Good nutrition is important for health and longevity, yet many Americans do not consume nutritionally sound diets. Evidence suggests that infants' and children's earliest patterns of eating have lasting consequences for health across the lifespan. Despite the complexity and significance of food selection, developmental psychologists have devoted surprisingly little attention to studying how infants and children perceive, learn, and reason about foods. The current proposal employs methods from cognitive development to test social influences on infants' and children's food choices and consumption. The current studies test two age groups: (1) infants, who have limited knowledge in the food domain, but are typically open to a variety of foods and flavors; and (2) young children (3-6 years), who are more knowledgeable than infants and toddlers about foods, yet are notoriously picky eaters who are intolerant of new foods and flavors. Five studies with 12-month-old infants investigate and compare infants' social learning and reasoning about foods vs. (non-food) objects. These studies test how infants' earliest food and object choices are influenced by an informant's social group membership (Study 1), an informant's emotional display (Studies 2- 3), and an informant's method of teaching (Study 4). A final study with infants tests whether infants see an endorser's food and object preferences as unique to that individual, or as common to many individuals (Study 5).
This research aims to contribute both to our understanding of the factors that guide early eating, and also to theoretical knowledge concerning whether infants' early social learning is domain-general, or varies by domain (i.e., foods vs. objects). Four studies with 3-6-year-old children systematically test the conditions under which children's food selection may be susceptible to social messages and contexts. This research will investigate how the social group identities of informants (i.e., their accent, gender, and race) influence children's selection of foods (Studies 6-7), and also how the how the type of message provided by an informant (i.e., positive vs. negative; social vs. biological) influences children's food selection (Studies 8-9).
This research aims to explore the mechanisms underlying children's food selection, with the eventual goal of effecting positive change in children's willingness to select healthy foods that are familiar and disliked, and limiting their selection of unhealthy foods that are familiar and liked.)

Public Health Relevance

The studies proposed here employ tools from cognitive development to investigate social influences on infants' and children's food choices and consumption. It is important to understand which factors guide children's food reasoning and behavior since early eating paves the way for later eating practices and health. The long-term goal of this research is to design research-supported interventions for promoting healthy eating throughout the lifespan.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cognition and Perception Study Section (CP)
Program Officer
Esposito, Layla E
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Chicago
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
DeJesus, Jasmine M; Hwang, Hyesung G; Dautel, Jocelyn B et al. (2018) ""American = English Speaker"" Before ""American = White"": The Development of Children's Reasoning About Nationality. Child Dev 89:1752-1767
DeJesus, Jasmine M; Shutts, Kristin; Kinzler, Katherine D (2018) Mere social knowledge impacts children's consumption and categorization of foods. Dev Sci 21:e12627
Brey, Elizabeth; Shutts, Kristin (2018) Children Use Nonverbal Cues from an Adult to Evaluate Peers. J Cogn Dev 19:121-136
Liberman, Zoe; Kinzler, Katherine D; Woodward, Amanda L (2018) The early social significance of shared ritual actions. Cognition 171:42-51
DeJesus, Jasmine M; Hwang, Hyesung G; Dautel, Jocelyn B et al. (2017) Bilingual children's social preferences hinge on accent. J Exp Child Psychol 164:178-191
Liberman, Zoe; Woodward, Amanda L; Kinzler, Katherine D (2017) Preverbal Infants Infer Third-Party Social Relationships Based on Language. Cogn Sci 41 Suppl 3:622-634
Kinzler, Katherine D; Liberman, Zoe (2017) Infants' inferences about language are social. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 114:E3753-E3754
Liberman, Zoe; Woodward, Amanda L; Kinzler, Katherine D (2017) The Origins of Social Categorization. Trends Cogn Sci 21:556-568
Liberman, Zoe; Woodward, Amanda L; Keysar, Boaz et al. (2017) Exposure to multiple languages enhances communication skills in infancy. Dev Sci 20:
Liberman, Zoe; Woodward, Amanda L; Sullivan, Kathleen R et al. (2016) Early emerging system for reasoning about the social nature of food. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:9480-5

Showing the most recent 10 out of 16 publications