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James W. Pennebaker, Chair The University of Texas at Austin, SEA 4.212, Austin, TX 78712 • (512) 475-7596

Jacqueline D Woolley

Professor Ph.D., University of Michigan

Jacqueline D Woolley

Contact

Biography

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

Ma, L. & Woolley, J. D. (2013). Children’s sensitivity to speaker gender when learning from others. Journal of Cognition and Development, 14, 100-119.

Woolley, J.D., Ma. L. & Lopez-Mobilia, G. (2011). Development of the use of conversational cues to assess reality statusJournal of Cognition and Development, 12, 537-555. (Available from the author, woolley@psy.utexas.edu)

Woolley, J. D., Cornelius, C., & Lacy, W. (2011). Developmental changes in the use of supernatural explanations for unusual eventsJournal of Cognition and Culture, 11, 311-337.

Vaden, V. C. & Woolley, J. D. (2011). Does God make it real? Children's belief in religious stories from the Judeo-Christian traditionChild Development, 82, 1120-1135.

Woolley, J. D. & Cornelius, C. (in press). Beliefs in magical beings and cultural myths. In M. Taylor (Ed.), Oxford Handbook on The Development of Imagination. Oxford University Press. (Available from the author, woolley@psy.utexas.edu)

Tullos, A., & Woolley, J. D. (2009). The development of children’s ability to use evidence to infer reality statusChild Development, 80(1), 101-114.

Boerger, E. A., Tullos, S. A., & Woolley, J. D. (2009) Return of the Candy Witch: Individual differences in acceptance and stability of belief in a novel fantastical beingBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 953-970.

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 realityDevelopmental Science, 10, 681-693.

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

Woolley, J. D., Browne, C. A. & Boerger, E. A. (2006). Constraints on children's judgments of magical causalityJournal 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 distinctionBritish 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 beingDevelopmental 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.

Interests

Conceptul development in preschool and elementary school children, concept of mind, and fantasy-reality distinction

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

43950 • Fall 2014
Meets M 1200pm-300pm SEA 1.332
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Fantasy And Reality

43965 • Fall 2013
Meets W 100pm-400pm SEA 1.332
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

43975 • Fall 2013
Meets M 1200pm-300pm SEA 1.332
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Fundmntls Of Devel Psychology

43505 • Fall 2012
Meets W 100pm-400pm SEA 1.332
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

43515 • Fall 2012
Meets M 1200pm-300pm SEA 1.332
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY F333F • Fantasy And Reality

87571 • Summer 2012
Meets MTWTHF 100pm-230pm NOA 1.102
show description

From the sea of information in which we swim, we each form our own set of beliefs and convictions. To believe in something means that we somehow have concluded that this something is real, that it exists in (what we consider) the real world. How do we arrive at such a conviction? How do we sort out what is real from what is not? And how does this ability develop?

Much work in cognitive development has focused on how children, as little scientists, learn about everyday objects and entities in their world. A large proportion of the knowledge children gain through such exploration concerns real, tangible objects and entities, such as balls, bottles, and bicycles. First-hand experience serves them well here, and leaves very little question about the reality status of the entities at hand. Yet a significant amount of knowledge and belief concerns objects and entities for which both adults and children lack first-hand experience. When first-hand experience is lacking, both adults and children arguably should have some concerns regarding the reality status of the information encountered. Thus it is proposed that real vs. not-real is a critical ontological distinction of paramount interest to developmental psychology. The development of the ability to make this distinction is the focus of this course.

The first task is to identify those situations in which children might need to make this distinction. As stated above, when first-hand experience (e.g., the entity is visible and/or tangible) is available, there is usually no need for much consideration of the issue. However when first-hand experience is either lacking or contradicts one’s knowledge and expectations, the issue does arise. Most of the course will focus on instances in which first-hand experience is not available. There is a wide-range of entities and processes that are accepted to varying degrees by others despite their invisibility and/or intangibility. One classic case concerns mental states or mental entities. Thus we will address how

1children come to make a distinction between mental entities, particularly imagined ones, and reality. Adults in many cultures believe in and encourage children to believe in various supernatural entities. Thus we will address children’s beliefs in both fantastical beings and religious figures. Of course, if children are not learning about all these things through first-hand experience they must be learning about them through other sources. What are these sources, and how do their characteristics affect children’s ability to make accurate reality status judgments? To address this question we will examine children’s understanding of and beliefs about storybooks, television, and, of course, other people, as providers of information. Throughout the semester we will reflect on what all this can tell us about the nature of belief.

PSY 394S • Fundmntls Of Devel Psychology

43390 • Fall 2011
Meets W 100pm-400pm SEA 5.106
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

43392 • Fall 2011
Meets M 1200pm-300pm SEA 1.332
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 333F • Fantasy And Reality

43720 • Spring 2011
Meets TTH 1230pm-200pm SEA 3.250
show description

Course Description:

From the sea of information in which we swim, we each form our own set of

beliefs and convictions. To believe in something means that we somehow have concluded

that this something is real, that it exists in (what we consider) the real world. How do we

arrive at such a conviction? How do we sort out what is real from what is not? And how

does this ability develop?

Much work in cognitive development has focused on how children, as little

scientists, learn about everyday objects and entities in their world. A large proportion of

the knowledge children gain through such exploration concerns real, tangible objects and

entities, such as balls, bottles, and bicycles. First-hand experience serves them well here,

and leaves very little question about the reality status of the entities at hand. Yet a

significant amount of knowledge and belief concerns objects and entities for which both

adults and children lack first-hand experience. When first-hand experience is lacking,

both adults and children arguably should have some concerns regarding the reality status

of the information encountered. Thus it is proposed that real vs. not-real is a critical

ontological distinction of paramount interest to developmental psychology. The

development of the ability to make this distinction is the focus of this course.

The first task is to identify those situations in which children might need to make

this distinction. As stated above, when first-hand experience (e.g., the entity is visible

and/or tangible) is available, there is usually no need for much consideration of the issue.

However when first-hand experience is either lacking or contradicts one’s knowledge and

expectations, the issue does arise. Most of the course will focus on instances in which

first-hand experience is not available. There is a wide-range of entities and processes that

are accepted to varying degrees by others despite their invisibility and/or intangibility.

One classic case concerns mental states or mental entities. Thus we will address how

2

children come to make a distinction between mental entities, particularly imagined ones,

and reality. Adults in many cultures believe in and encourage children to believe in

various supernatural entities. Thus we will address children’s beliefs in both fantastical

beings and religious figures. Of course, if children are not learning about all these things

through first-hand experience they must be learning about them through other sources.

What are these sources, and how do their characteristics affect children’s ability to make

accurate reality status judgments? To address this question we will examine children’s

understanding of and beliefs about storybooks, television, and, of course, other people, as

providers of information. Throughout the semester we will reflect on what all this can tell

us about the nature of belief.

Course Prerequisites

The Psychology Department will drop all students who do not meet the following

prerequisites:

(a) PSY 301 with a C or better

(b) Upper-division standing (60 hours completed)

(c) PSY 418 (or an equivalent listed in the course schedule) with a C or better

PSY 333F • Fantasy And Reality

43112 • Fall 2010
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm SEA 1.332
show description

Prerequisites

(A) PSY 301 with a C or better (B) Upper-division standing (60 hours completed) (C) PSY 418 (or an equivalent listed in the course schedule) with a C or better

Course Description

Children are often viewed as living in a world of fiction and fantasy. Traditional views of child development hold that young children are confused about the nature of reality, often confusing it with appearances, fantasy, and mentality. In this class we will address the development of children's (and sometimes adults') ability to differentiate reality from fantasy, as well as the nature of children's knowledge and beliefs about a variety of related domains, including mental and pictorial representations, magic, and religion.

Grading Policy

1. Four 5-page reaction papers (each one worth 15%; 60% total)

2. Two exams (midterm and final, 15% each; 30% total)

3. Attendance and class participation (10%)

Texts

Gussen Paley, V. (1981). Wally's Stories: Conversations in the Kindergarten. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

 

PSY 394S • Reality-Fantasy Distinction

44155 • Spring 2010
Meets T 900-1200 SEA 1.332
show description

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

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