Dr. Judy DeLoache

Becoming Symbol Minded:

Young Children's Understanding and Use of Symbolic Objects

University of Virginia

Every society has a wealth of symbols and symbol systems that support cognition and communication, and all children must master a variety of symbolic artifacts to participate fully in their society.  In the process of learning to use various symbolic representations—pictures, models, replica objects, educational materials—infants and young children experience a surprising amount of difficulty.  I'll review research showing that infants and very young children often do not appreciate the distinction between symbols and their referents, behaving toward symbolic artifacts as if they were the objects they stand for.  Somewhat older children can still have difficulty when asked to use concrete objects as supports for reasoning in educational settings.

 Judy DeLoache is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.  The primary focus of her research is the emergence and early development of the understanding and use of a variety of symbolic objects, including pictures and models.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.  Professor DeLoache’s research has been funded by an NIH Scientific Merit Award and a grant from NSF.  She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, and the American Psychological Association.  She has been a Visiting Scholar in the Psychology Departments of Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and New York University, as well as a Fellow in residence at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and at the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, Italy.  In 2009 she was awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of Basel (Switzerland).  She is currently the President of the Cognitive Development Society.