Erik Brockbank

Overview

Broadly, I'm interested in a diverse set of questions about how children and adults learn and reason about the world around them. My work uses behavioral experiments and computational modeling techniques from machine learning and artificial intelligence to explore these questions.

My doctoral research is focused on how people come to understand rich patterns in other people's behavior and develop abstractions that generalize to new settings.

Below is a summary of my work organized by topic, with links to papers, talks, and other fun stuff.

Numerical Reasoning

Adults have an amazing ability to reason about abstract number in all kinds of ways. But this doesn't come for free; kids struggle to learn basic concepts of number long after they've learned how to count.

What's the basis for adult number reasoning and how do kids learn it?

Work I've done looking at numerical reasoning has used computational modeling techniques to try and formalize, a) the strategies children use when reasoning about number and, b) the process by which adults estimate number in the world around them.

Explanation

In many learning environments, the process of explaining new data can lead adults and children to favor more abstract, generalizable solutions. This has obvious educational import, but also raises interesting psychological questions.

How does explanation lead to greater abstraction when learning?

My work in this space has looked at the impact of explanation on relational reasoning in kids, and tried to nail down whether explanation helps adults generate certain hypotheses, or makes them evaluate existing hypotheses differently.

Sequential Reasoning

When we interact with other people, we can make rich predictive inferences about their future behavior on the basis of very little data. This learning is often supported by abstractions like preferences and goals.

How do we learn from patterns in behavior in the absence of these abstractions, and how do these abstractions develop?

My work on sequential reasoning has primarily used the children's game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to investigate what kinds of behavioral patterns people can learn over time and how they adjust their own behavior when a sneaky opponent is exploiting them.