Research Overview

Who we are: The culture and development lab is comprised of several members – the director Dr. Tanya Broesch, our undergraduate team of research assistants at Simon Fraser University, graduate students at SFU, post-doctoral fellow, collaborators, visiting scholars and our team of research staff and hosts on Tanna, Vanuatu, including Johnny Tari and Rachel Naliau. We are also supported by our staff in the Psychology Department (daily!) and FASS, as well as the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta in Port Vila and the Tafea Kaljoral Senta on Tanna.

What we do
: Our primary objective is to better understand the range of human diversity and, specifically, how variation in early experience shapes the developing human mind. This objective is met by examining both basic developmental processes in children as well as examining how the kinds and amounts of early social experiences influence development. Another objective is to move psychology toward a less biased and ethnocentric science by expanding our knowledge of child development beyond the urban white middle class participant pool which represents the majority of psychological science, yet the minority of the world’s population.

Culture and Development Lab:
Since 2012, the Culture and Development lab has had two research laboratories – one on the SFU Burnaby Campus, and another on Tanna Island, in the generous host village of Lounikawek. Our team at the SFU lab works with partner organizations such as community recreation centres in the greater Vancouver area to engage parents and children in our research. Our team at Lounikawek assists us with all aspects of our research – from inception to write up – to communicating our results back to participants. We have not perfected this process, but we are improving little by little.

Recently, we have started the process of adding a third research site in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, where Dr. Broesch spent her formative years and currently resides with her family for part of the year. This field site to aimed to expand our knowledge beyond children living in urban settings.

Research Questions:
The bulk of our research is aimed loosely at understanding what are the healthy social, ecological, and physical inputs for young developing minds. How do they learn? Who do they learn from? What supports do parents or other caregivers need? How can we level the playing field for all children – providing parents and children with the supports they need to thrive?

Methods: To achieve these broad goals, we combine methods from developmental psychology with bio-cultural anthropology to examine children in their daily environments. Recently, we have incorporated methods borrowed from international development to assist in developing research goals that are participant driven and community-led.

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.