Research

As humans, our lives are often centered around two deeply preoccupying questions: Who am I, and who do you think I am? Critically, our own beliefs about the self and others’ beliefs about the self are intertwined in collaborative and dynamic processes: We can both learn about the self from others and actively change what others think of the self. Such beliefs about the self have broad and deep implications on our social lives, learning decisions and outcomes, mental health, and so on. These rich processes guide my work and fascinate me both personally and scientifically.

Broadly, my research investigates the basic cognitive capacities that support reasoning about the self through various sources of information (e.g., praise, emotional expressions, others’ observations of the self) in the social environment, and the consequences of such capacities on children’s communication, learning, and motivation. Specifically, I investigate how children rationally learn about the self from others and communicate about the self to others. So far, I have focused on these processes with respect to children’s understanding of their own competence and the quality of their work. I use developmental and computational methods to answer these questions.

Learning about who I am & what I can do from you: How do children learn about the self from others? One line of my work investigates the cognitive capacities underlying how children reason about others’ communicative actions towards the self or others and subsequently use such feedback to make self-evaluations. One project is looking at whether and how young children evaluate the informativeness of a teacher’s praise. Do young children understand that the meaning of praise depends on who it comes from? (Asaba, Hembacher, Qiu, Anderson, Frank, & Gweon, 2018; see Asaba & Gweon, in press for a chapter). Another project investigates whether children are also attuned to others’ emotional expressions (e.g., a teacher’s surprise that you solved a math problem) when evaluating one’s own and others’ competence (Asaba, Wu, Carrillo, & Gweon, 2020).

Showing you who I am & what I can do: One important aspect of managing self-representations is understanding what others know and believe about the self. Work in Theory of Mind, however, has primarily focused on children’s belief representations of physical states of the world (e.g., where Sally believes the ball is in). This line of work asks about the flexibility of children’s representational capacities by investigating the extent to which children can also represent what others believe about abstract qualities of the self. One set of studies has looked at whether children can infer others’ beliefs about their competence from others’ observations of their performance (i.e., their failures and successes) and how children subsequently communicate to others to revise or manage their beliefs (Asaba & Gweon, 2018; Asaba & Gweon, under review).

Check out my presentation about this work at BCCCD 20.