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Research at the Museum

Research at the Museum

Boston Children's Museum is a pioneer in early childhood education and a committed advocate for the critical role of play in healthy childhood development. The landslide of research on brain development has demonstrated that early childhood stimulation and adult engagement is foundational to a child reaching his or her full potential. In one of the world's greatest research capitals, Greater Boston, universities and hospitals are conducting groundbreaking research into different aspects of child development. Boston Children's Museum works with researchers to translate the latest studies and findings for the general public and to make a positive impact on parenting practices.

The Museum seeks to work with research partners whose work has the potential to inform parents, caregivers and Museum staff about child development. We are interested in working with projects that deepen visitor and staff understanding of how children learn, and how they develop physically, intellectually, and socio-emotionally.

Current Projects

MIT Play Lab
Boston Children's Museum has teamed up with researchers from the Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT in PlayLab, an exhibit featuring active research in cognitive development. Researchers conduct studies everyday with young children ages 3 months to 8 years. Their research is focused on answering questions about how children learn and understand cause-and-effect relationships and interpret different types of evidence. The studies are short and fun, and may include playing games or watching a short video or display. If you would like to learn more or participate in a study, stop by PlayLab during your visit to the Museum and look for the researchers. They are happy to tell you about what studies are underway and answer any questions.

Boston College Arts and Mind Lab

Children’s Categorization of Novel Objects (3-8 year olds)

The Arts and Mind Lab explores the psychology of the arts. There is nothing approaching a consensus on how to define art, yet adults and children use the term in ordinary discourse without generating confusion. The current study examines what cues children use in order to classify ambiguous objects as art, and whether the tendency to do so changes with age.

Boston College Emotion Development Lab

Children’s Understanding of Emotion (2-10 year olds)

The Emotion Development Lab examines how children understand others' emotions and how this understanding changes throughout childhood. We want to know how children (2-15 years) interpret facial or postural expressions, events that can cause emotions (winning a race) or the actions that stem from feeling an emotion (smiling and clapping).

Boston College Morality Lab

Children’s Understanding of Morality (5-9 year olds)

The Morality Lab at Boston College examines how children think about morality. Past work in psychology has examined how children think about right and wrong by studying children’s perceptions of everyday moral violations, such as refusing to share or pushing someone on a playground. How children might reason about other types of moral violations remains unclear. The current project investigates how children understand moral violations and incarceration.

Harvard Business School, Negotiation Organizations and Markets Unit

Children’s Understanding of Gender, Dominance, and Body Language (4-6 year olds)

Through a series of studies, this lab is interested in exploring (1) at what age individuals begin to associate postural expansiveness with gender, (2) at what level of development are postural gender-norms of expansiveness internalized, and (3) the extent to which those internalized postural norms affect children’s level of power and performance.

Harvard University Implicit Social Cognition Lab

Children’s Understanding of Status Hierarchies (3-12 year olds)

The Implicit Social Cognition Lab at Harvard University examines children’s understanding of status hierarchies as it relates to individuals and groups (like gender, race, and religion). What cues to children pay attention to when determining the powerful agent or groups in a given social context? What implications does the assignment of power to groups have on stereotyping the self or others? Do these kinds of social understandings change with age?

Harvard University Laboratory for Developmental Studies

Children’s Understanding of Same and Different (3-4 year olds)

The Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University examines how children develop an understanding of what it means for things to be “same” or “different.” Children play several short games during this study, which gives a simple but powerful example of the difference between how kids and adults think, and what kinds of things they find it easy to think about.

Tufts University Cognitive Development Lab

Children’s Understanding of Cause and Effect (6 months to 6 year olds)

The Cognitive Development Lab examines several topics related to how children understand cause and effect. How do children learn about tools (such as TV remotes) that cause effects (such as turning on and off the television) and how does this change over the first few years of life? How do children’s explorations change based on the way that events are described? How do children begin to reason about other people’s behaviors?

MIT Play Lab

Boston Children's Museum has teamed up with researchers from the Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT in PlayLab, an exhibit featuring active research in cognitive development. Researchers conduct studies everyday with young children ages 3 months to 8 years. Their research is focused on answering questions about how children learn and understand cause-and-effect relationships and interpret different types of evidence. The studies are short and fun, and may include playing games or watching a short video or display. If you would like to learn more or participate in a study, stop by PlayLab during your visit to the Museum and look for the researchers. They are happy to tell you about what studies are underway and answer any questions.

Boston College Arts and Mind Lab

Children’s Categorization of Novel Objects (3-8 year olds)

The Arts and Mind Lab explores the psychology of the arts. There is nothing approaching a consensus on how to define art, yet adults and children use the term in ordinary discourse without generating confusion. The current study examines what cues children use in order to classify ambiguous objects as art, and whether the tendency to do so changes with age.

Boston College Emotion Development Lab

Children’s Understanding of Emotion (2-10 year olds)

The Emotion Development Lab examines how children understand others' emotions and how this understanding changes throughout childhood. We want to know how children (2-15 years) interpret facial or postural expressions, events that can cause emotions (winning a race) or the actions that stem from feeling an emotion (smiling and clapping).

Boston College Morality Lab

Children’s Understanding of Morality (5-9 year olds)

The Morality Lab at Boston College examines how children think about morality. Past work in psychology has examined how children think about right and wrong by studying children’s perceptions of everyday moral violations, such as refusing to share or pushing someone on a playground. How children might reason about other types of moral violations remains unclear. The current project investigates how children understand moral violations and incarceration.

Harvard Business School, Negotiation Organizations and Markets Unit

Children’s Understanding of Gender, Dominance, and Body Language (4-6 year olds)

Through a series of studies, this lab is interested in exploring (1) at what age individuals begin to associate postural expansiveness with gender, (2) at what level of development are postural gender-norms of expansiveness internalized, and (3) the extent to which those internalized postural norms affect children’s level of power and performance.

Harvard University Implicit Social Cognition Lab

Children’s Understanding of Status Hierarchies (3-12 year olds)

The Implicit Social Cognition Lab at Harvard University examines children’s understanding of status hierarchies as it relates to individuals and groups (like gender, race, and religion). What cues to children pay attention to when determining the powerful agent or groups in a given social context? What implications does the assignment of power to groups have on stereotyping the self or others? Do these kinds of social understandings change with age?

Harvard University Laboratory for Developmental Studies

Children’s Understanding of Same and Different (3-4 year olds)

The Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University examines how children develop an understanding of what it means for things to be “same” or “different.” Children play several short games during this study, which gives a simple but powerful example of the difference between how kids and adults think, and what kinds of things they find it easy to think about.

Tufts University Cognitive Development Lab

Children’s Understanding of Cause and Effect (6 months to 6 year olds)

The Cognitive Development Lab examines several topics related to how children understand cause and effect. How do children learn about tools (such as TV remotes) that cause effects (such as turning on and off the television) and how does this change over the first few years of life? How do children’s explorations change based on the way that events are described? How do children begin to reason about other people’s behaviors?

Research Process and Protocols

Researchers interested in collecting data at the Museum need to apply. Applications are available for Fall, Spring, and Summer trimesters, with deadlines in August, December, and April respectively. The museum will evaluate applications based on the following criteria:

  • There is a strong connection between the research and the Museum's mission. For example, the MIT PlayLab research is documenting how infants learn through play and Boston College is researching the benefits of art-making.
  • Researchers must demonstrate an interest and capacity for communicating their studies and findings to lay audiences, and they must be willing to provide write-ups for the Museum's website. Researchers will be expected to provide written briefs for the Museum website prior to the beginning of their research. Museum staff will ensure that these are on the website at the beginning of the time period - and revised as needed. Each trimester there should be a complete roster of the studies.
  • The research can be conducted within the guidelines the Museum has established.
  • The Museum and researchers can schedule studies at mutually acceptable times.

Quid Pro Quo

  1. Researchers benefit from access to large numbers of children.
  2. Boston Children's Museum benefits by serving as facilitator in communicating important new information about childhood development to our audiences.
  3. Museum visitors benefit by learning about important research that is being conducted, with the potential for them to increase their interest in scientific research. Visitors can benefit from increased awareness of the role of research in understanding child development.

Desired Outcomes

The research will provide the Museum's many audiences with a greater understanding of the importance of early childhood education and foster strong collaborations with universities, hospitals and other research organizations interested in advancing the child development field.

Learn more about Research at Boston Children’s Museum

Those seeking more information about conducting studies at Boston Children's Museum should contact Sarah May (may@bostonchildrensmuseum.org)