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Emily Foster-Hanson, PhD

In my work, I study children's and adults' concepts of the natural and social worlds. Specifically, I ask how people figure out what's normal for different kinds of things (i.e., what members of categories are typically like), what's good for different kinds of things (i.e., what they're supposed to be like), and how concepts of normal and good relate in everyday thought. For example, how do people learn that wearing pink is normal for girls, but not boys, and why do these descriptive beliefs about what's normal give rise to prescriptive judgments that girls should wear pink and boys shouldn't? These questions are important because they shed light on how basic mechanisms for understanding the world relate to normative judgments about what people can, will, and should do in daily life. In approaching these questions, I incorporate perspectives from folk biology and cognitive psychology, as well as social psychology and moral philosophy, and I use a developmental lens to understand both when descriptive and prescriptive concepts emerge and why they are often linked in adults’ minds.

I'm an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College. Before that, I was a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Cognitive Science of Values at Princeton University, where I worked with Dr. Tania Lombrozo in the Concepts and Cognition Lab. I completed my PhD in Psychology at New York University, where I worked with Dr. Marjorie Rhodes in the Conceptual Development and Social Cognition Lab; my doctoral research was funded by an NICHD F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institutes of Health. I did my BA in Linguistics at Yale University.

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