Markus Paulus is a developmental psychologist who focuses on the development of social-cognitive abilities and social behavior in early childhood. In particular, his main interests are how young children come to understand other people’s behavior and thoughts, how they are able to learn through observation, and how they learn to cooperate with others. One recent focus is on the early ontogeny of prosocial and moral behavior in young children. His research draws on behavioral observation, eye-tracking and neurocognitive methods.
My plans for the fellowship period
I am very interested in the early origins of social learning: How is it possible that young children develop the ability to learn novel behavior through the observation of other people’s actions? This ability is of crucial importance given that young children acquire a range of novel behaviors and abilities through watching and overhearing others. To provide an answer to this question, I intend to run a longitudinal study in which we follow young children over the first two years of life – an age in which the ability for social learning emerges. One central aim is the identification of biological and social mechanisms that lead to the ontogeny of social learning. In addition, I would like to explore whether differences in socio-economic status are related to individual differences in children’s developing ability for social learning.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Social learning plays a key role in the acquisition of novel knowledge and abilities during early childhood. In particular, it has been argued that young children acquire the basics of their native language through imitating the sounds they hear in their environment. Moreover, children show a strong propensity to imitate others’ actions. In addition, imitation also serves as a social glue as mutual imitation has been shown to increase mutual sympathy. My key interest is to understand the psychological mechanisms that subserve the development of imitation. I hope to identify the factors that play a crucial role in the emergence of social learning in general and imitation in particular. Knowledge about these factors provides us with a basis for interventions that could promote the development of social learning and therefore support children’s ability to learn from others.