Research Overview

More than 95% of developmental science is based on research conducted with participants living in an urban and Western context (Nielsen et al., 2018; Henrich et al. ,2010). Our understanding of the range and variation of the human mind is limited to a context that is not representative of the world’s population. To deepen our understanding beyond an urban or western context, I examine development in a rural, small-scale society in the south pacific (Tanna, Vanuatu). My research investigates early social and cognitive development in a small-scale, non-Western context to understand the impact of variation in early social, ecological, and educational experience on human development. To summarize, we find that the basic foundations of development (social gaze, social smile) begin in similar ways despite marked variation in early experience, yet the social context impacts the developmental pathway in interesting ways as early as the first year of life.

Tanya Broesch
Associate Professor of Psychology
Simon Fraser University

Current Research

Fathers and child well-being

Understanding the variability in fathers' roles across the globe is essential to determining the impact of paternal involvement on infant and child development. We are currently involved in a number of collaborative projects examining fathers in small-scale societies, particularly Vanuatu, !Kung San of Botswana, Fiji and Bolivia. Data collection in Vanuatu and Bolivia is ongoing.

Social learning

The capacity for humans to transmit information from one generation to the next is unmatched in other species. Understanding precisely how infants and children learn their culture as well as how parents and other social agents 'teach' the next generation is essential to understanding how social learning mechanisms allow the transmission of information. We are currently running a series of studies examining cultural transmission via social learning (teaching, imitation, emulation and observation). Specifically, we have the unique opportunity to conduct a natural experiment in a region of the world where two neighboring societies differ primarily on one dimension - formal schooling. Such a comparison allows us to examine how formal education shapes various aspects of learning.

Non-verbal communication

 Infants are born pre-linguistic and reliant on others to provide care in a timely and appropriate manner. Thus, the communication problem. We are conducting a number of projects looking at how parents understand and respond to infant behavior as well as examining dyadic interactive patterns.

Cross-cultural development

There are variations in the developmental progression, timing of milestones, and social inputs required to achieve healthy infant and child outcomes, but little is known regarding this variability, how it occurs, and what the implications are. By examining the early social environment of infants and children in five rural, non?Western societies (the Aka of the Congo, Fijian villages, Tsimane of Bolivia, Vanuatuan islanders and Peruvian highland villagers), we aim to expand knowledge of child development and create a framework for understanding variability in child development worldwide.