Chuck Kalish, Professor, Department of Educational Psychology

My research focuses on inductive inference and causal reasoning– how do we predict the future and learn from experience? One line of research explores how children acquire the set of commonsense beliefs that characterize adult thinking. I am particularly interested in children’s developing appreciation of physical and intentional causality. Current research addresses the role of norms in social cognition. How does children’s understanding of rules and obligations develop, and what role does such understanding play in predicting and explaining people’s behavior? A second line of research concerns more general processes of categorization and inference. We explore how people use evidence to make category-based inductions, and how beliefs about the nature and origins of categories affect learning and judgment.

The ability to generalize past experience to new situations, to make inductive inferences, is central to what we think of as learning. We want children to know how to use what they have already learned to make successful judgments about new and less familiar circumstances. I hope that studying the process of generalization will tell us more about how children learn.


Julia Matthews, Lab Manager
I earned my B.S. and M.Ed. in Special Education and   Elementary Education from Vanderbilt University.  I started out as a teacher, teaching special education in Tennessee and then Indiana.  While in Indiana my interest in the actual research that influences instructional decisions brought me to the the University of Notre Dame.  I work there as a research specialist until my husband’s work brought our family to Wisconsin.  Now, I am thrilled to be the Lab Manager for the Study of Children’s Thinking Lab.

Office: Room 689 Educational Sciences
Phone: 608-616-0686

Annie Riggs, Graduate Student
I’m a sixth year graduate student in the Psychology department, advised by Chuck Kalish and Martha Alibali.   My primary research interests are in children’s normative reasoning. In particular, I’m interested in how young children infer the scope (i.e., level of generality) of conventional knowledge. For example, when a child sees a novel behavior, how does she know whether that behavior is conventional and should be conceptualized broadly or if the behavior is idiosyncratic and should be restricted to a particular person? I’ve pursued this question by examining children’s encoding patterns of general and specific learning episodes and am currently investigating other mechanisms that support this type of learning such as tracking statistical evidence. I’ve also examined how this question applies in children’s learning from textbooks, in which the scope of new information is often presented ambiguously.

Nigel Noll, Graduate Student
I am a second year PhD student in the Human Development program, working with Haley Vlach and Chuck Kalish.  I earned a B.S. in Biology and an M.Ed. in Educational Research from Cleveland State University.  Prior to pursuing a PhD I taught middle and high school science in urban schools. My research interests center around the learning of science concepts during early childhood.  Specifically, I study developmental differences in category learning and how children make conjunctive categorizations.

Thevenow-Harrison, Graduate Student

JordanI am  a graduate student in the Learning Sciences program area. I received a B.S. in Cognitive Science from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN., where I worked on problems of computational semantics and cognitive modeling. My research interests include quantitative cognitive models of development and alternative methods of education and their influence on learning processes. I currently study the development of statistical inference.


Andrew Young, Graduate Student
I’m a gradate student with an individualized graduate major spanning cognition, development, and instruction. My work with Charles Kalish and Martha Alibali draws upon the literatures of conceptual development, causal reasoning, social learning, and formal science education. Current projects explore how children’s causal learning and reasoning from evidence more generally can be constrained and supported by social contexts. One line of research investigates the impact of disagreement and consensus between agents. How do children treat evidence generated by people who disagree with their prior beliefs differently than evidence generated by non-dissenters? How should we respond to disagreement normatively? Another line of study considers the impact of collaborative and competitive contexts on children’s causal learning. Can children successfully coordinate and interpret outcomes of their own and other’s causal interventions in joint activity? When do collaborative or competitive contexts lead to greater learning compared to individual learning? Future research will explore the educational implications of such social, intentional, and pragmatic contexts in formal science learning.

Samantha McGarvey, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a research assistant in the SOCT Lab and a third year undergraduate student at UW-Madison. I’m majoring in Psychology with certificates in Gender and Women’s Studies and Education and Educational Services. I plan to go on to graduate school for School Psychology and Counseling. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, cheering on the Badgers and Packers, and exploring Madison.

Gavin Droessler, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a junior here at UW-Madison. I am majoring in neurobiology, and I am interested in cognitive function and development. I would like to go into pediatrics, or possibly doing something in neuropsychology. I really enjoy working with kids, so pediatrics seems like a great fit for me. Along with that, my enjoyment in working with kids is also what got me interested in the SOCT Lab. It was a great way to blend studying cognitive impacts, and working with children. Outside of the lab, I enjoy reading, watching Netflix, listening to music and going to concerts, and staying active. I like to swim, play pickup soccer or basketball, and I enjoy weight lifting as well.

Rachel Wilberg, Undergraduate Research Assistant
SOCT2016-1I am a junior here at UW and am super excited to be gaining research experience in the SOCT Lab. I am double majoring in Psychology and Elementary Education and am aiming to become either a teacher or a school counselor or psychologist in the future. The SOCT Lab offers the perfect experience for my future endeavors combining working hands-on with children while also looking at the reasons behind their thoughts and actions. A few other passions I have include spending time with my family and friends, cheering on the WI sports teams, staying active by playing volleyball or soccer, and going on road trips.

Sophia Dramm, Undergraduate Research Assistant
SOCT2016-3This is my first year as a research assistant in the SOCT Lab at UW-Madison. I decided to work in this lab because I love working with children and am interested in psychology. I’m a sophomore studying Journalism with an emphasis in Strategic Communication and a certificate in Digital Studies. In my free time, I enjoy playing piano, dancing, reading, and spending time with my friends and family.

Olivia Tierney, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a sophomore here at UW-Madison. This is my first semester with the SOCT lab.  I am double majoring in Math and Psychology with a certificate in Educational Sciences.  My eventual plans are to be a high school math teacher.  Outside the lab, I like to cook and I’m in a dance group on campus.

stay tuned…

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