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Research Projects




Krista Casler, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator, Lab Director



Natalie Hutchins

Lab Manager, Hackman Scholar


Holly Batchelder

Research Assistant

Research Projects


In the Child Development Lab, we want to better understand how children think and learn...


Our current projects look at how children solve problems and puzzles with simple tools. Why? One reason is because we adults seem to have purpose on the brain. We like to know what things are for and how to use them, and we can hardly stop ourselves from asking “What’s that?” when encountering a new object in a friend's home or a colleague's office. Curiously, once we know what something is for, we tend to use it pretty narrowly for its proper purpose alone. Would you grab a fork to untangle your child’s hair after bath time—even if a comb was nowhere to be found? Probably not.


In the Child Development Lab, we’re interested in the development, benefits, and pitfalls of this bias of mind (called teleo-functional reasoning if you want to get fancy). Our straightforward way of exploring it has been by observing how children—and sometimes adults!—learn about and use new objects and simple tools. To learn more, see the descriptions below of several recent and ongoing research projects.

> Autism Spectrum Disorder, Social learning, & Innovation 

In a series of studies, we have been exploring how children both with and without autism learn about, create, and problem-solve with simple tools and objects. In 2019 to 2021, the PA Department of Health is funding the DAX Center for this research. We are using eye tracking technology to understand how the presence or absence of another person drives children's attention when they are learning information. The study runs like a game and takes under 30 minutes to complete. It is designed for both neuro-typical kids and kids with high functioning autism, and the target age range is 7 to 10. If you are interested in participating or learning more, we are currently running this study and would love to hear from you! Follow this link to sign up!


> Scale errors

Children sometimes make scale errors — they'll make futile attempts to use or play with objects that are much too big or little for their bodies or for the task. We have conducted a number of projects exploring the origin and impact of this phenomenon, documenting scale errors not just in children but also, surprisingly, in adults! Our research supports claims that  teleofunctional (purpose-based) reasoning is a powerful and early developing influence on our actions with objects. 


> Functional fixedness

Our line of research on "functional fixedness" investigates how social cues play into children's understanding of tools. From as young as 24 months, children demonstrate a clear understanding of tool functionality and recognize that there are "right" vs. "wrong" ways to use tools (for example, using a fork to comb your hair isn't right, even though it works!). Children, like adults, exhibit a tendency to use tools exclusively for their intended functions, i.e., they easily become functionally fixed. Our research has explored many areas of this phenomenon, examining its benefits, origins, and pitfalls. 

Research Projects


K Casler
N Hutchins
Natalie Hutchins Baby.jpg
H Batchelder
Holly dax.jpg

Former Research Assistants

  Sydney Brannick 

  Abby Morenigbade

  Madeline Kaplan

  Lisa Liao

  Shira Gould




Casler, K. (2019). Function is not the sum of an object’s parts. Thinking & Reasoning, 25, 300-323.

Casler, K., Hoffman, K.,* & Eshleman, A.* (2014). Do adults make scale errors too? How function sometimes trumps size. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 1690-1700.


Casler, K. (2014). Toddlers’ use of mutual exclusivity when mapping information to objects. Infancy, 19, 162-178.


Casler, K., Bickel, L.,* & Hackett, E.* (2013). Separate but equal? A comparison of participants and data gathered via Amazon’s MTurk, social media, and face-to-face behavioral testing. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2156-2160.


Casler, K., Eshleman, A.*, Greene, K.*, & Terziyan, T.* (2011). Children’s scale errors with tools. Developmental Psychology, 47, 857-866.


Casler, K., Terziyan, T.*, & Greene, K.* (2009). Toddlers view artifact function normatively. Cognitive Development, 24, 240-247.


Casler, K. & Kelemen, D. (2008). Developmental continuity in teleo-functional explanation: Reasoning about nature among Romanian Romani adults. Journal of Cognition and Development, 9, 340-362.


Casler, K. & Kelemen, D. (2007). Reasoning about artifacts at 24 months: The developing teleo-functional stance. Cognition, 103, 120-130.


Casler, K. & Kelemen, D. (2005). Young children’s rapid learning about artifacts. Developmental Science, 8, 472-480.


Kelemen, D., Callanan, M., Casler, K., & Pérez-Granados, D. R. (2005). Why things happen: Teleological explanation in parent-child conversations. Developmental Psychology, 41, 251-264.


* denotes undergraduate student author

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