In the CORE lab, we explore how people organize and use their knowledge of the world. We examine the basic cognitive processes of categorization, reasoning, and conceptual development, with an eye towards applications in education, social relations, and other areas.  In this exploration, we ask questions like: how do we as humans intuitively organize what we know?  How do we use that organization to make guesses about what we do not know? How does intuitive knowledge and conceptual structure interact with formal knowledge in education?  We conceptualize intuitive knowledge in terms of cognitive construals: informal, possibly even implicit, ways of thinking about the world. These might be a set of assumptions, a type of explanation, or a predisposition to a particular type of reasoning.

To date, we have focused primarily on three types of cognitive construals: essentialist thinking, teleological thinking, and anthropocentric thinking.

Additionally, four themes run through our research: domain specificity, developmental perspectives, comparative approach, and translation.

For more on our specific lines of research, see the boxes below and follow the links for more information and publications.

Intuitive Biology

Humans naturally, intuitively, and effortlessly reason about biological entities, structures, processes, and phenomena in predictable ways. These common intuitions or mental shortcuts, which we call cognitive construals, are developed early in life and represent powerful, useful, and adaptive principles for organizing what we know about the biological world. Although understanding these construals is important in its own right, documenting the nature of informal intuitive biology becomes even more important in light of the fact that cognitive construals may interact with scientific reasoning in unanticipated ways and may have specific implications for science education. Recent work from our lab (in an NSF-funded collaboration with Dr. Kimberly Tanner of SEPAL at SFSU) demonstrate important links 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.

Other areas of research on this topic include:

  • Relations between intuitive biological thought and formal biology education
  • Development of intuitive biological thought
  • Cultural and experiential differences in intuitive biological thought



Social Groups

Another part of our current work focuses on how people organize their conceptual knowledge about social groups, and how that influences the assumptions we make about individuals. We are particularly interested in the circumstances under which these essentialist beliefs develop or change, as well as their meaning and consequences in our social lives.  

Some of the social categories we are interested in include the following:

  • Race  
  • Religion
  • Political Affiliation  
  • Gender  



Additional Projects

A new trend of the ongoing research in the CORE lab is to investigate how people reason about abstract concepts (such as emotion, crime, disorders, etc.) and other topics of interest. In this line of research, we ask to what extent intuitive thinking varies as a function of expertise and personal experience, and how intuitive thinking applies to various contexts such as emotion regulation, criminal court decision-making, and clinical diagnosis.

Some of the abstract concepts we study are as follows:

  • Emotion
  • Morality/ Crime
  • Mental/ Medical Disorders