Karen Wynn joined the Department of Psychology at Yale University in 1999. She received her B.A. in Psychology in 1985 from McGill University in Montreal, and her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science in 1990 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona from 1990-1999.
Karen Wynn has received the National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award, the American Psychological Association's Distiguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology, and a James McKeen Cattell Foundation Sabbatical Award. She is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science.
My research investigates the core mental mechanisms through which we interpret (and impose structure upon) incoming information, and which enable us to reason about and act upon the world. In the Infant Lab, my students and I study infants and young toddlers, as a means of tapping the core architecture of the human mind as it exists prior to extensive influences of language, culture, education, and experience. We are examining both initial structures- what humans are born with- and also how these initial sturctures develop over time, with input and experience. Some of our current research interests include:
1. "Naive Psychology" or "Theory of Mind," infant's early conception of others' minds: As adults, we reason automatically and effortlessly about other beings with minds, who possess intentions and goals, and have the ability to act towards their goals. Do we reason differently about intentional agents and inanimate objects from infancy, and if so, what expectations and generalizations characterize our understanding of agents on the one hand, and objects on the other?
2. "Naive Sociology," or what we might call "Theory of Minds," the grasp of how intentional agents interact with each other. What principles and expectations characterize our earliest understandings of social interactions? As adults, we automatically interpret interactions between intentional beings as social interactions that both arise from, and influence, these beings' attitutdes and predispositions towards each other. And we are sensitive to the many dimenisions that influence these interactions: the alliances and enmities of distinct individuals, their relative status, their similarities to each other, the nature of their previous interactions, and so on. What are the infants' early expectations about relationships and interactions, and what are the social & relational attributes that influence these expectations?
3. The foundations of moral cognition: We are exploring the origins and development, in infants, toddlers and preschoolers, of moral concepts such as "good" and "bad." What are the conditions that influence infants and young children to judge certain acts and individuals as good or right, others as bad or wrong?
4. Early social-emotional processes and development: How do infants assess- and negotiate- their own place in the social world? How do they interact with others, and what factors influence the social signals and emotional expressions that infants produce in social interactions? One guiding hypothesis is that human infants have evolved to assess the level of social threat an individual poses in a given context, and will respond differently depending on this assessment. We are examining infants' behaviors in face-to-face interactions, asking whether different responses and expressions are designed to have distince effects on a recipient social partner.