A new research collaboration between Ripon College and UW-Madison

Kristine Kovack-Lesh

I began the Infant Cognition Lab (ICL) in the summer of 2008, and for eight years my undergraduate research assistants and I have tested infants between the ages of 14 months and 4 in a variety of studies. In the summer of 2016, we moved into a “new” research world where our participants can talk! More specifically, we started to test young children between the ages of 2½ and 5 years old. This was a result of beginning a new project collaborating with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The collaboration may be new, but my relationships with these colleagues go back many years. Dr. Vanessa Simmering of UW-Madison’s psychology department and director of the SPACE (Spatial Perception, Action, Cognition & Embodiment) Lab has been a friend of mine since we were graduate students at the University of Iowa. We both study cognitive development, but we have always studied different age groups and topics. My other colleague from UW-Madison, Chelsea Grahn Andrews ’15, is a Ripon alumna. She worked in the ICL with me for two years and is in her second year in the Developmental Psychology Ph.D. program as one of Dr. Simmering’s graduate students.

Given the geographic closeness of Ripon and Madison, and our friendship, Dr. Simmering and I get together occasionally. In the summer of 2015, at a coffee shop between our respective campuses, we started to discuss recruiting strategies and issues with our respective infant and children samples and how we could try to help one another. That fall, Chelsea began her graduate work at Madison. Since she has worked with both of us, it was natural for her to be involved with our collaborative project.

Throughout the school year, we worked out what could be done on both campuses and navigated approval from both Institutional Review Boards. I was fortunate to gain summer funding for one undergraduate student, Emily Coates (who graduated in December 2016), from the Dean of Faculty’s office. This was a great opportunity for Emily to gain research experience and for Chelsea to mentor a Ripon student!

Our project examines the development of attention in young children. Children were tested in various attentional tasks in either research lab. Tasks were modified from either an infant or adult attention task and utilized a tablet or a laptop with a number pad. Children loved playing our games on the tablet or laptop. Overall, our project seeks to determine the connections between the various tasks used across development. To date, each lab has run about three dozen children for a total of 72 children. Dr. Simmering and Chelsea also came to Ripon’s campus in early December to provide an update as part of our Brown Bag Lunch talk series. Finally, the four of us all are authors on a poster that we will be presenting at the 2017 Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting to be held in April in Austin, Texas.

We are always looking for more participants in the Infant Cognition Lab for this collaborative project and our ongoing infant studies. If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more about our studies for infants and young children, please check out our website: http://www.ripon.edu/infant-cognition-lab/

By Kristine Kovack-Lesh
Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology