The Social Kids Lab at the UW Waisman
|Dr. Kristin Shutts (l-r) and Ashley Jordan do
research with babies and small children to see
how they respond to people and accept
undergraduates working on the research and also runs the studies.
“I’m really into how kids develop different thought patterns and different schema for learning new information,” Jordan said. “And I think it
is a very interesting application looking at how kids learn in the social domain. You can see some aspects of that in our food study. How
do kids learn whom to trust? There’s another study I actually didn’t show you that is looking at how kids learn to imitate different actions
with clues from adults. I’m pretty interested in that, how kids learn and which adult they look to in order to educate them.”
“We’re interested in how kids think about themselves and other people and how they come to get along with other people and do things
like share toys and foods with them and become members of our culture and work together with other people,” Shutts added.
The lab has found out some fascinating things. For instance during infancy, children pay more attention to language and voices.
“Early on, kids pay a lot of attention to what language people speak or with what accent they speak with,” Schutt said. “We have a food
study where two people come up on the screen. One person speaks in the baby’s native language, which they aren’t speaking quite yet,
but they are hearing a lot of and one person speaking in a foreign language and they both offer the baby the food. Babies choose the food
offered by the speaker of their native language as if to say, ‘I wasn’t sure what was good to eat here, but you are speaking my language.
You probably live around here. I am familiar with you. Maybe you would be a good person to learn from or trust.’ And that happens very
early in development, so the babies in the study are 12-months-old.”
Shutts’ research also seems to indicate that race is not a factor in decision-making until kids are much older.
“It’s something we see emerging relatively late in childhood, which is also very interesting,” Shutts said about race. “It’s visual, so you
can sometimes see the person’s race or ethnicity in their outward appearance. But that doesn’t seem to be something that little babies
care very much about or very young children care very much about. So one thing that we are very interested in is what are kids
experiencing or seeing or hearing or thinking about that might lead them to start to see that as an aspect of their own identity or something
to notice about someone else.”
This research has obvious implications.
“I think that is our interpretation of it, that racism isn’t organic,” Shutts said. “It is something that is taught to kids to say that race is
something that should be used to differentiate between people. It isn’t a natural thing that they do. And I think that presents a degree of
hope when we are thinking about how adults are getting along in our society. It isn’t something that we are programmed to care a lot
about or think a lot about. In fact, the case to the extent that we understand what might lead kids to have those ideas, then maybe we can
actually think about how we might change them, especially by focusing on youth development before they are adults dealing with all of
these complicated situations.”
Jordan and Shutts are always looking for more African American families to participate in the research. Participating in the research
allows the parents to get another perspective on their children in a very child-friendly environment.
“Every time a child has the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and shell a little bit,” Jordan said. “Each day, I get to watch kids
who are a little bit shy and apprehensive actually step up to do something really cool and interesting. I think it would be great to extend
that experience to families that come from underrepresented populations.”
“It’s also a chance for a child to get one-on-one attention from an adult who is really interested in what they are thinking about and how
they are viewing the world,” Shutts added. “I think that can feel kind of special for a 3-5-year-old when an adult wants to sit at a table with
them and ask them their perspective on the world.”
To find out more information about the research, contact Ashley Jordan at 263-5853 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
By Jonathan Gramling
About five years ago, probably the furthest thing that Ashley Jordan thought she
would be doing is managing a lab at the UW Waisman Center. As a senior at
LaFollette High School, Jordan thought that she would be pursuing a degree on
theater and music. But upon entering the UW-Madison, Jordan’s mother encouraged
her to be open toi learning about different career possibilities. Jordan took a
psychology course her freshman year and she was hooked.
JWhile thinking about what she wants to pursue on the graduate school level,
Jordan works at the Waisman Center’s Social Kids Lab.
“I view myself as a scientist,” Jordan said. “I think the biggest barrier is the way
that you think of yourself honestly. I was fortunate enough here at UW to have some
great role models in my undergraduate career, great women who are working in
science who were just doing amazing things with their graduate careers and also
with their careers beyond graduate school. Having those experiences taught me that
the biggest limitation is how hard you are willing to work and how you look at
yourself and how you see the opportunities that are in front of you.”
In the lab, Jordan is working on research being conducted by Dr. Kristin Shutts,
studying the behavior of young children. As the lab manager, she supervises