Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Julian Jara-Ettinger

Yale University

Research Focus

Dr. Julian Jara-Ettinger’s research aims to understand the powerful forms of social learning and reasoning that enable humans to share what we know and to rely on others to learn what we don’t. To achieve this, he combines developmental, computational, and cross-cultural approaches to study the developmental origins of how we learn to understand each other and transmit knowledge efficiently. His research ultimately hopes to capture universal principles of human social cognition and how they are shaped by culturally variable experiences. 

My plans for the Fellowship

During my fellowship, I plan to study the basic concepts that children need in order to be able to engage in complex forms of social learning. To achieve this, I plan to recruit a large socio-economically and culturally diverse sample of children to be tested online, in collaboration with other current and past members of the Jacobs network. Specifically, children will participate on a battery of tasks testing for abilities that are thought to affect social learning. These include the ability to calibrate how much to trust or to question others, the ability to think about other people’s minds, and the ability to represent alternative possibilities. By then testing how children perform in more complex social reasoning tasks, I aim to use computational models of cognitive development to capture the relationship between basic social capacities and complex social learning, with a particular focus on identifying variability across children. 

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives? 

Understanding how children learn from others is an important problem that spans across borders and cultures. Creating a meaningful and long-lasting impact on children’s lives around the world requires strong pipelines that start with basic research and end with practical applications and policies. By helping reveal what capacities allow children to become powerful social learners, I hope my work will lay a foundation for understand how these capacities vary across children and cultures. This, in turn, can help us understand how to best support children in different cultural contexts, and have the foundations for the development of targeted interventions for children growing up in disadvantaged backgrounds.