Carnegie Mellon University

David Rakison

David Rakison

Associate Professor of Psychology

  • 354N Baker Hall
  • 412-268-3477

Areas of Expertise

Computational, Developmental


Whether or not infants’ earliest perception of the world is a “blooming, buzzing, confusion,” it is not long before they develop mental representations or concepts of the structure and order among the objects and events around them. Research in my lab focuses on studying how this is achieved: When and how do infants categorize perceptually different objects as the same and generalize from their experience to novel instances? When and how do infants learn about the motion properties of animates and inanimates such as self-propulsion, causality, and goal-directed action? How does infants’ action in the world affect their emerging concepts? And how does conceptual change occur throughout the first years of life? I address these questions within an information-processing framework although I also combine this approach with aspects of evolutionary psychology. As a result, a focus of my research is to examine the extent to which early learning and development is underpinned by domain-specific or domain-general mechanisms.

The major approach I use to address these questions is to study the behavior of human infants. In most cases, I employ behavioral methodologies that make use of infants’ looking (e.g., habituation, visual preference) and action behavior (e.g., imitation). I also conduct research with very young children with autism and compare their conceptual development to that of typically developing infants. Finally, I develop computational models of early perceptual and concept development as a means of providing greater insight into the mechanisms of change in the first years of life.


Yermolayeva, Y., & Rakison, D. H. (2014). Connectionist modeling of developmental changes in infancy: Approaches, challenges, and contributions. Psychological Bulletin, 140 (1), 224.

LoBue, V. & Rakison. D. H. (2013). What we fear most: A developmental advantage for threat-relevant stimuli. Developmental Review. 33, 285–303.

Rakison, D. H. & Krogh, L. (2012). Does causal action facilitate causal perception in infants younger than 6 months of age? Developmental Science, 15, 43-54

Cicchino, J. B., Aslin, R. N., & Rakison, D. H. (2011). Correspondences between what infants see and know about causal and self-propelled motion. Cognition, 118, 171–192.