Eliza Wyckoff ’20 Studies Child Development at Boston University Developing Minds Lab in Boston, MA

Hey! My name is Eliza Wyckoff and I’m a rising junior Psychology major at Whitman College. Before I started my internship at the Developing Minds Lab, I had envisioned a set up similar to that of a lab depicted in the majority of tv shows and movies: white lab coats furiously scribbling on clipboards that were always on hand, and excel sheets open on every computer in a painfully bright, white office.

But when I arrived on my first day, it was not like this at all. Located in a bright yellow building, the Developing Minds Lab is one of six Child Development Labs at Boston University. Headed by Dr. Melissa Kibbe, research is focused on the cognitive processes of children from 5 to 132 months (11 years old), and I honestly couldn’t imagine a more fun and dynamic research lab to intern with. What I really appreciate about the DML’s approach to child development research is that it is cognitive-based rather than developmental-based. This approach allows for the research to be centered on the development of certain cognitive processes in children and pinpoint exactly at what age a child is cognitively capable of doing something.

As a research assistant, my day starts out with checking the “RA Scheduled Tasks” which includes jobs such as: preparing paperwork for participants; coding data from videos; setting up the testing rooms and calling participants to confirm their visits. A big part of my job is to recruit for studies, so throughout the day I send emails and call families with children who are eligible to participate. Since this is a job that the other two interns and I do, it has definitely been a bonding experience. In addition to these tasks, I have also been assigned to help run two studies, Stickers and Feed the Animals.

Stickers appears to be a simple game: providing a child with tokens and showing them two boxes of stickers and then telling a short story about the two boxes before they pick which box they want to “buy” a sticker from. This kind of structure allows us to study the development of math cognition in terms of supply and demand principles. Through asking questions such as “when looking at these two boxes how did you decide which box to choose? Which box do you think other kids liked more? Why?”, the experimenter is able to gain a sense of the reasoning behind the child’s choice. More often than not, a child as young as 84 months (7 years old), is capable of distinguishing the different ratios in the boxes and using that information to discern that the less of one kind of sticker means that kind of sticker is more popular. The second study, Feed the Animals, focuses on a child’s ability to track moving objects and remember them, ultimately looking at the development of the child’s working memory between the ages of 72 and 132 months (6 to 11-year-olds). Presented as a computer game, the child is asked to keep their eyes on an animal that is in the center of the screen while still tracking objects that are moving around.

Working as a Research Assistant at the Developing Minds Lab has reminded me just how capable and intelligent children are as they are developing, in addition to providing me with a new take on research. While challenging at times, it has been an indescribably fun and knowledge-filled experience that has only confirmed my hope of working with children in the future.

Experiences like Eliza’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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