This past month I have been working at the Spelke Lab at Harvard’s Developmental Psychology Department as a research assistant. The Spelke Lab focuses on infants and children and their experiences with hidden objects, words, numbers, and social relationships. As part of the Spelke Lab team, I’ve been able to see firsthand the methodology behind psychology research. The specific project I’m working on with a graduate student is how children explore numerical concepts as preschoolers. This project builds on concepts explained in previous literature from Susan Carey on how young children can be categorized into subset knowers and cardinal principle knowers (CP-knowers). Subset knowers understand the numerical value of small numbers such as “one”, “two”, “three”, and “four”. Children then become CP-knowers around the age of 3 ½ where they understand the concept of counting and can count larger sets. This specific project focused on the number five as it becomes a difficult numerical concept for children under 3 ½ years. This research is crucial in understanding how children come to understand numbers, whether through verbal counting, using their fingers, or a mental map and in understanding at what age do children transition from subset knowers to CP-knowers.
As a research assistant, I’ve been responsible for mainly communicating with parents when it comes to recruiting participants for the studies, scheduling, and ensuring consent forms are sent and completed. Since the project is still in its data collection stages, I’ve been able to observe these studies where children play a game to identify how they engage with numbers and what their knower level is. Hopefully, I’ll be able to run the studies on my own soon and interact with the participants more. Since we may be doing data analysis soon, I’ve also been getting trained on softwares such as Detavyu and RStudio. The lab team has also been meeting up for book clubs and lab lunches weekly. It’s been great to hear from other graduate students and the research they’re doing regarding how children perceive social relationships and vocabulary. This past week we even had a very interesting conversation during book club on language and how previous research explored word gaps between children in different socioeconomic backgrounds.
As a rising senior, I wanted to explore potentially going into graduate school for psychology research. So far, my experience at the Spelke Lab has allowed me to work directly with researchers and helped me get comfortable with reading published articles. This summer I’m looking forward to beginning data analysis and seeing how the results of these studies compare to the previous literature. I’m also looking forward to leading my own book club discussion, hopefully exploring literature on the neurological side of development and neuroplasticity. All the research assistants will also be creating a poster on their specific projects. I’m excited to work on my poster that I’ll be presenting towards the end of the summer and also seeing the results of other projects from the lab.