Current Research

The Emory Infant and Child Lab is currently focusing primarily on cross-cultural research concerning social and moral development. We are interested in what we view as a crucial step taken by children in relation to others during the pre-school years. This step is what we call the "ethical stance".

For example, we established that by 5 years of age children develop a sense of equity and fairness. The question is whether this development is universal or, on the contrary, variable across cultural contexts. Is the emerging sense of fairness comparable across highly contrasted cultural circumstances in which children grow? Are all children taking an ethical stance toward others at approximately the same age?

Our goal is to address such questions and contribute to a better understanding of what might be the roots of moral development and moral values, the roots of the "ethical stance" taken by children in the pre-school years.

-A full list of Dr. Rochat's published works can be viewed here

More information on our current research:

Early Moral Development


The study on reputation is an extension of our previous studies on sharing, where we hope to learn more about what children understand about sharing. One of the things we are most interested in is how children think about reputation when they share do they act differently when they know other people are watching? To explore this idea, we ask children to distribute a pile of coins into two banks one for them, and one for the experimenter. We vary the conditions to include a clear bank, an opaque bank, and a noisy bank. We then study how the child acts in each of the different conditions.


Where does property begin and where does it end? This is a perennial conundrum in the history of philosophy. This question, however, continues to elude the scrutiny of cognitive and developmental scientists, particularly cultural psychologists. Aside from philosophical speculations and psychoanalytical interpretations based on case studies, there is no good account on the developmental origins of entitlement, the claim of ownership, how and why children eventually learn to relinquish property via sharing and negotiation. Aside from armchair speculative views, little empirical work exists on the origins of property, nor on the origins of sharing.

More to the point, no systematic research exists on the influence of the great variety of cultural contexts in which children grow. We are interested in documenting the development of the sense of property in preschool age children (between 3 and 5 years of age) growing up in highly contrasted cultural and economic environments. These environments are richer or poorer with markedly different ways of promoting collective values, different ways of relating to others that depend on a more or less individualistic sense of self of the individuals growing up in these cultures and variety of socio-economic backgrounds.

When young children are reported to begin to say mine! typically at around 20 months class children, what they say is de facto that it is not yours. Property is inseparable from the idea of potentially relinquishing it via sharing and negotiation. By definition, property is the necessary prerequisite and constitutive element of what characterizes social exchanges (by analogy, responsibility and autonomy are the necessary prerequisites of punishment).

Property and sharing are thus two inseparable, mutually defining terms. Pioneer field works of early anthropologists all converge in pointing to the importance of object and people transactions, in particular the importance of sharing and gifts in small, primitive societies all over the world (see the seminal writings of M. Mauss, B. Malinowsky, F. Boas, M. Mead, or C. Levi-Strauss).

Gifts, sacrifices, and benevolence are the epitome of active social cohesion and stability maintenance by individuals within a group. However, their forms vary across cultures and it is not clear how children learn the particular forms of sharing within the culture of their parents.

Here we consider that when children refer to when they begin to say mine!is fundamentally dynamic, not normative or static. The argument is that early on, children discover the social power of possession and property, in particular the potential for exchange it represents. They discover the power of social control through the claim of ownership. Accordingly, to talk about possession and ownership it is to talk about the self in relation to others. The idea is that without self-consciousness, nor any consciousness of others, there would be no property question, nor any ownership issue. When young children are reported to begin to say mine!, what they say is de facto that it is not yours. But is it the case in all cultures and for all children growing up in various socio-economic circumstances? The question remains wide open.

Strong Reciprocity

For several years, children have participated in our strong reciprocity study in which children shared coins with a stingy and a generous puppet. We have analyzed our American sample, as well as a small sample of children from the South Pacific. Our results demonstrate that 3-year-olds prefer to keep more coins for themselves and do not distinguish between the stingy and generous characters. However, by 5-years, children prefer to share fairly and will take advantage of the opportunity to punish the selfish puppet. Furthermore, American children are more assertive about punishing the stingy puppet than are children in small-scale, collectivistic cultures. We think these results are exciting and shed some light on the origins of fairness in childhood.

Economic Games

The lab is starting a new series of experiments investigating children's attitudes toward competition, risk, and fairness. We have already collected data from two sites in the South Pacific and are in the process of testing children in the Emory area. We have already noticed some interesting differences between our non-Western samples, and we can't wait to learn more. We have a lot more to do, but so far it appears that children in collectivistic, small-scale traditional societies are fairly egalitarian (i.e., fair-minded) and unlikely to be competitive or prone to risk-taking behavior. We expect to find that American children are more competitive and risky, perhaps as a result of growing up in a more individualistic culture.

Impact of Race and Gender on Social Behavior

Stereotypes, or assumptions about a person made based on what social group they belong to, have a profound effect on how we view the world and interact with others. Whether it is the belief that boys are better at math or black boys are better at basketball, stereotypes exist everywhere and everyone has them. We are more likely to believe that negative stereotypes about others are true if they are members of a social group that is not our own; this is an out-group bias. This bias often happens unconsciously so we are not even aware that it is affecting how we view other social groups like race.

Race is a socially constructed category that is defined by a set of physical features which are thought to be manifestations of inherent differences in intelligence, temperament, and physical prowess. The stereotype that people with darker skin are more dangerous has permeated the culture of the United States and abroad. In particular, black men are quickly and quite often described as threating physical forces in both positive (e.g., athletic) and negative (e.g., criminal) ways. These stereotypes cause people to respond in fear when they encounter a new person, particularly a darker skinned male.

We were interested in examining how personal space representations interacted with racial bias in school aged children. Since even babies are sensitive to physical differences that define social categories, it is important to explore what type of effect racial bias has on the way older children think about the people around them. In particular, the goal of this project was to determine whether spatial perception and racial bias were related in 6-to-11-year-olds. Since interactions with people of different races often happen in close proximity, it is important to understand how space representation is affected by racial bias. We utilized classic child-friendly measures of implicit bias as well as a spatial task where reaction time differences to different images may illuminate how children think about those types of images.

Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Valley Hypothesis As robots increasingly resemble humans, they may fall into an "uncanny valley," in which their realistic appearance and/or behavior elicit uncanny feelings, which researchers describe as eerie, repulsive, threatening, and disgusting. Is uncanny valley a real phenomenon? Although some studies demonstrate a U-shape relation between robots' human likeness and their likability, others fail to detect this relation. In our research, we tested the existence of the uncanny valley by plotting participants' ratings of emotional responses to 89 human and artificial faces against ratings of human likeness of the same faces. Our findings indicate a nonlinear relation between faces' human likeness and the emotional responses they elicit that resembles the uncanny valley, corroborating the uncanny valley hypothesis. In addition, a visual looming task was used to implicitly measure participants' emotional responses to the faces. Results further corroborated the uncanny valley hypothesis. Finally, we conducted a reaction time-based sorting task, in which participants were asked to sort as quickly as possible the same faces used in the previous two tasks as either real or unreal while their reaction times were recorded. The results show that the faces that elicited the longest reaction times were also those that elicited the strongest negative emotions, which suggests that participants' uncertainty about a face's (real or unreal) category may contribute to their emotional responses to this face.

Audience Perception

Past research shows that the perceived presence of an audience (others watching) influences or modifies one's behavior. In other words, because we assume that others will evaluate our behavior, we modify our behavior when others are watching in order to maximize self-presentation. While there is ample evidence that we come to perceive others as evaluators, little is known as to when this emerges in development. Specifically, when do children begin to systematically change their behavior when another is watching as an index of an emerging sensitivity to others' evaluation, and what contributes to its trajectory? My research focuses primarily on exploring these questions in late infancy as well as finding precursors to the developmental trajectory. I plan to continue investigating this phenomenon as well as inter-individual difference in childhood.

Ethnic Familiarity of Novel Faces

Background and Aims: Previous studies have documented a shift in the ability to discriminate faces as a function of early exposure, indicating that there may be emerging face categories in the first months (de Haan, Belsky, Reid, Volein, & Johnson, 2004; Slater et al., 2000). In particular, Pascalis, de Haan, & Nelson (2002) report a change between 6- and 10-months, in infants ability to perceptually discriminate among monkey faces. We further investigated the mechanism underlying this development by recording 6- and 10-month-olds visual exploration of novel adult human faces that were either ethnically familiar or unfamiliar (black or white individuals) using a non-invasive (Tobii) eye tracking device.

Methods: Twenty-seven infants were tested using a Visual Paired Comparison (VPC) procedure modeled after Pascalis and co-authors (2002). We used a within subjects design and presented infants with two blocked conditions of faces from either same- or other- ethnic faces. Infants were familiarized to a face, followed by preferential looking test trials in which the Familiar was paired with a Novel face. In order to determine visual discrimination, we recorded and analyzed infants visual exploration of Novel and Familiar faces either from same- and other- ethnic faces.

Results: We analyzed total gaze duration to Novel and Familiar faces during test trials, as a function of whether it matched or did not match the infants ethnicity. Confirming past studies, 6-month-olds displayed visual discrimination with preferential looking for Familiar faces regardless of matching or non matching ethnicity (black or white). In contrast, 10-month-olds did not show any signs of discrimination in any of the conditions. Consistent with previous developmental studies, 10-month-olds gaze distribution becomes more evenly distributed across regions of the face, compared to gaze patterns of 6 month-olds.

Conclusions: These findings confirm that there is a general developmental shift in face processing between 6- and 10-months that is independent of ethnic familiarity. More studies are needed to understand the potential effect of exposure and familiarity on face processing and social perception in the first year of life. We interpret these findings as indicating a potential shift in what constitutes a familiar face, with familiarity becoming restricted to primary caretakers in the life of the infant by 10-months of age.

Social Dominance

Both humans and non-human animals are able to determine social hierarchies and social dominance between individuals fairly automatically. For example, we are able to know that a big guy is more dominant physically than a little guy. At the same time, we also know that there is strength in numbers, where a little guy may beat the big guy if he has a lot of friends by its side. A remaining question is, when in development do we begin to understand social hierarchies based on size and number? The Social Dominance study explores this question using eye-tracking technology. By testing 6-11 month olds and measuring looking duration between computer-animated social scenarios, we are able to see which social scenario an infant is more "surprised" by as indexed by longer looking times. For example, we would expect infants to look longer at scenarios where a little guy "bows" for a big guy as opposed to the big guy bowing down to the little guy, because this scenario would be more unexpected. The study is currently ongoing.


Development of other-motivated lies

Children start to tell lies by 3 years. Although they often lie for self-serving reasons – i.e. to cover up a transgression they committed or lie to maximize their own material gains – young children also lie pro-socially for others. When do children start telling prosocial lies for others? What motivates this development? This current project examines 2 ½ to 5 years old children's prosocial lie-telling for others in relation to their antisocial lie-telling and investigates the socio-cognitive abilities that might be motivating this development. More specifically, we are interested in whether theory of mind, inhibitory control and normative understanding are involved in children's lying for another. Results from current studies can have important legal implications.

Cultural influence on children's lie evaluation

Our moral understanding is deeply rooted in socialization practices. How does cultural environment influence children's understanding of lies and truth? How does children's evaluation of prosocial and antisocial lies change with age? To answer these questions, we compared 4-11 years old children's moral evaluation of 6 different types of lies and truth across three distinct cultures: Samoa, China, and the U.S. Our findings suggest that: 1) children's evaluation of prosocial lies becomes more positive with age; 2) differential cultural socialization practices impact children's moral understanding of lies in general, especially prosocial lies.