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Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman, Director 2505 University Avenue, A4900, Burdine Hall 536, Austin Texas 78712 • 512-471-5765

Jacqueline D Woolley

Associate Faculty Ph.D., University of Michigan

Jacqueline D Woolley



My 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 my research is to investigate how children make reality status judgments when they encounter novel information. I am 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.

Dr. Woolley's research is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant Number R01 HD030300).

Recent Publications

(Click on a link to download a PDF file. You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to open PDFs.)

Tullos, A., & Woolley, J. D. (in press). The development of children’s ability to use evidence to infer reality status. Child Development.

Woolley, J. D., & Tullos, A. (2008). Imagination and fantasy. In M. Haith, & J. Benson (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Infant and Early Childhood Development, Elsevier Press (pp. 117-127).

Woolley, J. D. and Cox, V. (2007). Development of beliefs about storybook reality. Developmental Science, 10, 681-693.

Woolley, J. D. (2006). Verbal–Behavioral Dissociations in Development. Child Development, 77(6), 1539–1553.

Woolley, J. D., Browne, C. A. & Boerger, E. A. (2006). Constraints on children's judgments of magical causality. Journal of Cognition and Development, 7(2), 253-277.

Woolley, J. D. & Van Reet, J. (2006). Effects of context on judgments of the reality status of novel entities. Child Development, 77(6), 1778–1793.

Sharon, T. & Woolley, J. D. (2004) Do monsters dream? Young children’s understanding of the fantasy/reality distinction. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 22, 293–310.

Woolley, J. D., Boerger, E. A. & Markman, A. B. (2004). A visit from the Candy Witch: factors influencing young children’s belief in a novel fantastical being. Developmental Science 7:4, 456–468.

Woolley, J. D. (2000). The development of beliefs about mental-physical causality in imagination, magic, and religion. In K. Rosengren, C. Johnson, & P. L. Harris (Eds.) Imagining the impossible: Magical, scientific, and religious thinking in children, Cambridge University Press.

Woolley, J. D., Phelps, K. E., Davis, D. L. & Mandell, D. J. (1999). Where theories of mind meet magic: The development of children’s beliefs about wishing. Child Development, 70, 571-587.

Woolley, J. D. (1997). Thinking about fantasy: Are children fundamentally different thinkers and believers from adults? Child Development, 68, 991-1011.

Woolley, J. D. (1995). The fictional mind: Young children's understanding of pretense, imagination and dreams. Developmental Review, 15, 172-211.

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