Colloquium Series

Next Talk:

Alison Gopnik (Professor, UC Berkeley)

 Thursday, February 9th, 2017


Title:  When children are better (or, at least, more open-minded) theorists than adults: Theory formation, causal models, and the evolution of learning

  In the past 15 years we’ve discovered that even young children are adept at inferring causal structure from statistical patterns. But can they also learn more abstract theoretical principles? And are there differences in the ways that younger children, older children and adults learn? I will present several studies showing that preschoolers can learn abstract higher-order principles from data. In each case, younger learners were actually better at inferring unusual or unlikely principles than older learners. We have recently extended this research to track adolescents and to include children in Peru and Headstart, strikingly these children show the same pattern of wider search as the middle-class children in our original studies. I relate this to computational ideas about search and sampling, to evolutionary ideas about human life history, and to neuroscience findings about the negative effects of frontal control on wide exploration, and the advantages of earlier neural architectures for wide-ranging learning. Our hypothesis is that childhood is evolution’s way of performing simulated annealing. Our distinctively long human childhood allows a period of broad “high-temperature” hypothesis search. 



Full Schedule of Speakers for 2016-2017:

  • Doug  Wiegmann (UW-Madison, Engineering)
  •   9/29/16, 3:45pm, Brogden Hall, Berkowitz Room (Rm. 338)
  • Lori Holt (Carnegie Mellon University)
  •   11/3/15, 3:45PM, Brogden Hall, Berkowitz Room (Rm. 338)
  • Alison Gopnik (UC-Berkeley)
  •   2/9/16 3:45PM Brodgen Hall Room 107   
  • Liz Phelps (New York University)
  •   3/2/17, 3:45PM, Brogden Hall, Berkowitz Room (Rm. 338)
  • Jennifer Richeson (Yale University)
  •   4/6/17, 3:45PM, Brogden Hall, Berkowitz Room (Rm. 338)

The Psychology Department Colloquium Series graduate student committee can be reached at

    • Martin Zettersten (chair)
    • Matt Cooper Borkenhagen  (treasurer)
    • Sarah Brown
    • Emily Dix
    • Tammi Kral
    • Chelsea Mitamura
    • Sounak Mohanta
    • Rista Plate
    • Danielle Rendina
    • Steven Schwering
    • Katherine Scott
    • Ceci Westbrook
    • Amelia Yeo