The Living Lab Research Project

Real Research with Children and Parents Right in the Museum

The Living Lab is an exciting collaboration between the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and psychologists from the University of Michigan. Researchers from the university bring real psychology studies to a lab space on the floor of the museum. Families visiting the museum get to talk with developmental scientists about child development research, and parents get to watch their children take part in quick, fun studies. The result is that museum visitors help psychologists build knowledge about how children think and behave, and get exposure to a form of science that is often missing from science-focused museums. Please feel free to stop by, ask questions, and help with a study!

Current Research in the Living Lab

Currently, research in the Living Lab focuses on children's social cognition and behavior, and how such thinking and behavior develop from early childhood onward. Topics that are being studied in the Living Lab include:

  • how children think about fairness
  • how children make decisions about distributing resources (e.g., sharing)
  • what influences children's predictions about future emotion
  • what children understand about heroes and villains

The studies are designed to be very fun for children, and every child receives a gift for participating! We will keep this page updated - check back to see results of studies that have been completed at the Living Lab.

Recent Findings

Studies are ongoing, but some key findings have already emerged:

  • Views on fair punishment and reward change with age. Preschool-age children were most likely to endorse purely equal distributions of both rewards and penalties. Older children, however, expressed a preference for handing out rewards and punishments based on deservingness (e.g., giving more of a penalizing task to a student who had done the most damage to classroom property). This research may provide new information to adults as they consider how children will respond to common reward and discipline practices.  Click here for more information.
  • Concept of "wickedness" understood at a very young age. Even preschool-age children have a rather firm grasp of what it means to be wicked or evil. Almost 80% predicted an act of unprovoked aggression from a villain. However, a systematic understanding of wickedness is even more solidified by the time children reach the later elementary school years. Only the older children consistently anticipated that a villain would avoid comforting a hurt person. This line of research tells us more about how young children grasp certain types of human traits.  Click here for more information.

About the National Living Lab Initiative

The Living Lab at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is part of the National Living Lab Initiative (NLLI). The NLLI promotes collaborations between researchers and informal science educators that foster public engagement with the scientific study of child development. The National Living Lab Initiative is supported by a grant to the Boston Museum of Science from the National Science Foundation. (

Upcoming Special Events

The research happening at the Living Lab will be the focus of regular educational events at the museum. Researchers from the University of Michigan will come to the museum to present on their latest findings for parents, teachers, students, and anyone else who is interested. Check back soon for more information about the next event!


If you have questions or ideas please feel free to contact Dr. Craig Smith, Research Fellow at the University of Michigan Psychology Department. To send a message, use our Contact Us form and select Living Lab department.

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220 E. Ann St. 
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Monday: 10 - 5
Tuesday: 9 - 5
Wednesday: 10 - 5
Thursday: 10 - 8
Friday: 10 - 5
Saturday:  10 - 5
Sunday: Noon - 5

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