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Mary Gauvain

Mary Gauvain
Professor of Psychology, University of California at Riverside
Mary Gauvain


I am interested in how children’s experiences with other people and the practices and tools of culture contribute to cognitive development. I have studied the development of problem solving, planning, spatial and mathematical reasoning, and concept formation, all of which are critical to everyday functioning. My book The Social Context of Cognitive Development (2001) describes social contributions to what children learn and how learning occurs. Recently my collaborators and I have focused on children’s health and well being, including how exposure to open fire cooking relates to cognitive development (Munroe & Gauvain, 2012), children’s understanding of water and food contamination in Tanzania, and health knowledge among rural Maasai adolescents and adults (with Heidi Beebe, Ph.D.). I am also interested in the sociocultural theory of cognitive development as well as the relation between cultural change and cognitive development and I have authored several recent papers on these topics.

I am Co-PI on an NSF funded IGERT project on water, the environment, and sustainability. I am also a member of the UC Global Health Initiative (UCGHI) and currently serve as Co-Director of the UCGHI Center of Expertise on “One Health: Water, Animals, Food and Society.” From 2010-2012 I was Chair of the Academic Senate, Riverside Division. From 2013-2014, I was the Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Success and Development at UC Riverside.

Honors and Affiliations

  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Fellow, American Educational Research Association
  • Fellow, American Psychological Association
  • Fellow, Association for Psychological Science
  • Member, Society for Research in Child Development
  • Governing Council, Society for Research in Child Development


I teach undergraduate and graduate courses on child development, cognitive development, the cultural bases of human development, and theories of development.

Selected Publications

Gauvain, M. (2013). Sociocultural contexts of development. In P. D. Zelazo (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Developmental Psychology: Vol. 2. Self and other (pp. 425-451). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gauvain, M., & Munroe, R. L. (2013). Children’s questions in cross-cultural perspective: A four-culture study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44,1148-1165.

Göncü, A., & Gauvain, M. (2012). Sociocultural approaches to educational psychology: Theory, research, and application. In K. R. Harris et al. (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 1:Theories, constructs, and critical issues (pp. 123-152). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Gauvain, M., & Munroe, R. L. (2012). Cultural change, human activity, and cognitive development. Human Development, 55, 205-228.

Munroe, R. L., & Gauvain, M. (2012). Exposure to open-fire cooking and cognitive performance in children. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 22, 156-164.

Gauvain, M., Beebe, H., & Zhao, S. (2011). Applying the cultural approach to cognitive development. Journal of Cognition and Development, 12, 121-133.

Gauvain, M. (2009). Social and cultural transitions in cognitive development: A cross-generational view. In A. J. Sameroff (Ed.), The transactional model of development: How children and contexts shape each other(pp. 163-182). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Gauvain, M., & Munroe, R. L. (2009). Contributions of societal modernity to cognitive development: A comparison of four cultures. Child Development, 80, 1628-1642.

Gauvain, M., & Perez, S. M. (2008). Mother-child planning and child compliance. Child Development, 79, 761-775.

Gauvain, M., & Perez, S. M. (2005). Parent-child participation in planning children's activities outside of school in European American and Latino families. Child Development, 76, 371-383.

Gauvain, M. (2001). The social context of cognitive development. New York: Guilford.

Gauvain, M. (2001). Cultural tools, social interaction, and the development of thinking. Human Development, 44, 126-143.

Gauvain, M. (1998). Cognitive development in social and cultural context. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 7, 188-192.

Gauvain, M. (1995). Thinking in niches: Sociocultural influences on cognitive development. Human Development, 38, 25-45.

Gauvain, M., & Rogoff, B. (1989). Collaborative problem solving and children's planning skills. Developmental Psychology, 25, 139-151.