Current Research Topics

To learn more, check out our annual newsletters!

We are running studies ONLINE!

Your children can participate in as many online research games as they want. Days and times are flexible to your schedule.

Helpful Intentions Study (Ages 4-5 or 8-9 only!)

Helpful Intentions Ad


What do children think when people do nice things for others? We invite children ages 4-5 and 8-9 and their parents to participate in our online study. The study should take about 30 minutes. Children will watch a series of cartoons about characters who act prosocially (help others and share things). Then they will be asked to evaluate and predict the future behavior of both the helpful characters and the people they helped. After children finish their part of the study, one guardian will participate in a 15-minute conservation about their feelings and attitudes towards prosocial behaviors. If you have participated in our previous Helpful Intentions Study, you are unfortunately not eligible for this study. Use this link to sign up:


Children & Nature Study

How do children think about plants, animals, and the natural world? We invite children ages 4-13 and their parents to participate in an online study of children and the environment. Parents will complete a short survey and children will read stories about plants and animals with an experimenter during a 20-minute Zoom session. Use this link to sign up:

Visiting the Lab

Our campus lab is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions on human participant research. If you are a parent interested in coming to the lab, or a school interested in finding out more about how to partner with us, email us at the address below. Someone will contact you once we are open again:


picture of the interior of the lab


If you are interested in participating in our research you can register your family on the Child Development Labs website here.

When a study comes up that your child is the right age for, we give you a call or send you an email, describing that particular study in detail. If you have the interest and time to participate at that point, we schedule an appointment. 

A typical appointment includes:

  • Playtime in the waiting room
  • Signing consent forms
  • 20 – 25 minute study in the form of a game
  • Wrap up and description of what happened in the study

Recent FAQs

  • Answer
    All studies taking place in the Early Social Development Lab have been through a rigorous review process by UVa’s Institutional Review Board, which consists of a panel of University and community members. This panel carefully evaluates proposed studies involving human participants before they begin (and at least once per year after initial approval) to ensure that the research is ethical, and handles any comments or complaints about the research.
  • Answer
    Your child’s data will be kept completely confidential. Your child’s name will never be used in any report of this research. We videotape our studies to allow us to keep track of your child’s answers, and also to write down any comments made during the study. This videotape is kept completely confidential; your child’s name will never be associated with it. Furthermore, unless we have your explicit permission, this videotape will be viewed only by the researchers.
  • Answer

    We recruit from ages 0 to 12 years so that we have a pool of interested families from which to draw. However, most of our studies involve particular age ranges – for example, 3 to 6 years old. Your child may not fit into one of the age ranges that we are using at the moment. If you ever would like information about what ages are currently being used, feel free to call or email.

  • Answer

    We are located in Gilmer Hall on the University of Virginia Campus. Please keep in mind that there are gates blocking McCormick Rd during business hours. Parking is available behind the building. When you turn onto Gilmer Drive, go down the hill and make a right to reach the end of the road and park in one of the reserved “Psychology Department” spaces. Someone will be waiting for you outside with a parking permit. For further directions, click here.

  • Answer
    At the end of your visit, the researcher can explain to you the purpose and hypotheses of the study. We also send newsletters to parents a few times a year with information about the results of studies that have been completed. Because our research looks at group-level data, we will not be able to provide you with information about your individual child’s performance.
  • Answer

    Absolutely! We work with a wide age range of children, so it is possible that your other children will also be able to participate in a study while they are here. If not, they can play in our waiting room while their sibling completes the study. One of our research assistants can stay with them if you prefer to accompany your other child into the study room.

  • Answer

    For many of our studies, it is perfectly fine for parents to be in the room with the children the entire time. However, sometimes we find that a parent’s presence can be a distraction or will influence a child’s performance. In these cases, you may stay just outside the room and observe your child through a window.

  • Answer

    Most visits last between 30 minutes and 1 hour. The exact length of your visit will depend on the study and how many of your children are participating.

  • Answer
    We typically schedule appointments between 9:00 and 6:00 Monday through Friday. Weekend appointments may be possible, subject to availability. When scheduling, we ask for your assistance in choosing a time when you think your child will be most alert.
  • Answer
    When you arrive at the lab, you will be shown into our comfortable and friendly waiting room. After filling out some paperwork, one of our trained research assistants will accompany your child to one of our game rooms. You are welcome to accompany your child if you wish or you may remain in the waiting room. Our studies are designed to be fun and engaging for your child. Most involve looking at pictures or objects, and none involve medical procedures of any kind. The research assistant will end the study at any point if your child does not wish to continue. All sessions are videotaped, but we take great care to ensure the confidentiality of your child’s video and information. At the end of the session, you may ask questions about the study. Your child will be given a small gift to thank them for their participation.