Social Cognitive Development Lab

In the Social Cognitive Development Lab, directed by Dr. Annie Riggs, we study how children learn and reason about their social worlds. We are currently focused on children’s understanding of complex social behavior, such as social norms, and children’s perceptions of social groups, such as gender.



Research Projects

Children's Norm Following

How do children feel when they follow social norms and rules? In this study, we ask children to learn the rules to a new game and asses how happy they are when following versus breaking rules. We also ask children to predict whether other people will feel happy when they follow the rules, particularly if the rules align with or diverge from what they want to do. We hope to better understand why young children adhere to social norms (well, most of the time!). This study is designed for 3 to 5 year-old children and takes about 10 minutes to complete. Our lab is collaborating with the Social & Moral Development Lab on this project.

Social Rules in Pretend Play

Is it ok or is it not ok to pretend to wear your pajamas to work? Or to pretend to sleep with your shoes on? We are interested in children’s pretend play and how children use pretending to learn about the social world. In particular, we are interested in what 3- to 5-year-old children think about pretending to do things that would be very unusual in the real world, like eating a hamburger for breakfast. This study takes about 15-20 minutes to complete and is being conducted in collaboration with the Social & Moral Development Lab!

Gender Norms

Children rapidly acquire knowledge of gender norms in their first few years of life. They see examples of people following gender norms and of people breaking gender norms. In this study, we are interested in children’s perceptions of people who act counter to traditional gender norms and how those perceptions change across early development. To address this question, we describe made-up children who either conform to gender norms or who violate gender norms and walk participants through short stories in which they have to guess how the made-up children will behave. This study is designed for children ages 4 to 8 and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

Learning New Math Strategies

What types of examples are most effective when students are learning new math strategies? We want to understand how children learn math from different people represented in textbooks. Our lab is working with the Intergroup Cognition Lab to conduct this study.




Annie Riggs, PhD

Annie Riggs, PhD

Director of the Social Cognitive Development Lab Annie is an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at WWU. She received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016 and her B.A. in psychology and philosophy from the University of California Berkeley in 2009. In her free time she enjoys tennis, yoga, cooking, and exploring the beautiful Pacifiic Northwest with her family. Also pictured: future participant of the SCD Lab, Eden! As a child, Annie wanted to be a meteorologist and her favorite books were the Boxcar Children and Harry Potter.

Sara Bahten

Sara Bahten

Research Assistant

Sara is a senior at Western Washington University. She is pursuing a Psychology and Linguistics major with a minor in Japanese. In her free time she enjoys Norwegian woodcarving, knitting, and play outside with her dog. Along with classes she also works at the WWU Music Library. Sara is hoping to go on to work as an adoption social worker to help provide support for children and families. When she was little, she wanted to run an animal sanctuary and her favorite book was The Tomten.


Holly Morales

Research Assistant

Holly is a Junior at Western Washington University and is working her way toward a doctorate in psychology. In her free time, she loves driving around Bellingham exploring the city, blasting her favorite songs while singing along terribly, and laughing with the people she loves. Holly plans on pursing a career in research psychology after finishing up at WWU and graduate school. When she was little, her dream job was to be a doctor and her favorite book series was A Series of Unfortunate Events.


Eden Saunders

Research Assistant

Eden is a senior at Western Washington University pursuing a BS in Psychology. In her free time, she enjoys reading, sewing, and playing with her cats. Outside of school, she works as a teacher's assistant in a preschool classroom. After graduating, Eden is planning on going to graduate school to study educational/school psychology. When she was little, she wanted to be a fashion designer, and her favorite book was “Chrysanthemum”. 

Lily Thompson

Lily Thompson

Research Assistant

Lily is a senior at Western Washington University and is majoring in Psychology BS. She likes to crochet, draw, hike, and take care of her many plants in her free time. After graduating Lily plans on pursuing a Master's degree which she will use to become a couple/family counselor. When she was little, she wanted to be the president of the United States and her favorite book was “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Kiah Hebel

Kiah Hebel

Research Assistant  

Kiah is a Senior studying Psychology while obtaining her teaching certification at Western Washington University. In her free time, she enjoys working out, playing rugby, reading, and exploring the outdoors. Kiah plans on teaching elementary students for a couple of years and then going to graduate school to become a Psychology professor. When she was little, she wanted to be a dancer, and her favorite book was "Junie B Jones". 


Erika Lutz

Graduate Student

Erika is a second year in the MS Experimental Psychology graduate program at Western Washington University working with Dr. Riggs and Dr. Fast. Originally from Maryland, Erika finds the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest to be awe inspiring! She spends much of her free time with her 2 cats: Charisma and Perception. After graduating, Erika plans to continue learning by pursuing a PhD in Psychology with intentions of becoming a professor. Growing up, Erika wanted to be a radio disc jockey and enjoyed reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe.    


Guinevere Smith

Research Assistant 

Guinevere is a sophomore at Western Washington University planning on double majoring in Psychology and Linguistics with a minor in Interdisciplinary Honors Studies. You can find her in her free time studying Korean, reading the remaining Greek tragedies, or practicing poetry. She is hoping to study a variety of topics at Western, including child development, neurolinguistics, health and wellbeing, and cross-cultural psychology. When she was little, she had nightmares about what to be when she grew up and her favorite book was Corduroy. 


Riggs, A.E. (2020). Is or ought? Reactions to violations help children to distinguish norms and regularities. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology194, 104822.

Riggs, A.E. & Long, M. (2020) The Domain Frequency Association: A mental shortcut to guide children’s generalization of norms and preferences. Cognitive Development54, 100853.

Riggs, A.E.(2019) Social Statistics: Children use statistical reasoning to guide their inferences about the scope of social behavior. Developmental Psychology.  

Riggs, A.E., Alibali, M.W., & Kalish, C.W. (2017). Does it Matter How Molly Does it? Person-Presentation of Strategies and Transfer in Mathematics. Contemporary Educational Psychology.  

Riggs, A.E. & Kalish, C.W. (2016). Children’s Evaluations of Rule Violators. Cognitive Development.  

Riggs, A.E. & Young, A.G. (2016). Developmental changes in children's normative reasoning across learning contexts and collaborative roles. Developmental Psychology.   

Riggs, A.E., Alibali, M.W., & Kalish, C.W. (2015). Leave her out of it: Person-presentation of strategies is harmful for transfer. Cognitive Science.  

Riggs, A.E., Kalish, C.W., & Alibali, M.W. (2014). Property content guides children’s memory for social learning episodes. Cognition, 131 (2), 243-253.  doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.01.004   

Riggs, A.E., Kalish, C.W., & Alibali, M.W. (2014). When you’ve seen one, have you seen them all? Children’s memory for general and specific learning episodes. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1653-1659. doi: 10.1037/a0036130     

Lab Photos