Examples of Some of Our Studies

Do children always trust confident individuals? Not when it comes to moral deliberations.

Children often treat confident individuals as more credible sources of information. Yet, children may interpret an individual's level of confidence differently depending upon the type (or domain) of knowledge. For example, when dealing with factual information (e.g., name of novel object), a person who is confident in their answer is often viewed as more trustworthy. However, when thinking about about moral issues, hesitancy may reflect a deeper level of thoughtfulness, and therefore credibility. This study investigated children’s credibility judgments of individuals who differed in their level of confidence (confident vs. hesitant) in two domains of knowledge (factual vs. moral). We found that children preferred a confident individual when learning factual information, but not when deliberating about moral claims.

How Children Think About Robots!

One way that children organize the world is into living and non-living things. But robots seem to straddle the boundaries – they are pieces of technology, but they also interact as if they have intentions and feelings. How do children understand such personified technologies — as living things, non-living things, or something in-between? In a series of studies, we have looked at how children and adolescents think about and interact with real robots.



Severson, R. L., & Carlson, S. M. (2010). Behaving as or behaving as if? Children's conceptions of personified robots and the emergence of a new ontological category. Neural Networks (Special Issue on Social Cognition: From Babies to Robots), 23, 1099-1103.

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Kanda, T., Ishiguro, H., Freier, N. G., Severson, R. L., Gill, B. T., Ruckert, J. H., & Shen, S. (2012). “Robovie, you’ll have to go into the closet now”: Children’s social and moral relationships with a humanoid robot. Developmental Psychology, 48, 303-314.

Kahn, P. H., Jr., Severson, R. L., & Ruckert, J. H. (2009). The human relationship with nature and technological nature. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 37-42.

girl with dinosaur robot

Individual Differences in Children’s Anthropomorphic Beliefs

We name our cars, talk to our pets, and grumble at our sluggish computers! People of all ages vary widely in their tendency to attribute internal states – like emotions, thoughts, consciousness, and intentions – to animals, inanimate nature, and technology. In these studies, we extended work on anthropomorphism by developing a new measure of individual differences in anthropomorphic beliefs for use with children.


Severson, R. L., & Woodard, S. R. (2018). Imagining others' minds: The positive relation between children's role play and anthropomorphismFrontiers in Psychology, 9, 2140. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02140

Severson, R. L., & Lemm, K. (2016). Kids see human too: Adapting an individual differences measure of anthropomorphism for a child sample. Journal of Cognition and Development, 17, 122-141. doi: 10.1080/15248372.2014.989445