Computational Cognitive Development Lab @ University of Toronto (Fall 2014)

We live in a world rich with causal structure. Events do not just occur randomly around us, they result from causal relationships – rain falling makes the ground slippery, flipping a switch makes the light turn on, turning a doorknob makes the door open. From learning to flip a light switch to using a remote control, as children grow up a major challenge they face is uncovering the world’s causal structure, including understanding the causes and consequences of other people’s behavior. How do children learn these kinds of causal relationships, especially when the world presents them with sparse, ambiguous data or with multiple, conflicting sources of evidence? Are these sophisticated abilities unique to humans, or are they shared with other animals?

Our lab aims to answer these questions, using experimental and computational techniques to understand children’s causal and social reasoning abilities. By focusing on social and causal learning, we can address one of the core questions of cognition: How do humans construct sophisticated representations from relatively simple percepts, and how do these cognitive abilities develop?

Graduate Students

The new Computational Cognitive Development Lab at the University of Toronto (St. George campus) is looking for talented and motivated graduate students with a background in cognitive science, developmental psychology and/or computer science, to begin in Fall 2015. The lab is directed by Dr. Daphna Buchsbaum and is part of the Department of Psychology at U of T.

Examples of recent and current research topics include:

  • Causal imitation in children and other primate species
  • Children's integration of verbal testimony and causal observations
  • Exploring the relationship between children’s understanding of real-world causal structure and their pretend play
  • Modeling sequential dependency between informants (do children understand that they are learning from other learners?)
  • Modeling the relationship between statistical action segmentation and causal inference

The lab is part of a thriving cross-departmental developmental science community at the University of Toronto, including Dr. Charles Helwig, Dr. Joan Grusec, Dr. Patricia Ganea, Dr. Tina Malti and others, and contributes to a core group of department faculty taking computational approaches to cognition, including Dr. Chris Honey and Dr. Dirk Bernhardt-Walther. The lab is also part of the Greater Toronto Area Animal Cognition Group.Both the Department of Psychology and the University of Toronto (recently ranked 18th in a global ranking of the top 100 research universities) enjoy a world-wide reputation for excellence in research and graduate education.

The Department guarantees financial support to all graduate students for the M.A. year and for each of the first four years of the Ph.D. program (5 years total). This support is in the form of scholarships, fellowships, research assistantships and teaching assistantships. The St. George campus is located in the heart of downtown Toronto.For more information about applying to the Psychology graduate program, please visit:

Applications are due December 1st.

Undergraduate Researchers Wanted

We are looking for dedicated and motivated undergraduate students interested in gaining research skills and experience as undergraduate RAs. RAs will work closely with Dr. Buchsbaum and the lab manager, as well as other lab members and will be involved in all aspects of the research process. RAs will help with experimental and stimuli design, recruiting participants and collecting data, analyzing data, and literature reviews. RAs will participate in lab meetings, including discussion of current research issues and projects in the lab, discussion of the theoretical motivations of the studies students are working on. RAs with a programming or web development background may assist with the development of computational models of cognition and of web and computer-based experiments.RAs will be expected to work 8-10 hours per week including some weekends.

Desirable Skills and Experience. Prior research experience is appreciated though not required. Students should be enthusiastic and self-motivated, able to pay attention to fine details, and comfortable acting silly in front of both children and adults. In order to accommodate the schedules of parents and children, students will need to have blocks of 3-4 hours at a time regularly available for research during day time hours (weekday or weekend). Experience working with children either formally or informally is highly desirable. Programming experience, although not necessary, is an advantage. Mechanical or electrical engineering skills are not necessary, but would be a plus (we're always building new toys for our experiments)

To apply, please send an email with Undergraduate Researcher in the subject line to with 1) a brief cover letter explaining your interest 2) a resume highlighting your relevant experience and skills, especially research experience, experience working with children and computer/programming skills and experience 3) Unofficial Transcript 4) Tentative weekly availability for Fall 2014 detailing the hours you will generally be available Mon. – Sun. (please do not include unavailable hours).