We are examining infants' behaviors in face-to-face interactions, asking whether different responses and expressions are designed to have distinct effects on a recipient social partner.

To learn more about my current research interests, please visit my Research web page at: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kw77/Research.html

Also see:
Wynn and the Baby Lab on Anderson Cooper 360
Wynn, Bloom and the Baby Lab on 60 Minutes

 

Sample Publications:

Sheskin, M., Bloom, P. & Wynn, K. (2014). Anti-equality: Social comparison in young children. Cognition, 130, 152-156.

Wertz, A. & Wynn, K. (2014). Thyme to touch: Infants possess strategies that protect them from dangers posed by plants. Cognition, 130, 44-49.

Hamlin, K., Mahajan, N., Liberman, Z., & Wynn, K. (2013). Not like me = bad: Infants prefer those who harm dissimilar others. Psychological Science, 24.

Mahajan, N. & Wynn, K. (2012). Origins of “us” versus “them”: Prelinguistic infants prefer similar others. Cognition, 124, 227-233.

Hamlin, J.K., Wynn, K., Bloom, P., & Mahajan, N. (2011). How infants and toddlers react to antisocial others. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 19931-19936.

 

photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University
photo M. Marsland, © 2011 Yale University