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TCNJ’s “baby lab” is looking for new recruits

research in tcnj's cognitive development lab

It’s never too early to start a love of learning, and TCNJ’s Cognitive Development Lab is looking for new recruits.

The lab — colloquially called “the baby lab” — is located on campus in the Social Sciences Building. It is run by Aimee Stahl, associate professor of psychology, whose research focuses on how infants and children learn.

The lab is equipped with toys, games, and a puppet stage for shows, but the “shows” aren’t just for fun. Behind the scenes, video cameras installed throughout the space help Stahl and her team closely monitor the infant audience and its reactions. The result? Insights on what babies learn, and how they learn it.

“What we’ve found is that babies watch unexpected events for a longer period of time than expected events,” Stahl explains, “which indicates they’re spending more time learning about them.”

Currently, Stahl and her student researchers are running three studies, each spanning a different age group. Here are descriptions of studies currently in progress:

A study for three- and four-year-olds:

This study looks at how preschool children identify effective teachers, specifically whether they prefer to learn from surprising individuals over non-surprising individuals. Children will see puppets perform a magic trick or an ordinary event, and then each puppet will teach the child something new. Researchers will then ask some questions about which puppet the child prefers to learn from.

A study for toddlers: 

This study looks at how many hidden objects children can keep track of at a time. The study is a fun hide-and-seek game where children search inside a box for hidden objects. Researchers see how many they remember.

A study for babies:

This study examines whether babies prefer to explore objects that behave in a surprising or expected way. Infants will see either a surprising event (like a ball that passes through a wall) or an expected event (like the ball is stopped by the wall), and then they will get a chance to play with a ball and a different toy. Researchers will measure how long they choose to play with each.

Visits to the lab are about 30 minutes, but the studies themselves are only about 5–10 minutes. The rest of the time is spent playing in the playroom. Parents accompany their children for the entire visit, including during the experiment.

Want to get involved? Parents can learn more about TCNJ’s Cognitive Development lab and sign up online at


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