Current Projects

Choice Preference: We are investigating how much toddlers prefer choice over non-choice in a variety of ways. We are interested in associations among toddler’s choice preference, executive function skills, and autonomy-supportive caregiving. Castelo et al. (2022)

Executive Function and Math: We are examining the association between executive function and specific math skills in the preschool years. 

Creativity and Executive Function: This series of studies is exploring how young children’s executive function skills might play a role in their ability to generate creative ideas, and whether this depends on characteristics of the child and the creative tasks. Vaisarova and Carlson (2021)

Reflection, Empathy, and Prosocial Sharing in Preschool-age Children: This study examines how reflection upon another person’s emotion and executive function skills influences preschool-age children’s sharing behavior.

In-home parent-child training system: This study examines the usability of a new smartphone-based app that may help parents support the development of their preschool children’s self-regulation and attention skills. Funded by NIH SBIR to Dr. Carlson and Dr. Zelazo.

Smart Persistence: We are investigating the development of “smart persistence” across early childhood, in which children understand when it is best to persist at a task and when it is best to stop persisting. 

Future Simulation: In a series of studies, we are studying the effects of helping preschool children think about their future selves on decision-making behaviors. Funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research to Dr. Carlson.

Predictors of Career Interests: In a 5-year longitudinal study, we are seeking to align measures of personal attributes (e.g., personality, economic decision-making, and executive function) in elementary and middle school students in order to optimally predict their career interests and achievement. Funded by NSF, Dr. Carlson is Co-PI with James Heckman (University of Chicago), Patrick Kyllonen (Educational Testing Service), and Thomas Dohmen (University of Bonn).

Learn more here.

Civic Science Center: Dr. Phil Zelazo and Ellen Galinsky are collaborating to establish a Civic Science Center, designed to support public engagement in basic research as well as practical innovation in developmental science.  

Awareness Study: This study examines the relationship between metacognition and EF in 7 to 9-year-olds. Using electroencephalography (EEG), we’re also looking at how children’s brains might respond differently while they’re using EF skills, depending on their level of meta-awareness in that moment. If you have a 3 to 9-year-old and are interested in participating in either of these two studies, please reach out to for more information!

Mechanisms of Contemplative Education Study: This study aims to: (1) develop a developmentally appropriate behavioral measure of mindfulness for children, (2) contribute to a more nuanced theory of contemplative development based upon Dr. Zelazo and Dr. Carlson’s prior theoretical work, and (3) evaluate key principles of contemplative education through an experimental study, employing a series of mindfulness and executive function measures in parallel with EEG/ERP. The intent behind this study is to build upon prior research of mindfulness-based school programs to evaluate more immersive, holistic, and values-driven approaches to contemplative education.