Renee Baillargeon

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Election Year: 2015
Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Membership Type: Foreign Associate

Biosketch

Renée Baillargeon is a developmental psychologist recognized for her work on infant cognition. She studies how infants reason and learn about events in several core domains and is known particularly for her research on early physical and psychological reasoning. Her findings have revealed sophisticated reasoning abilities in infants, leading to new characterizations of the core structures that shape human cognition. Baillargeon was born in 1954 and grew up in a French-speaking family in Québec, Canada. She graduated from McGill University, Montréal, Canada, with a First Class Honors BA in psychology. She then completed a PhD in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by postdoctoral studies at the MIT Center for Cognitive Science. She joined the faculty of the Psychology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1983. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fyssen Prize, and a Boyd R. McCandless Young Scientist Award from the American Psychological Association; she is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Cognitive Science Society; and she is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Renée Baillargeon’s laboratory studies infants’ physical, psychological, biological, and sociomoral reasoning. In each domain, they seek to uncover the skeletal framework of principles and concepts that guides reasoning and learning. In the physical domain, they have shown that a persistence principle enables infants to realize, from a very early age, that objects continue to exist when hidden. Infants’ skeletal framework also guides their acquisition of physical knowledge, via an explanation-based learning process: Infants learn about simple events by identifying the features that are causally relevant for predicting how the events will unfold. In the psychological domain, Baillargeon’s laboratory has shown that infants are capable of attributing to agents sophisticated mental states such as false beliefs and deceptive intentions to implant false beliefs. Infants then use these mental states, together with a principle of rationality, to predict agents’ actions. In the biological domain, their research has shown that infants identify novel self-propelled and agentive entities as animals and, in accordance with an “innards” principle, expect them to have filled insides. Finally, their experiments in the sociomoral domain have revealed that infants possess an equity-based sense of fairness; current research explores how this and other sociomoral principles interact to guide infants’ expectations about social interactions.

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