Laura Hennefield » social cognitive developmental researcher, educator

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The Development of Optimism. It is human nature to be optimistic. Optimism, briefly defined as a cognitive bias to overestimate positive future outcomes, is adaptive and is associated with motivational, social, and health benefits in adults. Pessimism, in contrast, is maladaptive and is associated with negative outcomes including depression. Importantly, experiencing more negative life events in childhood is predictive of pessimism in adulthood. However, little is known about how optimism develops.

Are young children inherently optimistic? Do environmental and/or family factors influence early optimism? How might children integrate tendencies toward optimistic expectations with a need to learn about the true likelihood of future outcomes?

My current research program is designed to address these three questions. We are currently testing 3- to 6-year-old children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in St Louis City on several tasks that are designed to shed light on the above questions. Over the next few years, I plan to broaden the scope of this project to new populations, devise additional paradigms to tap into different aspects of these questions, and disseminate our findings. This research is also ideal for student collaborations, and I look forward to training and mentoring more students who are interested in developmental and cognitive psychology on all aspects of this project.


Psychology in the Classroom

My interests in how we learn extend to the classroom, where I regularly incorporate empirical findings from learning and memory into my courses. When I taught Introduction to Psychology this past summer, I found that all students benefitted greatly from an early emphasis on the science behind effective learning and study strategies, and this material helped bridge the gap between the under-prepared and more advanced students. I also created a variety of short writing assignments designed to engage students with the materials and to facilitate discussions. These assignments included writing brief reactions to readings, devising counterarguments to an issue of debate, and linking concepts to personal experiences.

Introduction to Psychology Course Documents: Syllabus, Extra Credit AssignmentWriting Assignments

As a teaching assistant for Research Methods, I have had the opportunity to teach students how to systematically work through each component of study design and methodology, which I find immensely rewarding. I also enjoy working with students to develop their scientific writing skills. To that end, I teach students about the differences between expository and scientific writing, and provide detailed feedback on multiple drafts of early writing assignments to prepare them to undertake their own independent projects.
     Teaching Capabilities/Interests
Introduction to Psychology
Research Methods
Cognitive Psychology
Language and Thought
Cognitive Development
Developmental Psychology
Adolescent Psychology






Hennefield, L. & Markson, L. (2015). If you don’t want it neither do I: Social influences on children’s choices. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. (pdf)

Prasada, S., Hennefield, L., & Otap, D. (2012). Conceptual and linguistic representations of kinds and classes. Cognitive Science, 36, 1224-1250. (pdf)

Manuscripts Under Revision

Luo, Y., Hennefield, L., Mou, Y., vanMarle, K., & Markson, L. Using frequency information to understand agents’ preferences at 8.5 months of age. Manuscript submitted for publication.