Faces of ESLR: Kirsten Blakey

I am in my third year of a PhD in developmental psychology at the University of Stirling. I first became interested in research during my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh. While I was there, I discovered that I especially enjoyed developmental psychology, particularly when it came to designing studies. Collecting data with young children was also an exciting (if sometimes challenging) venture. I pursued this further by going on to complete an MSc in Child Development at the University of Stirling. The research I conducted during both my undergraduate and master’s degrees focused on the development of prosociality in young children. I investigated social influences on prosocial donating behaviours using resource distributions tasks to compare preferences for particular prosocial characteristics demonstrated by others such as kindness, generosity, and reputation.

My PhD research has had a slightly different focus. During my PhD I have been investigating the development of socio-cognitive mechanisms that are thought to underpin distinctively human cumulative culture. Though many nonhuman species showing evidence of culture and widespread social learning abilities, explicitly metacognitive social learning strategies are proposed to be distinctively human. I am particularly interested in such cognitive mechanisms that appear to be present in human adults but limited or absent in nonhumans. So, the aim of my thesis is to investigate the age-related presence, absence, and/or emergence of socio-cognitive mechanisms in young children. I am currently looking at 3- to 8-year-old children’s ability to seek out, and subsequently use, information from appropriate social sources. This could reveal whether children have the capacity for explicitly metacognitive social learning strategies and whether they can use these to reason who is an appropriate source of information, or if they are instead relying upon less cognitively demanding associative/heuristic social learning strategies. Tracking the development of such capacities many provide insights into the cognitive demands involved and whether they are likely to be observed in nonhumans.

My research interests lie primarily in the development of social learning in young children, selective social learning and the development of socio cognitive capacities, particularly those thought to responsible for cumulative cultural evolution. I also have interests in prosocial behaviour, the development of reasoning, and children’s learning more broadly. My hope is that I will be able to continue working in developmental research as a postdoctoral researcher after I hand in my PhD later this year.