The Conceptual Organization, Reasoning and Education Laboratory (CORE Lab) is broadly interested in how we organize our knowledge about the world into coherent conceptual systems and how these concepts influence our behaviors, experiences, and reasoning. We examine what factors contribute to the development of different patterns of organizational knowledge (e.g. expertise, education, cultural differences) and how we can apply this knowledge to enhance education, social relationships, and well-being.
Within our research, we focus on three domains of interest: social categories, emotions, and living kinds (plants and animals).
We group people into categories all the time: male/female, Christian/Jewish, Democrat/Republican. We investigate how we organize this conceptual knowledge about people, and how our conceptual structure influences the assumptions that we make about people based on category influence. We are particularly interested in the circumstances under which these beliefs about social category member develop or change, and how our beliefs about social groups could influence our social lives.
People tend to think about emotions as classical categories. For example, many people would agree that there are meaningful factors that distinguish anger from disgust. Research from the field of affective science suggests that emotion categories may not be as natural as we tend to intuit. We investigate how we think about emotion categories, and what that means for our emotional experiences and general well-being.
As young children, we often learn about the relationships between plants and animals through unstructured exploration in nature. As we get older, we receive formal education, such as instruction about taxonomic relationships. We examine how our intuitive concepts about living kinds influence our ability to understand biological concepts, such as evolution, and how our conceptual organization about living kinds changes across levels of formal education.
We have intuitive ways of thinking and reasoning about biological topics. These common mental shortcuts, called cognitive construals, are developed early in life and help us understand the biological world around us. But how do these cognitive construals interact with formal biological education? Recent work from our lab (in collaboration with Dr. Kimberly Tanner) suggests that cognitive construals are actually stronger in biology majors with more formal biology education compared to biology nonmajors. These results demonstrate important linkages between intuitive ways of thinking and misconceptions in discipline-based reasoning and raise questions about the origins, persistence, and generality of relations between intuitive reasoning and biological misconceptions.
From an early age, we tend to think about gender categories as being fundamentally different from each other on a deep, underlying level and as possessing immutable core characteristics; we refer to this way of thinking as gender essentialism. But does gender essentialism persist past young adulthood? Recent research from our lab suggests that gender essentialism is present in young adults, but only when participants are put under time pressure. These findings suggest that gender essentialism does not necessarily diminish in adulthood, but instead may be suppressed by more explicit reasoning processes.