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Dr. Tanya Broesch

Dr. Broesch is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, at Simon Fraser University (SFU). She completed her PhD in the Department of Psychology at Emory University (2012), in the Cognition and Development program, where she investigated socialization practices and non-verbal communicative behavior across cultures. Her research spans a variety of topics on early social cognition including parent-infant interactions, non-verbal communication, mirror self-recognition, and early theory of mind. She uses cross-cultural methods as a tool for understanding the developing mind.

View Dr. Broesch's CV

 

 

Research Statement

Our understanding of child development is limited in scope – with 95% of the empirical data based on only 5% of the world’s population (Nielsen, Haun, Kärtner & Legare, 2017; Henrich, Heine & Noranzayan, 2010). Is the existing body of knowledge generalizable to the rest of the world’s typically developing children, or, are we examining one particular developmental niche, among many? To date, our knowledge of early childhood experiences across the globe are limited. We rely on detailed ethnographies, but very few of these assess childhood in a manner that compares to Western scientific standards. These carefully detailed reports point to widespread variability in socialization goals, practices as well as developmental outcomes. This is problematic because evidence from ethnographies often challenges foundational theories in developmental psychology. Yet, the ethnographic descriptive methods and developmental psychology experimental methods are often incomparable, making the findings difficult to interpret. Not only is it important to examine data from the other 95% of the world’s population, but also question and, where necessary, redefine theories of human development to include cross-cultural findings.

Tanya Broesch

Research Statement

 

Overview. Our understanding of child development is limited in scope – with 95% of the empirical data based on only 5% of the world’s population (Nielsen, Haun, Kärtner & Legare, 2017; Henrich, Heine & Noranzayan, 2010). Is the existing body of knowledge generalizable to the rest of the world’s typically developing children, or, are we examining one particular developmental niche, among many? To date, our knowledge of early childhood experiences across the globe are limited. We rely on detailed ethnographies, but very few of these assess childhood in a manner that compares to Western scientific standards. These carefully detailed reports point to widespread variability in socialization goals, practices as well as developmental outcomes. This is problematic because evidence from ethnographies often challenges foundational theories in developmental psychology. Yet, the ethnographic descriptive methods and developmental psychology experimental methods are often incomparable, making the findings difficult to interpret. Not only is it important to examine data from the other 95% of the world’s population, but also question and, where necessary, redefine theories of human development to include cross-cultural findings.

My approach. I take a multi-method, collaborative, and interdisciplinary approach to document and systematically quantify variability in early social experiences around the globe. For my graduate training, I was trained in a developmental psychology lab by an expert in infant social cognition (Philippe Rochat), and in the field by a bio-cultural anthropologist (Joseph Henrich). As a result, I use methods from anthropology (detailed interviews, focal follows, natural observation) and developmental psychology (experiments, structured interactions, questionnaires) to investigate infant social cognition across cultures. My research program goals are two-fold. First, I test assumptions of generalizability by examining foundational aspects of developmental theories across diverse settings – specifically those with little exposure to Western parenting ideals, such as those typical of individuals living in small-scale, rural, non-Western societies. I measure variability in the social inputs that infants and young children receive from their environment, both in my newly established field site in Vanuatu, and across other diverse societies with anthropologist collaborators. Second, I examine the impact of variability on development in my discipline of social cognitive development, but also across other disciplines, collaborating with economists, social psychologists, and neuropsychologists. By examining the range of variability in early human experience as well as the impact of that variability has on development, I hope to develop a better understanding of child development beyond an urban, Western setting.

Field site. To investigate early cross-cultural variation in human development, I invest 1-3 months of travel each year, to build and maintain a field lab and research collaboration with five villages on an island in the South Pacific – Tanna Island, Vanuatu. I selected this location for two primary reasons – 1) the communities consist of rural, non-Western and remote villages, living a traditional and subsistence way of life with no electricity or access to Western values or parenting practices; 2) in this region, two distinct neighboring communities co-exist – one that embraces Westernization and another that rejects Westernization (and thus, rejecting all that comes with it – such as formal schooling, religion, currency). I consider this site to be a rare natural experiment as it consists of two neighboring societies contrasted in their exposure and commitment to formal education and institutionalization.

In 2012, I traveled to Vanuatu and started (from scratch) a new field site, building it from the ground up  - learning the local dialects and national language, building relationships with chiefs, local fieldworkers, creating scientific collaborations and local infrastructure to support my research and my students and collaborators. I have maintained this field site over the past 5 years, including applying and receiving 3 separate research permits as well as building a physical lab (from local natural materials and also solar panels for powering laptops and video cameras), outhouse and cookhouse. Unfortunately, in 2014, Tanna was hit by a category 5 cyclone, leaving much of the island flattened. I traveled there immediately afterward to begin the rebuilding process (and also organized aid to the villages). Over the past five years, I have visited this field site four times as well as trained, supervised, and hosted four doctoral students, one honors student, and one colleague. I am currently working with SFU international to develop a sustainable study abroad partnership program in the region.

Timeline. A typical research project in my lab using a cross-cultural, collaborative and multi-method approach has an average of 4-5 year timeline due to several factors. Cross-cultural collaborative projects typically require 1-3 or more meetings and workshops where field anthropologists and psychologists meet to discuss and craft comparable methods appropriate for each field site. Due to funding and scheduling of field seasons, data collection takes place over 2-3 years, on average. Additional collaborative meetings (1-3) occur after the data is collected to determine the appropriate methods for analysis – for example, non-verbal behavior coding schemes applicable to all societies. Implementing non-verbal behavioral coding of micro-behaviors from video recording takes an additional 1-2 years. Using these methods, projects in my field lab take 4-5 years. This method and timeline is central to all of my work, which I outline below.

Attachment Theory. One prominent theory in developmental psychology, Attachment Theory, indicates that infants must form an emotional bond with one, primary caregiver who responds in an appropriate, consistent and timely manner, in the first year of life. Recently, researchers have started to re-examine this theory in light of a body of evidence from cross-cultural ethnographic reports pointing to several major flaws within the theory (Keller, 2013). I examined various aspects of this theory, beginning with parental responsiveness. I modified existing empirical methods and examined maternal (Broesch et al., 2016) and paternal responsiveness in 3 cultures. Specifically, I report striking commonalities in levels of responsiveness, despite large differences in child rearing practices, across 3 distinct societies (Kenya, Fiji, US) (Broesch, Rochat, Olah, Broesch, Henrich, 2016, Child Development). However, I also report variability across societies in the ways parents socialize infant emotional expressions. In another collaborative project, I examined attachment quality with toddlers and their fathers. We conducted a modified version of the strange situation test with Tsimane toddlers (Bolivia) and Tannese toddlers (Vanuatu) to measure attachment quality between toddlers and their fathers (Broesch, von Rueden, Yurkowski & Bureau, in prep). To explore the complex web of factors that support the quality of the attachment relationship to the father, we also examined video recordings of natural and structured observations, as well as conducted interviews with parents and teachers. In other work examining the social experiences of infants, I examined a rare and unique dataset collected over 40 years ago with the !Kung hunter-gatherers. In this paper we examine and compare the behaviors produced by mothers and fathers with their infants (Broesch, Stepanova, Broesch & Konner, under review, Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology). The methods used to examine !Kung interactions are comparable to those used in developmental psychology today, making this a rare and unique dataset for exploring infant social experiences.

Ethnographic reports of multiple caregiving systems across cultures challenges a central feature of Attachment Theory – that an infant must bond to one nurturing caregiver in the first year of life. To carefully examine the evidence against Attachment Theory, I systematically examined, compared and evaluated the methods of the anthropological evidence that claims support multiple caregiving systems. This work bridges a gap by comparing not only the findings, but highlighting methodological differences between the disciplines of anthropology and psychology (Broesch & Arpit, in prep).

The Social Life of the Infant. Infant directed speech (IDS) is thought to be an essential feature of the caregiver-infant relationship – possibly facilitating language development or early social communication between the dyad (Broesch, 2016, Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science). However, anthropological reports suggest that, in some societies infant directed speech is absent. To address this discrepancy, I recruited methods from developmental psychology laboratories and implemented them across diverse societies (Broesch & Bryant, 2014, Journal of Cognition and Development). I measured the acoustic properties of speech to infants and compared it to adult directed speech and determined that, in fact, infant directed speech occurs and looks quite similar across cultures. In a separate project, I also examine and describe the acoustic variables of IDS produced by fathers across cultures (Broesch & Bryant, 2016, Child Development). Together, this work is the first to examine the properties of IDS spoken by mothers and fathers in small-scale and non-Western societies. Specifically, we report cross-cultural variability in the ways caregivers (specifically fathers) modify their speech to infants, contributing to our understanding of the form and function of infant directed speech.

In other work, with my Masters student, Hilary Aime, we were interested in determining whether infant temperament may vary - at the group level - as early as the first few months of life. We video recorded infants interacting in a free play face-to-face exchange with their caregivers and later coded the videos for infant gaze behavior and motor activity. We report striking differences across cultures in infant temperament (Aime & Broesch, under review, Developmental Psychology)

More recently, with collaborator Mikolaj Hernik, CEU, we examined infant receptivity to social cues using an eye-tracking experiment in an isolated village in Vanuatu (Hernik & Broesch, in prep). To my knowledge, this is the first time eye tracking technology has been used with infants in a non-Western, rural society. In this paper, we examine whether infants in this society which is deemed to have less direct face-to-face contact with infants, will follow the gaze behavior of an adult when the adult uses infant directed speech. Our findings point to commonalities in the early communicative system, compared to infants in urban societies. This suggests that some aspects of the early social environment and the communicative system of infants are similar across the globe.

Social Learning. There is a current theory in developmental psychology known as Natural Pedagogy. Under this theory, which is grounded in evolutionary (assumes universality), and with evidence from infant developmental research in urban and Western societies, infants and caregivers have a communicative system that allows complex, opaque forms of information (e.g. language, complex technology and skills) to be transmitted across generations. Oppositions to this theory are based on cross-cultural evidence suggesting the “model for social learning” is based on Western-centric model of direct, formal education system whereas other societies are based more on collective and observational models of social learning. To investigate this, I examined the propensity for individuals to produce non-verbal teaching behaviors across seven societies (3 of which I collected data in – Fiji, US and Kenya). I developed and implemented a detailed non-verbal coding scheme and report evidence in support of this theory, but with interesting variability across societies (Broesch, Gergely, Barrett, Henrich, et al., in prep). To further examine the complexity of factors underlying cultural variability, I examined skill transfer strategies between parents and their children in two communities in Vanuatu – one without formal education and another with formal education. I report differences in non-verbal behavioral cues between two societies suggesting that formal education systems may impact how we transmit culturally relevant skills to our children (Broesch & Cebioglu, in prep). Further, as part of a project examining the impact of formal institutions on “rule sensitivity”, we examined children’s ability to delay gratification in three cultures (Broesch, Aime & Kimbrough, in prep) and report significant differences that are linked to differences in societal experience and values regarding formal education. In a recently submitted study, we also examined the ways in which socialization practices may shape a child’s propensity to seek help in a learning situation (Broesch, Itakura & Rochat, under review, Child Development). Taken together, this body of work aims to determine the factors that drive cultural transmission and social learning.

Mirror self-recognition. The majority of developmental research documenting milestone achievement is conducted on urban, Western populations, therefore I sought to explore one significant developmental milestone, mirror self recognition (MSR), across diverse societies. I report significant variability in MSR performance in 7 cultures (4 of which I collected the data in – Kenya, Fiji, St. Lucia, and US) (Broesch, Callaghan, Henrich, Murphy & Rochat, 2011, Journal of Cross-Cultural Development). In combination with other work, these data suggest that there is cross-cultural variability in how children understand the social expectations and cultural norms surrounding of the test (Rochat, Broesch & Jayne, 2012, Consciousness and Cognition). More recently, with my doctoral student, Senay Gunar Cebioglu, we review and put forth alternative explanations for cross-cultural variability (Cebioglu & Broesch, under review, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology) as well as measured aspects of the social environment (e.g. maternal speech to toddlers, imitation, joint attention) thought to facilitate self-understanding (Cebioglu & Broesch, in prep).

Early theory of mind. There is a gap in the literature examining theory of mind across cultures. Specifically, our knowledge regarding how children develop the ability to construe the thoughts, beliefs, desires and perspectives of others is restricted primarily to Western and urban societies. There is reason to suspect that this ability unfolds differently across cultures. With my collaborators, we sought to examine early false-belief understanding in traditional, non-Western societies using developmental psychology looking time methods. We report striking similarities in children’s performance on the task at this early age. This is the first study to examined theory of mind understanding in young children, as well as use a non-verbal measure of looking time with infants across diverse settings (Barrett, Broesch, Scott, He, Baillargeon, Wu, Bolz, Henrich, Setoh, Wang, & Laurence, 2013, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences)

Prosocial development. Other collaborative work has examined generalizability of existing reports of social development, such as a project developed by my former honors student, Hilary Aime (Aime, Broesch, Aknin & Warneken, submitted, PlosOne). We examined the propensity for children to help, in a society where socialization practices surrounding helping others varies from Western norms. In this study, children in Vanuatu perform similarly to children in US, suggesting that, despite differences in early social experiences, prosocial development may have a similar trajectory across cultures. And, in a similar, but separate study, with my colleague Lara Aknin (Aknin, Broesch, Hamlin & Van de Vondervoort, 2015, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General), we examined whether the emotional benefits of giving are generalizable to children in a non-Western and rural setting. Again, we report similarity, which we argue to be a strong test for universality. In other work, I examined the developmental trajectory of children’s sharing behavior across cultures – documenting a similar trajectory across cultures (a shift between 3 and 5 years of age) that corresponds to a leap in theory of mind understanding (Rochat, Dias, Liping, Broesch, Passos-Ferrera, Winning, & Berg, 2009, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology).

Family sleep. Most recently, as part of a collaborative project with colleague Ralph Mistleberger and doctoral student, Andrea Smit, we challenge and examine existing assumptions regarding 1) adult sleep and the relationship to light exposure and 2) mother-father-infant co-sleeping patterns. Data collection is complete and we look forward to sharing our results with the scientific community this fall.

Future research. There is a current gap in the developmental science literature regarding the necessary features of the early caregiving environment and determining how they impact child development. Developmental science is at odds with anthropological reports of child rearing across cultures. Since 95% of our evidence in developmental science comes from Western and urban societies, we need to bridge the gap between these two fields. I recently received a SSHRC grant which brings together bio-cultural anthropologists and developmental psychologists to examine our collective natural observation video dataset from across the globe to determine systematic consistencies as well as identify differences in the early social environment of infants and young children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Peruvian highlands, Bolivia, Fiji and Vanuatu. The dataset (collected over 4 years) is compiled and located on our server at SFU. We have already trained undergraduate (5) and graduate researchers (3) and are currently examining (coding) multiple aspects of child development, including – who infants spend their time with and what social supports exist in the environment. We are also examining motor and physical development, social milestones (e.g. joint attention, language development) and parenting practices. This is an early and exciting stage of this project – one that I hope will determine the precise points of convergence and divergence between the two disciplines to identify the necessary features of the early child rearing environment. 

The social sciences have an ethical obligation to expand beyond a narrow slice of the world’s population. By developing a deep knowledge of - and strong connections with - a field site in another region of the world, I hope to provide an opportunity for students and faculty to examine scientific theories and findings beyond the West. There is a recent push for social scientists to examine findings outside of a Western sample population, making this work timely and current.

 

 

 

 

Publications

Broesch, T. & Bryant, G. (2017). Fathers’ infant directed speech in a small-scalesociety. Child Development. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12768. PDF

Broesch, T., Rochat, P., Broesch, J., O'lah, K., & Henrich, J. (accepted, July 2015). Similarities and differences in maternal responsiveness in three societies: Evidence from Fiji, Kenya and US. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12501. PDF

Broesch, T., (2016). Motherese. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science, Springer, pp.1-2.

Aknin, L. B., Broesch, T., Hamlin, J. K., & Van de Vondervoort, J. W. (2015). Prosocial Behavior Leads to Happiness in a Small-Scale Rural Society. ournal of Experimental Psychology-General. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000082. PDF

Broesch, T. & Bryant, G. (2015). Prosody in infant directed speech is similar across western and traditional cultures. Journal of Cognition and Development, 16, 31-43. doi: 10.1080/15248372.2013.833923 PDF.

Barrett, H.C., Broesch, T., Scott, R., He, Z., Baillargeon, R., Wu, D., Bolz, M., Henrich, J., Setoh, P., Want, J., & Laurence, S. (2013). Early false-belief understanding in traditional non-Western societies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280, 1-6. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2654 PDF.

Rochat, P., Broesch, T. & Jayne, K. (2012). Social awareness and early self recognition. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 1491-1497. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2012.04.007. PDF.

Suanda, U., Meyer, K., Broesch, T., Kulkin, L., & Namy, L. (2012). Why two-year-olds’ fail to learn gestures as object labels: Evidence from a dual-task paradigm. Language, Learning and Development, 9, 50-65, doi:10.1080/15475441.2012.723189. PDF.

Broesch, T., Callaghan, T., Henrich, J., Murphy, C., & Rochat, P. (2011). Cultural variations in children’s mirror self-recognition. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40(6), 1019-1031. doi: 10.1177/0022022110381114. PDF.

Rochat, P., Dias, M., Liping, G., Broesch, T., Passos-Ferrera, C., Winning, A. & Berg, B. (2009). Fairness in distributive justice by 3- and 5-year-olds across seven cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40, 416-442. doi: 10.1177/0022022109332844 PDF.

Callaghan, T. C., Rochat, P., MacGillivray, T. & MacLellan, C. (2004). Modeling referential actions in 6- to 18-month-old infants: A precursor to symbolic understanding. Child Development, 75, 1733-1744. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00813.x. PDF.

Teaching

PSYC 352 - Culture and Cognition

  • Covers topics such as perception, attachment and social relationships, prosocial development, motor development, theory of mind, teaching and learning, language and communication, and play.
  • Invites well-respected scientists in the field of cross-cultural developmental psychology to Skype with the class and answer questions about their research.

Course Outline


PSYC 250 - Introduction to Developmental Psychology

  • Provides a general introduction to major theories, perspectives, research developments and methods in developmental psychology.
  • Topics covered in this course include theory and research related to prenatal, cognitive, emotional, social, language and moral development, as well as the influence of culture on development. 

Course Outline


PSYC 450/950 - Selected Topics in Developmental Psychology 

  • Provides a general introduction to major theories, perspectives, research developments and methods in the relatively young sub-field of cross-cultural developmental psychology.
  • The overall goal is to examine early child social and cognitive development from an interdisciplinary perspective.
  • Focuses on early development (0-5yrs) and examinining influences of socialization practices and experience on social and cognitive development.
  • Comparing evidence from Western, urban societies to non-Western, small-scale societies to determine whether early developmental theories and empirical findings are generalizable to children across the globe.

Course Outline


Directed Studies

Directed Studies courses make it possible to work with a Psychology department faculty member on a reading or a research project of mutual interest.

Eligibility requirements and Application