I am a 5th year  

PhD student in the psychology department at UC Berkeley, working with Tania Lombrozo and Tom Griffiths. My current research explores how people's generation of explanations promotes their learning and guides reasoning. 

People are constantly wondering "why?", such as why objects and people belong to certain categories or why others behave the way they do. Generating and evaluating explanations guides an individual's causal reasoning, categorization, and property induction, promotes learning and transfer in educational settings, and drives conceptual development in children.

My research has proposed a subsumptive constraints account: Explaining "why?" drives people to seek underlying generalizations, understanding how the fact or observation being explained could be anticipated as an instance of a broader pattern. For example, explaining why 2 x 6 = 12 invokes the principle that multiplication is repeated addition, and an explanation like "John is a teacher because he's a caring person" appeals to a regularity – that caring people are more likely to become teachers. Experimental work has provided evidence for three predictions of this account: 1. Counterintuitively, explanation's subsumptive constraint can impair learning 
when it promotes the use of misleading patterns. 2. Seeking explanations does not simply boost pattern discovery, but particularly promotes the discovery of broad, unifying patterns that account for a range of facts. 3. Explaining increases learners' consultation of their prior knowledge to identify and privilege those patterns that prior beliefs suggest are likely to generalize to novel contexts.
research overview page provides a brief summary and more extended discussion of these projects, and the relevant papers and conference proceedingss are here

While my long-term goal is to do basic experimental research on learning and reasoning, I'm also interested in working on applied projects that improve people's learning and augment their reasoning. I think there is a great deal of basic psychology research that could have a large impact if more translational research was done to explicate its implications for practical problems, like improving education or changing health behavior. Moreover, I've found that considering problems in real world contexts generates new ideas and changes the hypotheses I test experimentally, leading to better theories of learning and reasoning with a broader scope. Two practical problems I'd like to examine further are improving education with technology and changing health behavior through online interventions.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this research, please feel free to contact me at joseph_williams AT berkeley DOT edu. 

This is a link to my CV.