Mind of a Child
By Lisa R. Bechler
youve ever shaken your head in wonder at
the way a child thinks, youre not alone.
At one time or another, most parents will question
their childrens sometimes bewildering behavior.
Whats gotten into him? How did she know
that? When did he learn to do that? Kimberly Cassidy,
assistant professor of psychology on the Rosalyn
R. Schwartz Lectureship at Bryn Mawr College,
is pursuing answers to those questions.
Passion for Research
joined Bryn Mawr as a lecturer in 1993, after
earning her B.A. in psychology from Swarthmore
College in 1985, an M.S. in biology from Long
Island University in 1989, and her M.A. (1990)
and Ph.D. (1993) in psychology from the University
of Pennsylvania. While attending Long Island University,
she taught elementary school, but she ultimately
decided to pursue her passion for research. "Theres
something aesthetically pleasing about the transformation
from question to answer through the scientific
process," she explains. "I find it intellectually
1998, Cassidy applied for and won a tenure-track
position at Bryn Mawr. "Kim had done some very
interesting research, and we felt shed be
very compatible with our Clinical Developmental
and School Psychology Program," says Leslie Rescorla,
psychology department chair and professor, who
also directs the Child Study Institute at Bryn
Mawr. The department has seven tenure-track faculty
members, who represent the areas of developmental,
clinical, cognitive, biological and social psychology.
Cassidy teaches both undergraduate- and graduate-level
courses, and she offers ongoing research opportunities
for her students. "By having a research program
that students find interesting, Ive been
fortunate to get a lot of undergrads involved
in science," she notes. "They take that into the
community, where they become proponents of science
psychologist with a focus on cognition and education,
Cassidy maintains a keen interest in research
with children. Bryn Mawr has easily accommodated
her vocation. In addition to offering strong undergraduate
and graduate programs, the College is home to
the Phebe Anna Thorne School, which is directed
by Marilyn M. Henkelman 71. The nursery
school doubles as a real-world "lab" for student
and faculty research while providing an important
service for the public. Cassidy encourages her
students to serve as teaching assistants at the
school, giving them further opportunities for
observation and research.
main research emphasis is on theory of mind, or
the development of childrens theories about
the minds of others. In other words, Cassidy studies
the way a child learns to understand how a persons
behavior relates to her or his thoughts. In children,
the ability to reconcile and even influence another
childs behavior is premised on such understanding.
theory of mind involves studying the age at which
kids acquire it, its relationship to language
development, sources of theory of mind information
(e.g., childrens books), and the relationship
between a childs level of theory of mind
and her or his level of social behavior. "We believe
theory of mind is important because it is core
to getting along with others socially," explains
Cassidy. "Autistic children, who consistently
have great difficulties in this area, have profound
social impairment. This is one piece of evidence
that theory of mind matters."
another area of research, Cassidy looks at what
children learn from the sound of language itself.
For example, she studies the phonological differences
between female and male names, and believes these
differences may affect everything from female/male
stereotypes to childrens product marketing.
To explore this theory, Cassidy conducted a study
in which she gave identical tea sets to both boys
and girls. One tea set was made by a company with
a female-sounding name while the other was made
by a company with a male-sounding name. "The kids
preferred the tea set with the name that more
closely matched their own gender," recalls Cassidy.
"Were looking at these connections, and
how they impact kids in the real world."
addition to being admired for her teaching and
research, Cassidy is highly regarded for her extraordinary
publication record. She has authored 14 articles,
several of which were co-authored with Bryn Mawr
students, for journals such as Developmental
Psychology, Cognition, Journal of
Experimental Psychology: General, and
Psychological Bulletin and Review. "Its
important to be a contributor to the field. For
me, the work I do has practical applications for
kids, so it can really make a difference." Cassidys
research has been supported by the Harry Frank
is also well-respected among her faculty peers.
"Kim is a wonderful teacher. Shes committed
to helping her students and is a terrific colleague,"
says Rescorla. "She simply never lets you down."
it comes to her family, Cassidy works hard not
to let anyone down either. She is married to an
environmental lawyer and has two boys, ages 18
months and 5 1/2 years. From the family pictures
that cover her office and the excitement in her
voice when she talks of her work with children,
its easy to see that Cassidy is in the right
field. "I like that my research is with kids,"
she says. "You never know what theyre going
to say or do. Its completely captivating."
About the Author
Lisa Bechler is a communications
consultant for clients in the high technology,
health care, pharmaceutical, financial services
and higher education sectors.