at the University of Toronto

Research

At the StarLab for Mind and Development we investigate how children and adults reason about the social and moral world. Many of the research topics we are interested in lie at the intersection of psychology and philosophy, including topics such as morality, other minds, ownership, fairness, and knowledge. Below, you can find out more about our ongoing research topics, as well as some recent findings.

Our child studies are designed as fun and interesting games for typically developing children from infancy to age 12. They usually take about 10 - 15 minutes, and require only one visit. They are very enjoyable for both children and their parents!

The StarLab is also part of the University of Toronto's Child Study Centre, a group of five research centres interested in cognitive and social development from birth to adulthood.

Moral Judgment

How do children reason about what is good and bad? Which aspects of moral judgment and moral behavior are learned, and which are present very early in life? In this line of work, we investigate the origins of adult moral psychology, uncovering both similarities and differences in moral reasoning across the lifespan.

Ownership

Almost everything we encounter in the course of a day is owned by someone. Without realizing it, we are constantly reasoning about which objects are owned by whom, and what that means for how we can use the objects. In this line of work, we investigate children's and adults' reasoning about who owns what, who can be an owner, and what and who can be owned.

Mind Perception

Who has a mind, and what kinds of minds matter? Why is it more wrong to harm a chimpanzee than a worm? How should we relate to a super-intelligent robot? In this line of research, we investigate what aspects of mental life we attribute to different kinds of beings, and how this leads us to attribute moral rights and responsibilities.

Recent findings

What do we mean when we say, "He's just not the same person anymore"? Does becoming evil make you die?

Children have surprisingly complex theories about the nature of the self!

In which we explain why people actually prefer unequal societies.

Is it better to overcome temptation, or never to be tempted at all? We find a surprising developmental difference!

Why can you own a dog, or a sophisticated robot, but not a human?

Does creating something give you a special moral status?

You look at a clock that reads 10:49. Little do you know, the clock is stopped. However, it just so happens to be 10:49. Do you know that it's 10:49, or do you just believe it?

Children and adults see the eyes as the location of the self!


Publications

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Popular articles
Starmans, C., Sheskin, M. & Bloom, P. (2017). Inequality Isn't the Real Issue.
Starmans, C. (2017). Is it better to beat temptation or never feel tempted at all?
Starmans, C. (2017). Temptation.
Journal articles
Starmans, C., & Bloom, P. (2018). If you become evil, do you die? Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Starmans, C., & Bloom, P. (2018). Nothing Personal: What Psychologists Get Wrong About Identity. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22, 7, 2-4.
Starmans, C. (2017). Children's theories of the self. Child Development, 88, 6, 1774-1785.
Starmans, C., Sheskin, M. & Bloom, P. (2017). Why people prefer unequal societies. Nature Human Behavior, 1, 0082.
Starmans, C. & Bloom, P. (2016). The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak: Developmental differences in judgments about inner moral conflict. Psychological Science, 27(11), 1498–1506.
Millar, C., Starmans, C., Fugelsang, J., & Friedman, O. (2016). It’s personal: The effect of personal value on utilitarian moral judgments. Judgment and Decision Making, 11, 326-331.
Starmans, C. & Friedman, O. (2016). If I am free you can't own me: Autonomy makes entities less ownable. Cognition, 148, 145-153. (PDF of stimuli)
Levene, M., Starmans, C. & Friedman, O. (2015). Creation in judgments about the establishment of ownership. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 60, 103-109.
Starmans, C. & Friedman, O. (2013). Taking 'know' for an answer: A reply to Nagel, San Juan, & Mar. Cognition, 129(3) 662-665.
Starmans, C. & Friedman, O. (2012). The Folk Conception of Knowledge. Cognition, 124, 272-283.
Starmans, C. & Bloom, P. (2012). Windows to the Soul: Children and Adults See the Eyes as the Location of the Self. Cognition, 123(2),313-318.
Starmans, C. & Bloom, P. (2011). What do you think you are? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234, 44-47.

Research Team




Christina Starmans

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Christina is interested in how children and adults reason about the social and moral world, and her research draws on methods and ideas from both philosophy and psychology to explore topics such as morality, free will, other minds, ownership, fairness, and knowledge. She came to U of T after completing her graduate and postdoctoral work at Yale University; before that, she was an undergraduate in Philosophy, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at the University of Waterloo.



Umang Khan

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Umang recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a BSc in Neuroscience and Psychology. She is interested in pursuing further studies in research focusing on the social and moral development of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her previous experience includes doing research in developmental psychology focusing on language and learning. In her spare time, Umang enjoys hanging out with friends, listening to music, and binge-watching Netflix.



Julia Espinosa

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Julia is a second year PhD student in Psychology. Her research interests are centered around how dogs and humans think, learn, and navigate the world. She enjoys designing and carrying out behavioural studies in the form of interactive food puzzles with pet dogs in the Greater Toronto Area. Her recent work in the StarLab looks at how adults and children think about animals' mental abilities. When not hanging out with dogs and doing research, she can be found drinking coffee, dancing, or lifting weights.



Anahid Najafizadeh

Anahid is a third-year undergraduate pursuing a specialist degree in Political Science with a minor in European Union Studies. Her passions are centred in politics and global governance with relation to human rights, justice, and the law. She believes there is an intersection between these fields and Psychology, which is why she is very excited to delve deeper into research regarding moral obligations. For many years, she has worked with children while volunteering at the Glenbow Museum, and in her spare time, she enjoys playing tennis and piano, debating, listening to music, and shopping.

Daryna Skybina

Daryna is a fourth-year undergraduate completing a research specialist degree in Psychology and a minor in Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health. In the upcoming year, she looks forward to completing her thesis with Dr. Starmans and gaining a greater understanding of individuals’ morality and their understanding of the self. After completing her undergraduate studies, she aspires to go on to graduate school to study Clinical Psychology. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the city, trying new recipes, and volunteering.

Isabel Bowman

Isabel is a third-year Cognitive Science major and Psychology specialist, and finds all disciplines that study the mind deeply fascinating. This summer she is investigating the folk psychological notion of a 'true self', particularly if children perceive others as having, at their core, morally virtuous true selves (and what the explanations and implications of this essentialist tendency may be). Outside of her work in the StarLab, she has emerging interests in peripheral fields, such as cognitive scientific approaches to mythology, fiction and storytelling. Among other things, she often reads, and occasionally attempts to write.

Kathy Du

Kathy is a second-year psychology specialist, with another major that she has yet to decide on. She is still exploring specific direction she would like to pursue in psychology; she is interested in developmental, social, and clinical psychology. Her more niche interest is the psychology of members of fringe groups such as flat-earthers; how they arrive and become attracted to their illogical conclusions. Overall, her interest in psychology stems from her fascination with understanding and improving things such as abnormal behaviours through the scientific study of the mind. She loves interacting with children and has volunteered at summer camps prior to joining the lab.

Philip Rajewicz

Philip is a third year specialist in Psychology, a major in Cognitive Science and a minor in Philosophy. His academic interests revolve around how the mind develops and affords higher cognitive process like morality, ideas of the self, wisdom, rationality and intelligence. He is also extremely passionate about how researchers can understand pressing questions about the human mind in a lucid and truthful manner; one that is afforded to us by using the research methods of the modern behavioural sciences and the rigour and clarity provided by a philosophically informed framework. Outside of his academic interests, he has enjoys reading a great deal.

Simonne Mastrella

Simonne is a fourth-year undergraduate specializing in Psychology Research and majoring in Economics. She has had an interest in working with children ever since she graduated from that age group and became an adolescent. Her work in the StarLab gives her an opportunity to use the skills she developed as a camp counsellor and build on the skills she gained in her experience with social psychology research. After completing her undergraduate studies, she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Psychology and research how academic difficulties impact children beyond their grades. In her spare time, you can find her reading and writing new adult fiction.



For Parents

Our research is made possible by interested parents like you participating in our studies with their children! Our studies are set up as short games or activities for your child, and you can participate just by coming in for a short visit. Visits usually take only about 30 minutes, and we provide free parking just outside our centre. Feel free to contact us for more information, at 416-978-7819 or starlab@utoronto.ca.

Here's what you can expect during a visit to our lab with your child!

Before the study:
If you’ve expressed interest in participating in our studies, a researcher from our lab will call you to let you know when we have a new study for your child's age range. We can then schedule a time for you to come in that works best for you (we are able to schedule visits on evenings or weekends if you prefer). Please feel free to bring your other children along as we have a child-friendly reception room with toys and games and fun research assistants to keep your children busy!
When you arrive:
Once you’ve arrived, you will be taken into our reception area where your child can play with our toys while getting acquainted with the researchers. In the meantime, our researchers will provide a more detailed description of the study and go over the consent form you will have to sign that allows your child to participate. Our researcher will also be happy to answer any questions you may have.
During the study:
Once you and your child are ready, your child will start the activity with one of our researchers in our adjacent study rooms. Studies with preschoolers and older children are typically done in the study room while parents watch along on a video screen. Studies with younger infants typically take place with both the parent and infant in the study room together. The study will usually take around 5-15 minutes.
After the study:
Once the study is over, your child can choose a small prize as a token of our appreciation! Our researchers will be happy to answer any other questions you may have after seeing the activity. If you're interested, we're also happy to keep you updated with our most recent findings over time!





Interested in joining the lab?

We are always eager to hear from students at any level who are interested in getting involved with our research. There are many ways to become involved in the lab; see below for current opportunities.

StarLab

Graduate Students


We are accepting graduate applications for 2018/2019! If you are interesting in applying to the graduate program, please contact Dr. Starmans.

Undergraduate Students


During the Fall, Winter, and Summer semesters, U of T undergraduates may join the StarLab, either for course credit, or as a volunteer. Students typically spend 8-10 hours per week assisting with research in the lab, as well as attending our weekly lab meeting. Research Assistant activities may include:

  • Running participants in lab
  • Running participants at the Ontario Science Center
  • Attending lab meetings
  • Designing stimuli and new experiments
  • Inputting and analyzing data
  • Calling parents to schedule visits with their children
  • Reading articles in preparation for lab meeting
If you are a U of T student interested in a research experience in the lab, please contact our Lab Coordinator.