Susan E. Carey

Harvard University


Election Year: 2002
Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

The mysteries surrounding the origin and development of human conceptual understanding have occupied philosophers at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. In the last century these questions began to yield to empirical study. My research illuminates the nature and acquisition of human knowledge on three different time scales: evolutionary, historical, and individual. I have focused on children's and adults' understanding of number, other minds, and the biological and material world. In each case I characterize the existence, content, and if possible, format of innate representations, demonstrate the ways that the innate representations continue to function throughout the life span, and chart the ways humans transcend these initial starting points. Prelinguistic human infants and nonhuman primates share many systems of mental representation, and one focus of my research is relating these to the representations that articulate human languages in order to understand language acquisition, especially the meanings expressed in morphology and the lexicon. Characterizing the learning mechanisms that allow human beings to go beyond innate knowledge informs attempts to enhance the teaching of science and mathematics, another focus of my research.

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