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Karen Wynn
Karen Wynn, 2011
Karen Wynn, 2011
Born Template:Birth date
Austin, Texas
Residence New Haven, Connecticut
Citizenship U.S., Canadian
Fields Psychology, Cognitive Science
Institutions Yale University, University of Arizona
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Ph.D), McGill University (BA)
Doctoral advisor Susan Carey
Notable awards National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award, American Psychological Association Early Career Award. Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science

Karen Wynn (born Dec 18, 1962) is a Canadian and American Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University.[1] She was born in Austin, Texas and grew up on the Canadian prairies in Regina, Saskatchewan. Her research explores the cognitive capacities of infants and young children. She directs the Infant Cognition Laboratory in the Psychology Department at Yale University.


Education and employment

Wynn received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from McGill University in 1985, and her PhD in Cognitive Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1990. Her first faculty position was at the University of Arizona which she took upon graduating from MIT in 1990. She joined the Yale University Psychology Department in 1999.


Karen Wynn is known for her pioneering work on infants' and children's early numerical cognition. Some of her most influential research on this topic, published in the scientific journal Nature in 1992, reported that 5-month-old human infants are able to compute the outcomes of simple addition and subtraction operations on small sets of physical objects.[2][3] "Psychologists were stunned when Wynn announced her results, and many skeptical researchers around the world devised variants of her procedure to determine whether her conclusions were correct."[4] Wynn's findings were subsequently replicated by independent researchers in the United States and in Europe on human infants[5][6] and later extended to other subject populations, including rhesus monkeys[7] and domesticated dogs[8][9] who, like human babies, distinguished correct from incorrect outcomes of additions and subtractions of objects (eggplants, in the studies with rhesus monkeys; doggie biscuits, in the studies with dogs).

Wynn has suggested that humans, along with many other animal species, are innately endowed with cognitive machinery for detecting and reasoning about numbers of items.

Wynn has also investigated humans' early social preferences and judgments. Some of this research, conducted with collaborators Paul Bloom and J. Kiley Hamlin, found that 6- and 10-month-old infants distinguish helpful from unhelpful characters in simple interactions enacted by hand puppets, and prefer the helping characters to the hinderers.[10][11] Notable philosopher of bioethics Peter Singer wrote of these studies that they “have upset the previous wisdom, associated with such stellar figures in psychology as Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, that human moral development is the product of our rearing and our culture.”[12] Wynn and her colleagues have suggested that babies’ tendency to prefer prosocial individuals may arise from an adaptive capacity to detect good candidate partners for reciprocal interactions, and to distinguish such individuals from, and prefer them to, those who may be more likely to act in self-interest or to renege on implied social contracts.

Honors and Awards

Wynn received the Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 2001, given “for her pioneering research on the foundations of quantitative and mathematical thinking in infants and young children."[13][14]

The American Psychological Association awarded Wynn the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology in 2000[15], given “for her outstanding research program on the ontogenetic foundations of mathematical knowledge. Her research has advanced the understanding of the prelinguistic representations of number, and her work on infant representations of events and collections has advanced the understanding of the concepts infants use to establish representations of individual to enumerate."[16]

Wynn received a James McKeen Cattell Foundation Sabbatical Award in 1997.

Popular Press

Karen Wynn has been interviewed and her research featured in science documentaries, radio shows, newspapers, and popular science news outlets, including PBS's The Human Spark with Alan Alda[17] (2010); the National Geographic Explorer (2007); NPR's All Things Considered[18] (2010); The New York Times[19][20] (1992, 2007); Science Daily[21][22] (2003, 2010); and Science News (cover story, 2002).[23]


  1. Yale Psychology Department Listing of Faculty
  2. Keith Devlin (2006), The Math Instinct: Why You're a Mathematical Genius (Along With Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs), Basic Books, ISBN 978-1-56025-672-4, pages 1-9.
  3. Wynn, K. (1992). Addition and subtraction by human infants. Nature, 358, 749-750.
  4. Keith Devlin, Ibid., pages 6-7.
  5. Susan Carey (2009), The Origin of Concepts, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-536763-8, page 64 (fn)
  6. Daniel Tammet (2009), Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind, Simon and Shuster, ISBN 978-1-4165-6969-5, pages126
  7. Stanislas Dehaene (1999), The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-513240-3, pages 53-55 (pages 41-44 of revised & updated 2011 edition).
  8. Ellen Galinsky (2010), Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 978-0-06-173232-4, pages 172-173.
  9. West, R. & Young, R. (2002), Do domestic dogs show any evidence of being able to count?, Animal Cognition, 5, 183-186.
  10. Hamlin, J.K., Wynn, K., & Bloom, P. (2007). Social evaluation by preverbal infants. Nature, 450, 557-560.
  11. Ellen Galinsky (2010), Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 978-0-06-173232-4, page 3.
  12. Peter Singer (2011), The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-15069-7, page 188.
  13. National Academy of Sciences, Troland Research Award List of Recipients. URL accessed on 2012-02-28.
  14. Yale Bulletin & Calendar, "Psychologist Karen Wynn cited for pioneering study of infants' ability to recognize numbers," 2001
  16. American Psychologist, Vol 55(11), Nov 2000, pages 1279-1282. URL accessed on 2012-02-28.
  17. PBS, The Human Spark With Alan Alda, January 20, 2010
  18. National Public Radio All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, May 09, 2010
  19. The New York Times, Aug 27, 1992
  20. The New York Times, Dec 04, 2007
  21. Science Daily, Sept 30, 2003
  22. Science Daily, Dec 05, 2010
  23. Science News, June 22, 2002 cover story

External links

See also

. Numerical cognition, Evolutionary psychology, Addition

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