“The issues I study do have implications for teaching and learning, but that’s not my interest in them — I’m simply interested in understanding the amazing organ that is the human mind.”
Susan E. Carey is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Her research concerns the development of concepts in the child and adult (i.e., over ontogenesis), and the cultural construction of concepts over history. Her research is informed by insights from philosophical analyses of concepts, historical analyses of conceptual change in science, and experimental studies of human infants, young children and adults, and of non-human primates. Understanding conceptual development requires characterizing the initial representational repertoire, what changes with development, and the learning mechanisms that underlie these changes.
Carey’s research specifies the conceptually rich building blocks of human cognition and documents conceptual discontinuities, episodes of change that increase representational power or involve the construction of conceptual systems incommensurable with those they supplant. With respect to the mechanisms that underlie conceptual change, Carey has concentrated on a bootstrapping process first sketched by historians and philosophers of science that she calls “Quinian bootstrapping.” Current case studies include representations of abstract relations and logical connectives, and conceptual changes within intuitive theories of biology and physical reasoning.
Carey has taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University, and has been at Harvard University since 2001, where she co-founded the Laboratory for Developmental Studies with Elizabeth Spelke. She was awarded the 1998 Nicod Prize, was named the William James Fellow of APS in 2002, was awarded the David Rumerhart Prize in 2009, and APA Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award in in 2009, and an APA Mentor Award in 2013. She is a member of the Society for Experimental Psychology, the American Association of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and is a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy
Carey received her B.A. from Radcliffe in 1964, and she received a Fullbright Fellowship to London University in 1965. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1971.