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Jacqueline D Woolley


Associate FacultyPh.D., University of Michigan

Professor in the Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts
Jacqueline D Woolley

Contact

Biography


My research addresses children's understanding of reality, a topic with a long history that continues to intrigue and perplex developmental psychologists. Knowledge about how children evaluate new information and make proper assignment of entities to real and not-real categories is especially critical in the media rich age in which we live. Young children are bombarded with information and images offering a mix of the real and the fantastical: Elmo, a monster, teaches children about science, and Harry Potter, a human child, performs magic spells. Amidst this, children continuously encounter novel entities and events, and must assign these entities and events to their proper (real or not real) categories.

The goal of my research is to investigate how children make reality status judgments when they encounter novel information. I am assessing the effects of three broad classes of factors: (1) characteristics of the individual child (e.g., age), (2) characteristics of the stimulus (e.g., internal consistency of the attributes of a novel entity), and (3) effects of the environment (e.g., the context in which children encounter a novel entity). All of these are proposed to affect how children evaluate the reality status of novel entities and events.

It is imperative that children be taught to think critically about new information. To do this, researchers and educators must first understand how children identify and separate real from unreal. The findings of the studies in my lab have important implications for preschool and elementary education, parenting, and clinical practice with young children.


Dr. Woolley's research is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant Number R01 HD030300).


Recent Publications

(Click on a link to download a PDF file. You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to open PDFs.)

Lopez-Mobilia, G. & Woolley, J. D. (in press). The roles of knowledge and expert testimony in children’s reality status judgments. Journal of Cognition and Development.

 Woolley, J. D. & McInnis, M. (2105). Young children’s understanding of invisibility and its relation to the appearance-reality distinction. Cognitive Development, 34, 63-75.

Woolley, J. D. & Cornelius, C. (2013). Beliefs in magical beings and cultural myths. In M. Taylor (Ed.), Oxford Handbook on The Development of Imagination. Oxford University Press.

Woolley, J. D. & Ghossainy, M. (2013). Revisiting the fantasy-reality distinction: Children as naïve skeptics. Child Development, 84, 1491-1495.

Ma, L. & Woolley, J. D. (2013). Children’s sensitivity to speaker gender when learning from others. Journal of Cognition and Development, 14, 100-119.

Woolley, J.D., Ma. L. & Lopez-Mobilia, G. (2011). Development of the use of conversational cues to assess reality status. Journal of Cognition and Development, 12, 537-555.

Vaden, V. C. & Woolley, J. D. (2011). Does God make it real? Children’s belief in religious stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Child Development, 82, 1120-1135.

Woolley, J. D., Cornelius, C., & Lacy, W. (2011). Developmental changes in the use of supernatural explanations for unusual events. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 11, 311-337.

Boerger, E. A., Tullos, S. A. & Woolley, J. D. (2009). Return of the Candy Witch: Individual differences in acceptance and stability of beliefs in a novel fantastical being. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27 (4), 953-970. 

Woolley, J. D. and Cox, V. (2007). Development of beliefs about storybook reality. Developmental Science, 10, 681-693.

 

Courses


PSY 333F • Fantasy And Reality

43685 • Fall 2014
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM SEA 3.250

Course description. From the sea of information in which we swim, we each form our own set of beliefs and convictions. To believe in something means that we somehow have concluded that this something is real, that it exists in (what we consider) the real world. How do we arrive at such a conviction? How do we sort out what is real from what is not? And how does this ability develop? Much work in cognitive development has focused on how children, as little scientists, learn about everyday objects and entities in their world. A large proportion of the knowledge children gain through such exploration concerns real, tangible objects and entities, such as balls, bottles, and bicycles. First-hand experience serves them well here, and leaves very little question about the reality status of the entities at hand. Yet a significant amount of knowledge and belief concerns objects and entities for which both adults and children lack first-hand experience. When first-hand experience is lacking, both adults and children arguably should have some concerns regarding the reality status of the information encountered. Thus it is proposed that real vs. not-real is a critical ontological distinction of paramount interest to developmental psychology. The development of the ability to make this distinction is the focus of this course.

PSY 394S • Fantasy And Reality

43965 • Fall 2013
Meets W 1:00PM-4:00PM SEA 1.332

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

43975 • Fall 2013
Meets M 12:00PM-3:00PM SEA 1.332

One of the most basic ontological distinctions that children must learn to make is that between fantasy and reality. Much recent research shows that this ability develops significantly between the ages of 3 and 6. An important question within this domain is whether children learn differently when information is presented in a fantastical context vs. a realistic context. In both television and books, fantasy and reality are often intermingled — Elmo teaches children about what it means to be alive, and Dora the Explorer teaches children about animals while playing with a magic stick. The Lorax even teaches children about the effects of industry on the environment. Some research has shown that presenting cognitive tasks within a fantastical context facilitates reasoning. For example, Dias and Harris (1990) showed that children exhibit better logical reasoning if the task is described as taking place on another planet versus on Earth. Other studies (e.g., Richert, et al., 2009) do not show facilitative effects of fantastical contexts on children’s analogical reasoning. One argument for presenting scientific concepts in a fantasy context is that the fantasy context maintains children’s interest better than would a realistic context, thus facilitating learning. But it is also conceivable that this mode of presentation is confusing for children, and that children who can distinguish fantasy from reality might disregard or set aside information couched in fantasy. The purpose of this seminar is to explore these questions. We will begin with some basic reading on the fantasy-reality distinction. We will then move to address children’s learning from fantastical versus realistic contexts, addressing pretense, storybooks, television, and other forms of media. We will also consider related topics such as anthropomorphism concepts and the role of testimony in children’s learning.

PSY 394S • Fundmntls Of Devel Psychology

43505 • Fall 2012
Meets W 1:00PM-4:00PM SEA 1.332

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

43515 • Fall 2012
Meets M 12:00PM-3:00PM SEA 1.332

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY F333F • Fantasy And Reality

87571 • Summer 2012
Meets MTWTHF 1:00PM-2:30PM NOA 1.102

From the sea of information in which we swim, we each form our own set of beliefs and convictions. To believe in something means that we somehow have concluded that this something is real, that it exists in (what we consider) the real world. How do we arrive at such a conviction? How do we sort out what is real from what is not? And how does this ability develop?

Much work in cognitive development has focused on how children, as little scientists, learn about everyday objects and entities in their world. A large proportion of the knowledge children gain through such exploration concerns real, tangible objects and entities, such as balls, bottles, and bicycles. First-hand experience serves them well here, and leaves very little question about the reality status of the entities at hand. Yet a significant amount of knowledge and belief concerns objects and entities for which both adults and children lack first-hand experience. When first-hand experience is lacking, both adults and children arguably should have some concerns regarding the reality status of the information encountered. Thus it is proposed that real vs. not-real is a critical ontological distinction of paramount interest to developmental psychology. The development of the ability to make this distinction is the focus of this course.

The first task is to identify those situations in which children might need to make this distinction. As stated above, when first-hand experience (e.g., the entity is visible and/or tangible) is available, there is usually no need for much consideration of the issue. However when first-hand experience is either lacking or contradicts one’s knowledge and expectations, the issue does arise. Most of the course will focus on instances in which first-hand experience is not available. There is a wide-range of entities and processes that are accepted to varying degrees by others despite their invisibility and/or intangibility. One classic case concerns mental states or mental entities. Thus we will address how

1children come to make a distinction between mental entities, particularly imagined ones, and reality. Adults in many cultures believe in and encourage children to believe in various supernatural entities. Thus we will address children’s beliefs in both fantastical beings and religious figures. Of course, if children are not learning about all these things through first-hand experience they must be learning about them through other sources. What are these sources, and how do their characteristics affect children’s ability to make accurate reality status judgments? To address this question we will examine children’s understanding of and beliefs about storybooks, television, and, of course, other people, as providers of information. Throughout the semester we will reflect on what all this can tell us about the nature of belief.

PSY 394S • Fundmntls Of Devel Psychology

43390 • Fall 2011
Meets W 1:00PM-4:00PM SEA 5.106

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

43392 • Fall 2011
Meets M 12:00PM-3:00PM SEA 1.332

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 333F • Fantasy And Reality

43720 • Spring 2011
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM SEA 3.250

Course Description:

From the sea of information in which we swim, we each form our own set of

beliefs and convictions. To believe in something means that we somehow have concluded

that this something is real, that it exists in (what we consider) the real world. How do we

arrive at such a conviction? How do we sort out what is real from what is not? And how

does this ability develop?

Much work in cognitive development has focused on how children, as little

scientists, learn about everyday objects and entities in their world. A large proportion of

the knowledge children gain through such exploration concerns real, tangible objects and

entities, such as balls, bottles, and bicycles. First-hand experience serves them well here,

and leaves very little question about the reality status of the entities at hand. Yet a

significant amount of knowledge and belief concerns objects and entities for which both

adults and children lack first-hand experience. When first-hand experience is lacking,

both adults and children arguably should have some concerns regarding the reality status

of the information encountered. Thus it is proposed that real vs. not-real is a critical

ontological distinction of paramount interest to developmental psychology. The

development of the ability to make this distinction is the focus of this course.

The first task is to identify those situations in which children might need to make

this distinction. As stated above, when first-hand experience (e.g., the entity is visible

and/or tangible) is available, there is usually no need for much consideration of the issue.

However when first-hand experience is either lacking or contradicts one’s knowledge and

expectations, the issue does arise. Most of the course will focus on instances in which

first-hand experience is not available. There is a wide-range of entities and processes that

are accepted to varying degrees by others despite their invisibility and/or intangibility.

One classic case concerns mental states or mental entities. Thus we will address how

2

children come to make a distinction between mental entities, particularly imagined ones,

and reality. Adults in many cultures believe in and encourage children to believe in

various supernatural entities. Thus we will address children’s beliefs in both fantastical

beings and religious figures. Of course, if children are not learning about all these things

through first-hand experience they must be learning about them through other sources.

What are these sources, and how do their characteristics affect children’s ability to make

accurate reality status judgments? To address this question we will examine children’s

understanding of and beliefs about storybooks, television, and, of course, other people, as

providers of information. Throughout the semester we will reflect on what all this can tell

us about the nature of belief.

Course Prerequisites

The Psychology Department will drop all students who do not meet the following

prerequisites:

(a) PSY 301 with a C or better

(b) Upper-division standing (60 hours completed)

(c) PSY 418 (or an equivalent listed in the course schedule) with a C or better

PSY 333F • Fantasy And Reality

43112 • Fall 2010
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM SEA 1.332

Prerequisites

(A) PSY 301 with a C or better (B) Upper-division standing (60 hours completed) (C) PSY 418 (or an equivalent listed in the course schedule) with a C or better

Course Description

Children are often viewed as living in a world of fiction and fantasy. Traditional views of child development hold that young children are confused about the nature of reality, often confusing it with appearances, fantasy, and mentality. In this class we will address the development of children's (and sometimes adults') ability to differentiate reality from fantasy, as well as the nature of children's knowledge and beliefs about a variety of related domains, including mental and pictorial representations, magic, and religion.

Grading Policy

1. Four 5-page reaction papers (each one worth 15%; 60% total)

2. Two exams (midterm and final, 15% each; 30% total)

3. Attendance and class participation (10%)

Texts

Gussen Paley, V. (1981). Wally's Stories: Conversations in the Kindergarten. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

 

PSY 394S • Reality-Fantasy Distinction

44155 • Spring 2010
Meets T 9:00AM-12:00PM SEA 1.332

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

PSY 341K • Fantasy And Reality-W

41500 • Spring 2005
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM RLM 7.114

Topics of contemporary interest that may vary from semester to semester. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: For psychology majors, upper-division standing and Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each; for nonmajors, upper-division standing, Psychology 301 with a grade of at least C, and one of the following with a grade of at least C: Biology 318M, Civil Engineering 311S, Economics 329, Educational Psychology 371, Electrical Engineering 351K, Government 350K, Mathematics 316, 362K, Mechanical Engineering 335, Psychology 317, Sociology 317L, Social Work 318, Statistics 309, Statistics and Scientific Computation 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 318.

PSY 394S • Child's Understnd Of Mind/Fant

41755 • Spring 2005
Meets W 1:00PM-4:00PM SEA 2.224

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 333D • Intro To Developmental Psych

39975 • Spring 2004
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM NOA 1.126

Physical, social, and cognitive development in humans. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Psychology 304 and 333D may not both be counted. Psychology 333D and Women's and Gender Studies 345 (Topic 6: Introduction to Developmental Psychology) may not both be counted. Prerequisite: For psychology majors, upper-division standing and Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each; for nonmajors, upper-division standing, Psychology 301 with a grade of at least C, and one of the following with a grade of at least C: Biology 318M, Civil Engineering 311S, Economics 329, Educational Psychology 371, Electrical Engineering 351K, Government 350K, Mathematics 316, 362K, Mechanical Engineering 335, Psychology 317, Sociology 317L, Social Work 318, Statistics 309, Statistics and Scientific Computation 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 318.

PSY 333D • Intro To Developmental Psych

40185 • Spring 2003
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM NOA 1.126

Physical, social, and cognitive development in humans. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Psychology 304 and 333D may not both be counted. Psychology 333D and Women's and Gender Studies 345 (Topic 6: Introduction to Developmental Psychology) may not both be counted. Prerequisite: For psychology majors, upper-division standing and Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each; for nonmajors, upper-division standing, Psychology 301 with a grade of at least C, and one of the following with a grade of at least C: Biology 318M, Civil Engineering 311S, Economics 329, Educational Psychology 371, Electrical Engineering 351K, Government 350K, Mathematics 316, 362K, Mechanical Engineering 335, Psychology 317, Sociology 317L, Social Work 318, Statistics 309, Statistics and Scientific Computation 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 318.

PSY 394S • Child's Understnd Of Mind/Fant

40520 • Spring 2003
Meets F 9:00AM-12:00PM SEA 5.106

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Current Topics In Devel Psy

40383 • Spring 2002
Meets F 12:00PM-1:00PM BEN 318

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 394S • Scientif/Magcl/Relig Explanatn

40155 • Spring 2001
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM MEZ 402

Seminars in Developmental Psychology. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

 

PSY 304 • Intro To Child Psychology

40680 • Fall 2000
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM UTC 3.122

General introduction to physical, social, and cognitive development from conception onward. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Psychology 304 and 333D may not both be counted. Prerequisite: Psychology 301 with a grade of at least C.

PSY 333D • Intro To Developmental Psy

39260 • Spring 2000
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM UTC 4.110

Physical, social, and cognitive development in humans. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Psychology 304 and 333D may not both be counted. Psychology 333D and Women's and Gender Studies 345 (Topic 6: Introduction to Developmental Psychology) may not both be counted. Prerequisite: For psychology majors, upper-division standing and Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each; for nonmajors, upper-division standing, Psychology 301 with a grade of at least C, and one of the following with a grade of at least C: Biology 318M, Civil Engineering 311S, Economics 329, Educational Psychology 371, Electrical Engineering 351K, Government 350K, Mathematics 316, 362K, Mechanical Engineering 335, Psychology 317, Sociology 317L, Social Work 318, Statistics 309, Statistics and Scientific Computation 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 318.

Selected Publications


 

Woolley, J. D. & Ghossainy, M. (2013). Revisiting the fantasy-reality distinction: Children as naïve skeptics. Child Development, 84, 1491-1495.

Ma, L. & Woolley, J. D. (2013). Children’s sensitivity to speaker gender when learning from othersJournal of Cognition and Development, 14, 100-119.

Woolley, J.D., Ma. L. & Lopez-Mobilia, G. (2011). Development of the use of conversational cues to assess reality statusJournal of Cognition and Development, 12, 537-555. (Available from the author, woolley@psy.utexas.edu)

Woolley, J. D., Cornelius, C., & Lacy, W. (2011). Developmental changes in the use of supernatural explanations for unusual eventsJournal of Cognition and Culture, 11, 311-337.

Vaden, V. C. & Woolley, J. D. (2011). Does God make it real? Children's belief in religious stories from the Judeo-Christian traditionChild Development, 82, 1120-1135.

Woolley, J. D. & Cornelius, C. (in press). Beliefs in magical beings and cultural myths. In M. Taylor (Ed.), Oxford Handbook on The Development of Imagination. Oxford University Press. (Available from the author, woolley@psy.utexas.edu)

Tullos, A., & Woolley, J. D. (2009). The development of children’s ability to use evidence to infer reality statusChild Development, 80(1), 101-114.

Boerger, E. A., Tullos, S. A., & Woolley, J. D. (2009) Return of the Candy Witch: Individual differences in acceptance and stability of belief in a novel fantastical beingBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 953-970.

Woolley, J. D., & Tullos, A. (2008). Imagination and fantasy. In M. Haith, & J. Benson (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Infant and Early Childhood Development, Elsevier Press (pp. 117-127).

Woolley, J. D. and Cox, V. (2007). Development of beliefs about storybook realityDevelopmental Science, 10, 681-693.

Woolley, J. D. (2006). Verbal–Behavioral Dissociations in DevelopmentChild Development, 77(6), 1539–1553.

Woolley, J. D., Browne, C. A. & Boerger, E. A. (2006). Constraints on children's judgments of magical causalityJournal of Cognition and Development, 7(2), 253-277.

Woolley, J. D. & Van Reet, J. (2006). Effects of context on judgments of the reality status of novel entities. Child Development, 77(6), 1778–1793.

Sharon, T. & Woolley, J. D. (2004) Do monsters dream? Young children’s understanding of the fantasy/reality distinctionBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology, 22, 293–310.

Woolley, J. D., Boerger, E. A. & Markman, A. B. (2004). A visit from the Candy Witch: factors influencing young children’s belief in a novel fantastical beingDevelopmental Science 7:4, 456–468.

Woolley, J. D. (2000). The development of beliefs about mental-physical causality in imagination, magic, and religion. In K. Rosengren, C. Johnson, & P. L. Harris (Eds.) Imagining the impossible: Magical, scientific, and religious thinking in children, Cambridge University Press.


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