Creating Impact Science Program (CRISP) Fellow, Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Celeste Kidd

University of California, Berkeley

Research focus
Celeste Kidd studies how children navigate the sea of information that surrounds them to learn. She uses a blend of computational models and behavioral experiments to study the core cognitive systems that people use to guide their learning—including attention, curiosity, and metacognition (thinking about thinking). Her work shows even infants select information based on its expected utility and become certain with feedback. She also studies why people sometimes hold unjustified beliefs.

What have I achieved during my fellowship?
The most important achievement of the fellowship period has been the realization that there is no distinction between knowledge acquisition and belief formation. Everything anyone knows represents their best guess based on a very limited quantity of data they have sampled from the world. “Knowledge” is not as stable as we thought. Human concepts are far more flexible and adaptive and change across time and context. We have a klugey system that prevents us from hyper focusing our learning on just one thing by inducing boredom when heuristics suggest we understand something approximately well enough. It works pretty well most of the time in the naturalistic world, but it leads to systematic errors in certain contexts. For example, we become very confident that a new idea is correct if we get a few pieces of confirmatory feedback, and once we reach that threshold level of certainty, we stop sampling and checking to see if we should remain confident. We have published a lot on this topic (in PNAS, Cognition, Open Mind, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, PLOS ONE, Cognitive Science, the American Journal of Human Biology, and elsewhere), secured funding to continue this work (from Templeton, DARPA, NSF, and the Berkeley Center for New Media), and initiated interdisciplinary collaborations with other Jacobs Fellows that have added depth to how we approach these questions.

My plans for the future
Immediate future plans include investigating:
(1) the origins and nature of common-sense reasoning abilities in human infants (DARPA),
(2) the evolution of curiosity via lifespan and cross-cultural studies (Templeton),
(3) why people sometimes hold unjustified beliefs in the face of evidence that they should not (Berkeley Center for New Media), and
(4) the origin and influence of children’s certainty in their learning (Jacobs Foundation).