The development of imitation

Ritualistic action is a pervasive aspect of individual and collective human behavior. A major question for psychological and anthropological research concerns the mechanisms by which ritualistic behavior is learned and transmitted. My doctoral supervisors Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford) and Cristine Legare (UT Austin) are currently investigating the possible cues mediating the acquisition and transmission of ritualistic behavior.  My unique contribution to this line of developmental research incorporates methodologies and theory from cognitive developmental psychology, social psychology, and evolutionary psychology to examine (a) the kind of information children use to determine when an event provides an opportunity for learning instrumental skills versus learning cultural conventions and (b) the implications of learning instrumental skills versus learning cultural conventions for social group behavior (Legare & Watson-Jones, 2015; Watson-Jones, Legare, Whitehouse, & Clegg, 2014; Watson-Jones, Legare, & Whitehouse, 2016).



The coexistence of scientific and religious explanations across cultures and development

Science and religion are often seen as antagonistic, competing frameworks used for explaining the world and human experience. Many assume that the two are mutually exclusive categories. We argue that this is a psychologically inaccurate view that has resulted in undue antagonism. The human mind often incorporates both natural and supernatural explanations for phenomena in an integrated and non-competing manner. In a cross-cultural developmental program, our research aims to examine the idea that explanatory coexistence is a prevalent and early-developing aspect of human cognition. This research will inform the science-religion dialogue by paving the way for progress in understanding the basis for and expression of human co-explanatory accounts (Busch, Watson-Jones, & Legare, resubmitted; Watson-Jones, Busch, & Legare, 2015; Watson-Jones, Busch, & Legare, under review).