Richert has developed various lines of research into how children’s developing social cognition influences their understanding of religion, fantasy, and media. In particular, she studies cultural and developmental mechanisms in the development of concepts of God, the soul, prayer and rituals, as well as children’s commitments to the reality status of religious entities and the efficacy of religious practices. Bridging the study of developing fantasy-reality distinctions, Richert also examines how the fantastical content and characters in children’s media can both support and hinder children’s learning from books, videos, and interactive games. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, The John Templeton Foundation, and the Templeton World Charity Trust.

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Kirsten Lesage is a doctoral candidate in Developmental Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, working under the direction of Dr. Rebekah Richert. She earned a BA in Psychology and Spanish from Northwestern College – Iowa (2013) where she completed an honors thesis with Dr. Laird Edman. Lesage completed her MA in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside in 2016 and is currently collecting data for her dissertation research. Her dissertation work has been funded by the Patrice L. Engle Dissertation Grant from the Society for Research in Child Development as well as a grant from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.


Rebekah A. Richert is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and is the PI of the Childhood Cognition Lab (ccl.ucr.edu). Richert earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology (BA) from Calvin College (1999) and a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Virginia (2003). Funded by a National Science Foundation International Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, she was a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Harvey Whitehouse at Queens University-Belfast (2003-2004) and with Dr. Paul Harris at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education (2004-2005).

Her research focuses on the cultural evolution, transmission, and development of causal explanatory systems (e.g., across generations, parent-to-child) by analyzing how language shapes concept development, learning from testimony (verbal, written), and social learning within a variety of communities (school, medical community, religious community) and with a variety of social partners (parents, siblings, friends).

Her dissertation focuses on how the cultural context shapes the emergence of explanatory systems and causal reasoning in early childhood in two populations: Spanish-speaking Colombian Catholics and bilingual (Spanish-English) Mexican-American Catholics. Specifically, she is examining the causal mechanisms (folk, scientific, religious, supernatural) 4- to 6-year-old children and their parents attribute to the causes and treatments of biological illnesses, their reasons for endorsing those causes, and parents’ ethnotheories and approaches to explaining the causes of illness to their children.