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Faculty & Research

Paul L. Harris

Victor S. Thomas Professor of Education

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Degree:  D.Phil., Oxford University, (1971)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.496.1511
Fax:  617.496.3963
Personal Site:   Link to Site
Vitae/CV:   Paul L. Harris.pdf
Office:  Larsen 503A
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Member
Faculty Assistant:  Joelle Mottola


Paul Harris is interested in the early development of cognition, emotion, and imagination. His most recent book, Trusting What You're Told: How Children Learn from Others, was published by Harvard University Press in May 2012. This book discusses how far children rely on their own firsthand observation or alternatively trust what other people tell them — especially when they confront a domain of knowledge in which firsthand observation is difficult. For example, many aspects of history, science, and religion concern events that children cannot easily observe for themselves. How far do children believe what they are told about these domains? When and how do they become aware of the conflicting claims made by science as compared with religion?

Click here to see a full list of Paul Harris' courses.

Areas of Expertise
American Psychological Association: Mentor Award in Developmental Psychology,(2015)

President-Elect of the Cognitive Development Society (CDS),(2015)

American Psychological Association: Eleanor Maccoby Book Award.,(2014)

Cognitive Development Society Book award,(2013)

Morningstar Teaching Award, Harvard Graduate School of Education,(2010)

William Thierry Preyer Award: European Society for Developmental Psychology,(2009)

Guggenheim Fellowship, John Simon Gugenheim Memorial Foundation,(2005)

Emeritus Fellow, St John's College (Oxford),(2001)

Research Readership, British Academy,(2000)

Elected Fellow, British Academy,(1998)

Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences,(1992)

Sponsored Projects

Children's conceptualization of the invisible and the impossible (2016-2019)
John Templeton Foundation

One of the most critical developmental achievements is the acquisition of ethics, generosity, and prosocial behavior. To this end, an extensive body of work has now revealed the early emergence of these behaviors in young children. Little is known, however, about exactly how such generous behavior is learned, and -- more crucially – what benefits generosity may offer to other aspects of young children’s development. We propose a series of five experimental studies aimed at answering these questions, addressing two issues: (1) the cognitive prerequisites for generous behavior, and (2) the cognitive and educational benefits of behaving generously. Because we hope to study both the learning and early emergence of generosity, we target the preschool age as our population of interest. Five experimental studies are proposed: The first set of studies (1-3) in this proposal test the impact of two types of cognition on children’s generosity: numerical cognition and counterfactual reasoning. The second set of studies (4-5) look at how, in turn, generosity affects learning outcomes in the domain of mathematical cognition. Concrete outputs will include at least 7-8 empirical journal publications disseminating the results of this research to scientific audiences in the fields of cognitive and developmental psychology, and 1-2 theoretical review articles communicating the findings to a broader audience within psychology and philosophy. Moreover, we will disseminate findings on generosity through creating a bi-annual newsletter summarizing our main findings to participating preschool practitioners, parents, and educators. Outcomes include bridging the fields of social and cognitive development, training a new community of scholars in conducting empirical research on early-developing generosity, and connecting scientific audiences with parents, educators, and practitioners. This research aims to uncover how to best foster generosity in early childhood.

Collaborative Research: Social Robots as Mechanisms for Language Instruction, Interaction, and Evaluation in Pre-School Children (2011-2016)
National Science Foundation

This is a collaborative proposal involving three PIs: Paul Harris (Professor of Education, HGSE), Cythia Breazal (Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences MIT) and David DeSteno (Associate Professor of Psychology, Northeastern University). Recent developments in robotics at MIT (and elsewhere) make it possible to present young children with robots that respond in a quasi-human, contingent fashion to them. To the extent that young children willingly engage with such robots, treating them as responsive interlocutors and informants, it is feasible to ask whether children will be willing to learn from them. The current proposal is deigned to answer this basic question. The work will involve three Phases. In Phase 1, iterative changes to the robot's non-verbal repertoire will be made so as to identify those characteristics that make the robot attractive and worthy of sustained interaction by young children. In Phase 2, we will ask how well the ¿winning¿ robot in Phase 1 compares with a human speaker as a source for the rapid learning of new vocabulary. In Phase 3, we will extend this comparison by asking whether the ¿winning robot¿ is as effective as a human speaker in signaling the meaning of new vocabulary items via (i) non-verbal indices of attention to a given object and (ii) non-verbal indices of goal satisfaction. In Phase 4, we will ask whether the results obtained in Phase 3 can be replicated when the robot operator uses web-based connections, to communicate through a robot that interacts with the child when they both are in an environment (e.g. the child¿s home or another preschool) that is remote from the operator. Finally, in Phase 5, we will examine the impact of variations in the robot’s verbal repertoire that are likely to make it more or less trusted as an informant by children from particular language backgrounds. The role of Paul Harris will be to help to design, analyze and write-up the experiments connected with each phase of the project. Children aged 3-4 years will be included in each phase.

Creating Communities of Learners for Informal Cognitive Science Education (2011-2016)
National Science Foundation

The principal investigator, Paul Harris, supervises the participation of an HGSE doctoral student in the project Creating Communities of Learners for Informal Cognitive Science Education. Hitherto, several doctoral students have been given permission to recruit and test children at the Museum of Science. Funding has been obtained from NSF to support a stable cohort of such students whose duties involve the training of a new generation of graduate researchers to work in the museum; the presentation of information on ongoing research to museum educators and interested parents; the tracking of participation by children and families in such research initiatives.

Ritual, Community and Conflict (2011-2016)
Economic and Social Research Council

Paul Harris will collaborate with two other co-investigators, Professor Harvey Whitehouse, an anthropologist at Oxford University and Professor Cristine Legare a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin to investigate children's understanding of, and participation in, ritualistic behavior. Following up recent findings on the development of imitation in early childhood, we will examine the cues that children use to selectively imitate (i.e. copy or mimic the entire act) versus emulate (i.e. reproduce the effect or perceived intention) ritualized action sequences. We will also examine the underlying cognitive prerequisites and learning processes that can lead children to regard a ritual as mandatory and unchangeable. Paul Harris will contribute in three ways to the project. First, as a developmental psychologist with a long experience of experimental work, he will collaborate in the design of experiments with young children that aim to analyze how they interpret and reproduce ritualized behaviors both those that they are already familiar with as well as novel rituals. Second, he will collaborate in the analysis and publication of those experiments in scholarly journals. Third, in the final period of the project, he will serve as a co-author (with Professors Whitehouse and Legare) of a book that reviews the key empirical findings from the project and assesses their implications. The book will be aimed at an interdisciplinary audience of anthropologists, psychologists and political scientists.

Chen, E.E., Corriveau, K.H. & Harris, P.L. (in press) Person perception in young children across two cultures. Journal of Cognition and Development,(2015)

Lane, J.D. & Harris, P.L. (2015) The role of intuition and informants' expertise in children's epistemic trust. Child Development, 86, 919-926.,(2015)

Harris, P.L. (in press) Missing persons. In J. Dodd (Ed.) Art, Mind and Narrative: Themes from the Work of Peter Goldie. Oxford: Oxford University Press,(2015)

Sprung, M., Munch, H.M., Harris, P.L., Ebesutani, C., & Hoffman, S. (2015) Children's emotion understanding: A meta-analysis of training studies. Developmental Review,(2015)

Corriveau, K.H., Kipling, R., Ronfard, S., Biarnes, M.C., Jeye, B.M., & Harris, P.L. (2015) Living Laboratory - A mutual professional development model for museum-based research partnerships. In D. Sobel & J. Jipson (Eds.) Cognitive Development in Museum Settings: Relating Research and Practice. New York: Psychology Press,(2015)

Harris, P.L., de Rosnay, M., & Pons, F. (in press) Understanding emotion. In M. Lewis, J. Haviland-Jones, & L. Feldman Barrett (Eds.) Handbook of Emotions (4th Edition) Guilford Press,(2015)

Harris, P.L. (2015) Les enfants, croient-ils tout ce qu'on leur dit? LEssentiel: Cerveau & Psycho, 20, 8-13.,(2015)

Morgan, T.J.H., Lanand, K.N. & Harris, P.L. (2015) The development of adaptive conformity in young children: Effects of Uncertainty and consensus. Developmental Science. 18, 511-212.,(2015)

Bernard, S., Harris, P.L., Terrier, N., & Clement, F. (in press) Children weigh number of informants and perceptual uncertainty when identifying objects. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.,(2015)

Breazeal, C., Harris, P.L., DeSteno, D., Kory, J., Dickens, D., & Jeong, S. (in press) Young children treat robots as informant. Topics in Cognitive Science.,(2015)

Ronfard, S. & Harris, P.L. (2015) The active role played by human learners is key to understanding the efficacy of teaching in humans. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38.,(2015)

Rakoczy, H., Ehrling, C., Harris, P.L., & Schultze, T. (2015) Young children heed advice selectively. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,138, 71-87.,(2015)

Harris, P.L. (2015) Children make good anthropologists. Social Anthropology, 23, 211-212.,(2015)

Morgan, T.J.H. & Harris, P.L. (in press) James Mark Baldwin and contemporary theories of culture and evolution. European Journal of Developmental Psychology.,(2015)

Corriveau, K.H., Chen, E.E. & Harris, P.L. (2015) Judgments about fact and fiction by children from religious and non-religious backgrounds. Cognitive Science.,(2015)

Corriveau, K.H. & Harris, P.L. (2015) Children's developing realization that some stories are true: Links to the understanding of beliefs and signs. Cognitive Development.,(2015)

Harris, P.L. (in press) What children learn from questions. Educational Leadership,(2015)

Gaither, S.E., Chen, E.E., Corriveau, K.H., Harris, P.L., Ambady, N., & Sommers, S.R. (2014) Monoracial and biracial children: Effects of racial identity saliency on social learning and social preferences. Child Development .,(2014)

Ronfard, S. & Harris, P.L. (2014) When will Little Red Riding Hood become scared? Children's attribution of mental states to a story character. Developmental Psychology, 50, 283-292.,(2014)

Bascandziev, I. & Harris, P.L. (2014) In beauty we trust: Children prefer information from more attractive informants. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 32, 94-99.,(2014)

Lane, J., Harris, P.L., Gelman, S.A. & Wellman, H.M. (2014) More than meets the eye: Young children's trust in claims that defy their perception. Developmental Psychology, 37, 865-871.,(2014)

Fusaro, M., Vallotton, C.D., & Harris, P.L. (2014) Beside the point: Mothers' head nodding and shaking gestures during parent-child play. Infant Behavior and Development, 37, 235-247.,(2014)

Harris, P.L., deRosnay, M. & Ronfard, S. (2014) The mysterious emotional life of Little Red Riding Hood. In K.H. Laguttata (Ed.) New insights into developmental affective science. Basel, Switzerland: Karger.,(2014)

Lane, J. & Harris, P.L. (2014) Confronting, representing, and believing counterintuitive concepts: Navigating the natural and the supernatural. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9, 144-160.,(2014)

Kim., S. & Harris, P.L. (2014) Belief in magic predicts children's selective trust in informants. Journal of Cognition and Development, 15(2), 181-196.,(2014)

Corriveau, K.H., Einav, S., Robinson, E.J., & Harris, P.L. (2014) To the letter: Early readers trust print-based over oral instructions to guide their actions. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 32(3), 345-358.,(2014)

Kim, S. & Harris, P.L. (in press) Children prefer to learn from mind-readers. British Journal of Developmental Psychology.,(2014)

Clement, F., Harris, P.L., Bernard, S., Antonietti, J.P. & Kaufmann, L. (2014) Rousseau's child: Preschoolers expect strangers to favor prosocial actions. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 73(2), 105-110.,(2014)

Pons, F., de Rosnay, M., Bender, P., Doudlin, P.A., Harris, P.L., & Gimenez-Dasi, M. (2014) The impact of abuse and learning difficulties on emotion understanding in late childhood and early adolescence. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 175(4), 301-317.,(2014)

Kim, S., Harris, P.L. & Warneken, F. (2014) Is it okay to tell? Children's judgments about information disclosure. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 32, 291-304.,(2014)

Harris, P.L. & Corriveau, K.H. (2014) Learning from testimony about religion and science. In E. Robinson & S. Einav (EDs.) Trust and skepticism: Children's selective learning from testimony. Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.,(2014)

Ganea, P. A. & Harris, P.L. (2013). Early limits on the verbal updating of an object's location. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 114, 89-101.,(2013)

Hoicka, E., Butcher, J., Malla, F., & Harris, P.L. (2013) Preschoolers' trust is sensitive to variable intentions. Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.,(2013)

Smith, C. E., Blake, P. R., & Harris, P.L. (2013). I should but I won't: Why young children endorse norms of fair sharing but do not follow them. PLoS One, 8, (3): e5910. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059510,(2013)

Harris, P.L. & Corriveau, K.H. (2013). Respectful deference: Conformity revisited. In M.R. Banaji & S.A. Gelman (Eds.), Navigating the social world: What infants, children, and other species can teach us. New York: Oxford University Press.,(2013)

Fusaro, M. & Harris, P.L. (2013). Dax gets the nod: Toddlers detect and use social cues to evaluate testimony. Developmental Psychology, 49, 514-522.,(2013)

Corriveau, K.H., Kinzler, K. & Harris, P.L. (2013). Accuracy trumps accent in children's endorsement of object labels. Developmental Psychology, 49, 470-479.,(2013)

Luu, B., de Rosnay, M. & Harris, P.L. (2013). Five-year-olds are willing but four-year-olds refuse to trust informants who offer new and unfamiliar labels for parts of the body. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 116, 234-246.,(2013)

Corriveau, K.H., Kim, E., Song, G. & Harris, P.L. (2013). Young children’s deference to a consensus varies by culture and judgment setting. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 13, 367-381.,(2013)

Harris, P.L. (2013). Fairy tales, history, and religion. In. M. Taylor (Ed.). The Oxford handbook of the development of imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.,(2013)

Jukes, M. C.H., Zuilkowski, S.S., Okello, G. & Harris, P.L. (2013). Healthy skepticism: Do adults trust health information from children in rural Kenya? International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 2, 164-180.,(2013)

Heiphetz, L., Spelke, E.S., Harris, P.L., & Banaji, M.R. (2013). The development of reasoning about beliefs: Fact, preference, and ideology. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 559-565.,(2013)

Herrmann, P.A., Legare, C. H., Harris, P. L. & Whitehouse, H. (2013). Stick to the script: The effect of witnessing multiple actors on children’s imitation. Cognition, 129, 536-543.,(2013)

Harris, P.L. & Jalloul, M. (2013). Running on empty: Observing causal relationships of play and development. American Journal of Play, 6, 29-38.,(2013)

Harris, P.L. & Lane, J. (2013) Infants understand how testimony works. Topoi: An International Review of Philosophy. DOI: 10.1007/s11245-013-9180-0.,(2013)

Chen, E. E., Corriveau, K.H. & Harris, P.L. (2013). Children trust a consensus composed of outgroup members – but do not retain that trust. Child Development, 84, 269-282.,(2013)

Harris, P.L. (2012) Trusting what you're told: How children learn from others. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.,(2012)

British Academy,(1998-present)

Elected as foreign member of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters,(2006-present)

Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Max-Planck-Institut fur evolutionare Anthropologie (Leipzig),(2001-2006)

Editorial Board, Child Development,(2000-2001)

Editorial Board, Human Development,(1995-2001)

Editor, British Journal of Developmental Psychology,(1994-1997)

American Academy of Arts and Sciences,(2015-)

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