Jacqueline Woolley

Dr. Woolley is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas.  She received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology in 1990 from the University of Michigan.  She has served as a consulting editor to Child Development, and Developmental Psychology, and has served on the editorial boards of Psychological Bulletin, and the Journal of Cognition and Culture.  She was recently awarded a 5-year grant from the NIH (NICHD) to study “The development and formation of reality-status judgments.”

Her research addresses children’s understanding of reality, a topic with a long history that continues to intrigue and perplex developmental psychologists.  Knowledge about how children evaluate new information and make proper assignment of entities to real and not-real categories is especially critical in the media rich age in which we live.  Young children are bombarded with information and images offering a mix of the real and the fantastical: Elmo, a monster, teaches children about science, and Harry Potter, a human child, performs magic spells.  Amidst this, children continuously encounter novel entities and events, and must assign these entities and events to their proper (real or not real) categories.

The goal of her research is to investigate how children make reality status judgments when they encounter novel information.  She is assessing the effects of three broad classes of factors: (1) characteristics of the individual child (e.g., age), (2) characteristics of the stimulus (e.g., internal consistency of the attributes of a novel entity), and (3) effects of the environment (e.g., the context in which children encounter a novel entity). All of these are proposed to affect how children evaluate the reality status of novel entities and events.

It is imperative that children be taught to think critically about new information. To do this, researchers and educators must first understand how children identify and separate real from unreal. The findings of the studies in my lab have important implications for preschool and elementary education, parenting, and clinical practice with young children.