Alison Gopnik, Professor

Closed (1) Development of Spacial Concepts in Children

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Research in the Gopnik Cognitive Development Lab is broadly focused on the development of children's basic concepts. Within this framework, we are currently looking for research assistants to help with the project listed below.

Spatial reasoning is a central part of human cognition, but the way spatial concepts develop in children is mysterious. Whereas most educated adults use their own body to think about space (e.g. on my left), children tend to think about the same spatial situations using features of the surrounding environment (e.g. on the window side of the room). Why do children think this way and to what extent does this tendency depend on context? In this project, we address these questions by studying how 4-8 year-old kids reason about spatial relationships. Participants will play a series of spatial reasoning games with more than one right answer. The specific way they solve each puzzle will reveal when and why they think about space using their own body (e.g. left-right) or the features of their environment.


We are looking for dedicated and motivated undergraduate students interested in pursuing a graduate degree in developmental psychology or a related field. Prior research experience is expected and prior experience working with children is essential. RAs will work closely with a senior lab member, who will assist them on all aspects of the research process. RAs will help with experimental and stimuli design, recruiting participants 4-8 years old (and potentially adults), collecting data, analyzing data, and literature reviews. RAs will meet regularly with their mentors to discuss the theoretical motivations of the studies they are working on as well as the findings of other empirical papers both related to the studies in the lab and important to the field in general. We ask our RAs to work for a minimum of 10 hours per week and require a 2-semester commitment.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Ben Pitt, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Must be organized, self-motivated, and an independent, hard worker! Prior experience with children is required (both formal and informal experience is great). Must be excited about cognitive development! Comfort acting silly around children is needed (a bit of acting or improv experience is helpful but not essential). Artistic, mechanical, electrical engineering or programming experience is not necessary, but would be great! We're always building new toys for our experiments. You need to have blocks of 3-4 hours regularly open in your schedule, particularly between the hours of 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm for conducting research at the local preschools and museums. Morning times are generally better than afternoons. Weekend availability is also great (we run experiments at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and other museums during the weekend). Please list your available days and hours in your application. A car is not necessary, but please mention if you have a car. Please apply through URAP AND through this form: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA Only apply on this website for the purposes of obtaining URAP credits. You do not need to fill out the URAP application to its full extent, just enough to be able to submit it in this portal.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Off-Campus Research Site: Pre/schools in Berkeley and Oakland and Bay Area museums (including the Bay Area Discovery Museum)

Related website: http://www.gopniklab.berkeley.edu/for-applying/
Related website: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA

Closed (2) Development of Reasoning about Unstable Causal Relationships

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Research in the Gopnik Cognitive Development Lab is broadly focused on children's development of cause and effect reasoning. Within this framework, we are currently looking for research assistants to help with the projects listed below.

This project explores how children reason about complex, probabilistic cause-and-effect relationships that depend on other factors. Sometimes, the right answer to the question Does X cause Y? is It depends For example, does stress cause a drop in your course grades? Perhaps it depends on the courses you're taking, or even on your level of physical fitness (which can buffer the effect of short-term stress). How do children reason about such interactive causal relationships? And how does that shape the way they learn about the world? We tackle these questions by playing fun interactive games with children. We present children with stories about aliens who travel in space and cause different outcomes depending on the planet where they land, and ask kids to make guesses about new planets. Their answers will tell us how children handle uncertainty as they are building causal models to navigate the world, and how their reasoning changes with age.

We are looking for 1 dedicated and motivated undergraduate student interested in pursuing a graduate degree in developmental psychology or a related field. Prior research experience is appreciated though not required. Prior experience working with children is essential. RAs will work closely with a graduate student assisting them on all aspects of the research process. RAs will help with experimental and stimuli design, recruiting participants 1-6 years old and adults, collecting data, analyzing data, and literature reviews. RAs will meet regularly with their mentors to discuss the theoretical motivations of the studies they are working on as well as the findings of other empirical papers both related to the studies in the lab and important to the field in general. We ask our RAs to work for a minimum of 8-10 hours per week and prefer a 2-semester commitment if possible.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Ny Vasil, PhD, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Must be organized, self-motivated, and an independent, hard worker! Prior experience with children is required (both formal and informal experience is great). Must be excited about Cognitive Development research! Prior research experience is not required (though it is a plus). Comfort acting silly around children is needed (a bit of acting or improv experience is helpful but not essential). Artistic, mechanical, electrical engineering or programming experience is not necessary, but would be great! We're always building new toys for our experiments. You need to have blocks of 3-4 hours regularly open in your schedule, particularly between the hours of 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm for conducting research at the local preschools. Morning times are generally better than afternoons. Weekend availability is also great (we run experiments at the Lawrence Hall of Science and other museums during the weekend). PLEASE LIST YOUR AVAILABLE DAYS AND HOURS IN YOUR APPLICATION. A car is not necessary, but please mention if you have a car. Please apply through URAP AND on this form: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA Only apply on this website for the purposes of obtaining URAP credits. You do not need to fill out the URAP application to its full extent, just enough to be able to submit it in this portal.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Off-Campus Research Site: Pre/schools in Berkeley and Oakland and Bay Area museums (including the Bay Area Discovery Museum)

Related website: http://www.gopniklab.berkeley.edu/for-applying/
Related website: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA

Closed (3) What's the point of play?

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Many animals--including human children--spend large amounts of time engaging in energy-expensive, apparently aimless activity that is aimed at maximizing "fun." We seem to easily recognize the signatures of this mysterious activity, Play, in ourselves, other humans, and even other animals. However, little is known about the precise adaptive function(s) of play. Cognitive scientists often talk about the "Explore/Exploit tradeoff," wherein 'exploring' is aimed at optimizing information gain/novelty seeking about the environment (e.g., opening up a box you've never opened before) and 'exploiting' optimizes for particular rewards in the environment (e.g., opening a box you know contains a cookie). But, play does not seem to do either of these things. What, exactly, is play "good for?" How is it different from those other activities, exploring and exploiting?

In these studies, led by postdocs Mariel Goddu and Josh Rule, we are combining approaches from empirical developmental psychology research and computational cognitive science to investigate this question. As the semester/academic year progresses, our investigation will likely expand to include further studies aimed at investigating the learning benefits of play.


We are seeking two categories of research assistants:

1) Developmental psychology research assistants: Undergrads of any major who have *A STRONG BACKGROUND/EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH CHILDREN AGED 4-10 YEARS OLD* (in research or non-research settings). Developmental Play Team RAs will help design and construct experimental stimuli and collect data with children in developmental psychology experiments at local children's museums and preschools. Strong candidates will be: independent; reliable; flexible & creative problem-solvers with an interest in play/cognitive development. No research background necessary, but demonstrated experience (either formal or informal) working with children is a must.

2) Computational cognitive science research assistants: Undergrads of any major who have *A STRONG BACKGROUND/EXPERIENCE IN MACHINE LEARNING*, particularly reinforcement learning. This can be either occupational (e.g., work/summer internships) or academic (i.e., strong performance in computational cognitive science and/or computer science coursework). Computational Play Team RAs will help design and test computational models of play in a reinforcement learning setting. Strong candidates will be: independent; reliable; flexible & creative problem-solvers with an interest in play and reinforcement learning. No research background necessary, but demonstrated experience in reinforcement learning is a must.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Mariel Goddu; Joshua Rule, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Qualifications: Must be organized, self-motivated, and an independent, hard worker! Prior experience with children is required (both formal and informal experience is great). Must be excited about Cognitive Development as well as artificial intelligence research! Prior research experience is not required (though it is a plus). Comfort acting silly around children is needed (a bit of acting or improv experience is helpful but not essential). Artistic, mechanical, electrical engineering or programming experience is not necessary, but would be great! We're always building new toys for our experiments. You need to have blocks of 3-4 hours regularly open in your schedule, particularly between the hours of 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm for conducting research at the local preschools. Morning times are generally better than afternoons. Weekend availability is also great (we run experiments at the Lawrence Hall of Science and other museums during the weekend). PLEASE LIST YOUR AVAILABLE DAYS AND HOURS IN YOUR APPLICATION. A car is not necessary, but please mention if you have a car. Please apply through URAP AND through this form: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA Only apply on this website for the purposes of obtaining URAP credits. You do not need to fill out the URAP application to its full extent, just enough to be able to submit it in this portal.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Off-Campus Research Site: Pre/schools in Berkeley and Oakland and Bay Area museums (including the Bay Area Discovery Museum)

Related website: http://www.gopniklab.berkeley.edu/for-applying/
Related website: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA

Closed (4) Preschoolers' Competence with Functional Metaphors AND Child Development AI

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Research in the Gopnik Cognitive Development Lab is broadly focused on children's development of cause and effect reasoning. Within this framework, we are currently looking for research assistants to help with the projects listed below.

Project 1, Preschoolers Competence with Functional Metaphors with Rebecca Zhu:

This research investigates how children acquire and learn from symbolic systems, such as language and pictures.

In one line of research, I investigate when and how preschoolers acquire different kinds of non-literal language (e.g. metaphor, metonymy). Consequently, I also explore whether non-literal language can help children learn in new ways (i.e. whether children can use novel metaphors to make inferences).



In a second line of research, I investigate cross-cultural similarities and differences in children's picture comprehension abilities. Specifically, I ask whether variation in early experience with picture books is related to variation in children's picture comprehension, ability to learn from pictures, and performance on cognitive tasks involving pictures.


Project 2, Child Development & AI with Eliza Kosoy
I am searching for RAs to work at the intersection of artificial intelligence and child development!

RAs will perform experiments with children at children’s museums for a virtual maze game! Inspired by and in collaboration with Google Deepmind, we compare children’s exploration in mazes with various AI algorithms.

A second project includes testing adults and children in virtual reality in the lab! This project involves people playing in a virtual environment wearing VR goggles and then the data is used to train robot hands!

For both of these projects experience with children is preferred but not required! Always open to Ras with programming experience who are interested in ways that AI algorithms impact research with children!


We are looking for dedicated and motivated undergraduate students interested in pursuing a graduate degree in developmental psychology or a related field. Prior research experience is appreciated though not required. Prior experience working with children is essential. RAs will work closely with a graduate student assisting them on all aspects of the research process. RAs will help with experimental and stimuli design, recruiting participants 3-8 years old and adults, collecting data, analyzing data, and literature reviews. RAs will meet regularly with their mentors to discuss the theoretical motivations of the studies they are working on as well as the findings of other empirical papers both related to the studies in the lab and important to the field in general. We ask our RAs to work for a minimum of 10 hours per week and prefer a 2-semester commitment if possible.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Rebecca Zhu; Eliza Kosoy, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Must be organized, self-motivated, and an independent, hard worker! Prior experience with children is required (both formal and informal experience is great). Must be excited about Cognitive Development research! Prior research experience is not required (though it is a plus). Comfort acting silly around children is needed (a bit of acting or improv experience is helpful but not essential). Artistic, mechanical, electrical engineering or programming experience is not necessary, but would be great! We're always building new toys for our experiments. You need to have blocks of hours available on the weekend (we run experiments at the Lawrence Hall of Science and other museums during the weekend). If you do not have weekend availability, you must have blocks of 3-4 hours regularly open in your schedule during the week, particularly between the hours of 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, for conducting research at the local preschools. Morning times are generally better than afternoons. PLEASE LIST YOUR AVAILABLE DAYS AND HOURS IN YOUR APPLICATION. A car is not necessary, but please mention if you have a car. Please apply through URAP AND on this form: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA Only apply on this website for the purposes of obtaining URAP credits. You do not need to fill out the URAP application to its full extent, just enough to be able to submit it in this portal.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Off-Campus Research Site: Pre/schools in Berkeley and Oakland and Bay Area museums (including the Bay Area Discovery Museum)

Related website: http://www.gopniklab.berkeley.edu/for-applying/
Related website: https://forms.gle/9muRbZrgjzSe9WbHA