Lab Information

For Parents and Participants

We research children’s developing imagination, pretend play, and social skills in the Applied Developmental Program in the Psychology Department at George Mason University.

The Play, Learning, Arts, and Youth (PLAY) Lab conducts research on children’s imagination and their social development. Specifically, we’re interested in how involvement in fictional worlds affects children’s social and emotional understanding and how children understand social information in fictional worlds.

Adults and children engage with imagined worlds daily via books, television, films, theatre, and stories. Yet psychologists know little about the effects of such fictional engagement. The lab’s work investigates how children and adolescents engage in, understand, and react to fictional and pretense worlds, and how this engagement interacts with social cognition. We study the effects of pretend play and role play on empathy, compassion and altruism, how children think about moral issues at the fiction-reality boundary, and how young children and adults understand and react to watching fictional worlds as audience members.

Our studies range from one time visits to the lab involving brief stories or games, to longitudinal interventions of various types of play or arts activities. Children of all ages find participating with our lab fun and easy! All studies are approved by the George Mason University Institutional Review Board, and parents are given a full explanation and give permission before we speak with any child. We work with children in preschools, parks, theaters, and museums.  The lab holds weekly open lab meetings, has opportunities for BA level research assistants, BA and MA level summer internships, and  MA, and PhD level students in the Applied Developmental Psychology Program, George Mason University.