My research investigates the meaning-making process in early childhood, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. One strand highlights the importance of cultural relevance in conducting research with diverse communities. Another strand examines how context shifts the learning process for babies and young children, with a focus on parent-child communication and technology use.

Young children’s use of new technologies

We study children’s use of interactive technologies to see how it affects communication, learning, and development. For example, in an interdisciplinary project currently funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF 1617253), we study how interactive technologies facilitate cleft speech therapy at home. This project takes the participatory design approach and draws on our previous findings of early learning, while taking into account individual differences and social interactivity in children's use of technology.

The role of action experience in learning

Visual and action experiences are crucial for learning. This project explores the process by which young children learn about patterns and  rules. Can babies extract an abstract rule after watching just a few examples? Do action experience and visual observation affect early learning in the same way? Different cultural communities may vary in the kind of action experience provided to their young children. Might we observe cultural differences (or similarities) in the learning process?

Our lab is part of the launch group of the nation-wide collaborative project, Play and Learning Across a Year (PLAY). The goal of the PLAY project is to establish a model system for a synergistic approach to developmental science that enables a communal means of collecting and coding naturalistic data.

Social cognition & theory of mind

Psychological knowledge constitutes an important domain of human cognition; this project explores early understanding about people. How do young children interpret others' actions? Do they impute in others preference, desire, or belief? Current projects focus on infants' use of communicative cues (such as facial expressions and linguistic input) to interpret others' actions.

In a recent article (Duh & Wang, 2019), we showed that 14-month-old babies noticed a person's preference for a type of objects after watching just three instances in which the person made her choices. Furthermore, babies still detect the preference despite some inconsistency in the person's behavior but the timing of inconsistency matters.

Attention, memory, and representation

In this strand of research, we study how babies and young children go with the flow as they try to make sense of their observation of the world. We have shown that context shifts concept. For example, different spatial contexts often yield a profound shift of attention to different aspects of the world.  This research addresses the questions of how babies and young children keep track of objects and events around them and what helps them direct their attention more efficiently.

Selected Publications

Goldman, E. J., & Wang, S. (2019). Comparison facilitates the use of height information by five-month-olds in containment events. Developmental Psychology. In press.

Wang, S. (2019). Regularity detection and explanation-based learning jointly support learning about physical events in early infancy. Cognitive Psychology, 113. PDF

Duh, S., & Wang, S. (2019). Infants detect patterns of choices despite counter evidence, but timing of inconsistency matters. Journal of Cognition and Development, 20, 96-106. PDF

Antrilli, N. K., & Wang, S. (2018). Toddlers on touchscreens: Immediate effects of gaming and physical activity on cognitive flexibility of 2.5-year-olds in the U.S. Journal of Children and Media, 12, 496-513. PDF

Wang, S. (2017). The fluid construction of spatial concepts in infancy. Human Development, 60, 186-192. PDF

Wang, S., & Onishi, K. H. (2017). Enhancing young infants’ representations of physical events through improved retrieval (not encoding) of information. Journal of Cognition and Development, 18, 289-308. PDF

Antrilli, N. K., & Wang, S. (2016). Visual cues generated during action facilitate 14-month-old infants’ mental rotation. Journal of Cognition and Development, 17, 418-429. PDF

Wang, S., Zhang, Y., & Baillargeon, R. (2016). Young infants view physically possible support events as unexpected: New evidence for rule learning. Cognition, 157, 100-105. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.08.021 PDF