Alison Gopnik

Research Expertise and Interest

A.I., learning, philosophy, psychology, cognitive development, theory of mind, young children, children's causal knowledge, Bayes Net formalism

Research Description

Alison Gopnik is a Professor of the Graduate School in the Department of Psychology.  Her research explores how young children come to know about the world around them. The work is informed by the "theory theory" -- the idea that children develop and change intuitive theories of the world in much the way that scientists do. Most recently, we have been concentrating on young children's causal knowledge and causal learning across domains, including physical, biological and psychological knowledge. In collaboration with computer scientists, her research group is using the Bayes Net formalism to help explain how children are able to learn causal structure from patterns of data, and they have demonstrated that young children have much more powerful causal learning mechanisms than was previously supposed. They are collaborating with computer scientists to design AI systems that can do the same.

In the News

Psychologist Alison Gopnik wins lifetime achievement award

Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist and author of such acclaimed books as The Philosophical Baby, The Scientist in the Crib, and How Babies Think, is one of three recipients of the James McKeen Cattel Fellow Award. Recipients of the award, bestowed by the Association for Psychological Science (APS), represent the field of psychology’s most accomplished and respected scientists whose research addresses critical societal problems.

Six UC Berkeley faculty elected AAAS fellows

Six scientists are among the 396 newest fellows elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for “advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.”

Preschoolers outsmart college students at figuring out gizmos

Preschoolers can be smarter than college students at figuring out how unusual toys and gadgets work because they’re more flexible and less biased than adults in their ideas about cause and effect, according to new research from UC Berkeley and the University of Edinburgh.

Q&A: Alison Gopnik on babies and learning

Best-selling author Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology, discusses her research and UC Berkeley’s long history of focusing on how children learn. She and colleagues recently formed the Center for Developmental Cognitive Science to model the next generation of artificial intelligence on principles gleaned from children’s ability to learn rapidly, explore and reason.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
January 26, 2021
Robert Preidt
Researchers have found a way to track what your mind is doing when thoughts begin to wander. "For the first time, we have neurophysiological evidence that distinguishes different patterns of internal thought, allowing us to understand the varieties of thought central to human cognition and to compare between healthy and disordered thinking," study senior author Robert Knight, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, said. "Babies and young children's minds seem to wander constantly, and so we wondered what functions that might serve," study co-author Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist and philosophy scholar at UC Berkeley, said. "Our paper suggests mind-wandering is as much a positive feature of cognition as a quirk and explains something we all experience." For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources, including WebMD, HealthDay, Technology Networks, and The Swaddle.
November 16, 2018
Shankar Vedantam, Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, and Tara Boyle
Psychology professor Alison Gopnik joins this program on early child development to discuss the relationship between children and the adults who care for them. Noting that parents often see their children as malleable, she says: "The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you're going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult." But that doesn't track with research findings, she says, and her new book, The Gardener and the Carpenter suggests a different way of thinking about the relationship. Link to audio.
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