I examine how different types of explanation (formal, causal-mechanistic, teleological, structural, etc.) contribute to different kinds of understanding, and how this relationship varies with context, domain-specific experience, and development. One of my main research topics is the relationship between explanation, causal reasoning, and inductive inference. I am particularly interested in applying my research to developing effective and psychologically plausible interventions to improve academic diversity.
In one of the current projects, I focus on the role of structural reasoning in representations of social categories, and examine consequences of engaging in structural explanation for reasoning about socioeconomic disparities.
My prior work focused on explanation and inductive inference, or forming predictions about uncertain outcomes. I pursued two main directions in my work: first, I studied the role of explanations in inductive selectivity, or property effects in generation of inferences; second, I studied how inductive reasoning develops, and how it is affected by domain-specific expertise.
In my thesis I examined how people generate inductive hypotheses about the natural world. Property effects - changes in inductive inferences based on the projected property - are ubiquitous in induction, but the theoretical accounts of induction capable of addressing the underlying psychological mechanism are lacking. To address this gap, I proposed a retrieval-based model of property effects and conducted a series of studies examining the processing details of property-sensitive induction. The results suggested that premise category and category knowledge are combined interactively, but not during retrieval, contrary to the proposed model. A revised model introduced property-driven explanationsas a possible source of property effects in induction. The revised model was supported by preliminary evidence; I am currently working on several follow up studies exploring the role of explanations in induction. The abstract of my thesis can be found here.
In another line of my work I examined the development of flexible inductive reasoning, and how it is affected by domain-specific experience. In particular, I studied how urban, suburban and rural children (with varying degrees of experience with nature) generate hypotheses about uncertain outcomes in natural world (in collaboration with Dr. John D. Coley). We find that experience with nature not only provides an overall bias towards making more ecological inferences, but it increases inductive selectivity, or the ability to flexibly use different kinds of relations to generate predictions about plants and animals. I am now examining how flexible induction is coordinated with explanation in development.
I am also interested in representations of individual objects, and the relationship between representations of cross-classified individual objects and categories they belong to. I have done several studies comparing causal structure of individual and kind representations across social, biological and artifact domains, and examining how object individuation affects generalization of new knowledge to entire categories.