The Jaswal Lab, formerly the Child Language & Learning Lab, has recently shifted its primary focus toward projects related to communication and autism. We continue to conduct studies involving social cognition in typically developing children, but these projects now represent a secondary area of interest.


At least 30% of people with autism do not speak or are minimal or unreliable speakers, and many never develop an effective alternative way to communicate. Not surprisingly, the inability to communicate even basic desires, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs is the most significant stressor faced by nonspeaking people and their families. In addition, because nonspeaking autistics lack a reliable way to express themselves, many people assume that they a) are not interested in communicating or interacting socially, and b) are not capable of learning age-appropriate academic material.

Recent findings raise serious doubts about these assumptions. On-going work in the Jaswal lab shows that some parents report that their nonspeaking children are highly motivated to interact with other people. Further, some nonspeaking autistics who have developed alternative ways of communicating describe an intense desire to connect with others. Recent research has suggested that the cognitive potential of many nonspeaking individuals has been vastly underestimated. When individuals’ motivations and potential are underestimated, the effects can be devastating, affecting everything from the social opportunities they are offered to the likelihood that they are given access to a meaningful education.  

The Autism & Communication Project is driven by two specific aims: 1) To discover the social and cognitive processes underlying alternative forms of communication that some non-speaking individuals and their families have developed; and 2) To characterize the range of behavior that some parents of nonspeaking autistic children interpret as communicative and to understand the effect that this has on their relationship with their child. We use a range of methodologies, including behavioral tasks, eye-tracking, in-depth interviews, and focus groups. As detailed on the about us page, the questions we ask, the approach we take, and the interpretations offered are inspired and informed by the people whose lives are most affected by the research. You can learn about some of these folks by by visiting the UVa-Tribe Partnership page.

Recent Related Publications:

Jaswal, V. K., & Akhtar, N. (accepted/under commentary). Being vs. appearing socially uninterested: Challenging assumptions about social motivation in autism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. [doi for full text]

Jaswal, V. K. (2017). Rethinking autism’s past, present, and future: Review of Steve Silberman’s NeurotribesThe American Journal of Psychology, 130, 243-249. [click for full text]

Akhtar, N., Jaswal, V. K., Dinishak, J., & Stephan, C. (2016). On social feedback loops and cascading effects in autism: A commentary on Warlaumont et al. (2014). Psychological Science, 27, 1528-1530. [doi for full text

Jaswal, V. K., Akhtar, N., & Burack, J. A. (2016). Building bridges: Cognitive development in typical and atypical populations. Journal of Cognition and Development, 17, 549-552. [doi for full text]

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Age-Irregs-BabyMuch of what we know could only have been learned from other people. For example, I know that the earth is round, but all of my own observations suggest that it is flat. I know that there are such things as subatomic particles, but I’ve never seen one. For children to be able to take advantage of their culture’s accumulated knowledge and expertise, they have to be willing to accept some information “on faith,” even if it seems counterintuitive or cannot easily be verified through first-hand experience. At the same time, however, children cannot simply believe everything they are told because people sometimes say things that are wrong. The goal of this work is to understand how very young children balance the benefits of credulity against the need for skepticism.

Recent Related Publications:

Harris, P. L., Koenig, M. A., Corriveau, K. H., & Jaswal, V. K. (2018). Cognitive foundations of learning from testimony. Annual Review of Psychology, 69, 251-278. [doi for full text]

Jaswal, V. K., & Drell, M. B. (2015). The development of social trust. In R. A. Scott & S. M. Kosslyn (Eds.), Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences. New York: Wiley. [doi for full text]

Palmquist, C. M., Jaswal, V. K., & Rutherford, A. V. (2016). Success inhibits preschoolers’ ability to establish selective trust. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 152, 192-204. [doi for full text]

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Conflicts are inevitable and frequent among young children. When a child is the victim of a minor transgression, what can be done to make him or her feel better? Adults seem to feel better after hearing a transgressor apologize, and (somewhat surprisingly) it does not matter whether the transgressor offers the apology spontaneously or only after being told to apologize. The goal of this work is to investigate the effects of various types of apologies on young children’s feelings and on their willingness to trust a transgressor again. Findings from this research have the potential to influence parenting and classroom practices.

Recent Related Publication:

Drell, M.B. & Jaswal, V. K. (2016). Making amends: Children’s expectations about and responses to apologies. Social Development, 25, 742-758. [doi for full text]

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In general, children think that items such as food or toys should be shared equally. But what if one person chooses to take less than her fair share? Is it okay for someone to have less if she wants less? The goal of this work is to understand whether children incorporate information about desire and access to resources into their fairness evaluations.

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Children’s behavior, like adults’, is motivated by multiple goals—for example, learning, affiliating with others, and accumulating resources. In this line of work, we have been investigating how children navigate situations in which two or more goals are in competition. Which goals are prioritized in which situations? How does this change with development? What individual differences are associated?

Recent Related Publications:

Jaswal, V. K., & Kondrad, R. L. (2016). Why children are not always epistemically vigilant: Cognitive limits and social considerations. Child Development Perspectives, 10, 240-244. [doi for full text]

Jaswal, V. K., Pérez-Edgar, K., Kondrad, R. L., Palmquist, C. M., Cole, C. A., & Cole, C. E. (2014). Can’t stop believing: Inhibitory control and resistance to misleading testimony. Developmental Science, 17, 965-976. [doi for full text]

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