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Kimberly E. Vanderbilt

Kimberly E. Vanderbilt

Assistant Professor of Psychology

Office: SBSB 3226

Kimberly E. Vanderbilt

I joined the Cal State San Marcos Psychology Department in 2013. My area of specialization is in social cognitive development. I completed my graduate and undergraduate training at the University of California, San Diego. My research focuses on how children (and people in general) learn to reason about the thoughts and behaviors of others. Particularly, I am interested in how young children learn to judge the reliability of sources who provide information, as well as how children make inferences about the mental states of such sources.

                  thinking kid



2008-2013       Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
                       Experimental Psychology 
                       Advisors: Gail Heyman and David Liu

2007-2008       M.A., University of California, San Diego
                       Experimental Psychology

2003-2007       B.S., University of California, San Diego
                       Psychology, with departmental honors
                       minor in Anthropology

         heymanlab liulab



Navigating the Social World

    goofy   snowwhite     pinocchio

Knowing Whom to Trust: The ability to judge the reliability of sources is of the utmost importance in social life. Because social life requires that we absorb information at a rate far exceeding our ability to gain information firsthand, we often rely on other people to provide us with information about the world. For example, we commonly rely on others to teach us about the existence of microorganisms, events in national history, and even tomorrow’s weather forecast. Children especially, must rapidly acquire a great deal of information about the world, and often rely on other people to teach them such information. Although the transmission of information between individuals and across generation affords us many benefits (both as individuals and as a species) there are also inherent dangers to accepting information from others. As adults, we know to be skeptical of the information we receiver from others, or risk being misinformed or misled. But when do children learn this critical social skill? When do children learn to be skeptical of the information others provide? My research addresses the nature and development of children’s skepticism toward unreliable sources, and particularly, children’s reasoning about deceptive sources. As part of this research program, I have investigated whether children trust sources they have seen be deceptive, what factors influence children’s selective trust, and how this understanding relates to other social and cognitive abilities such as theory of mind and inhibitory control. The central goals of my research are to better characterize the development of skepticism in young children, to identify the factors that inform children’s trust judgments, and to explore methods for improving children’s critical thinking.

Select Publications:

Vanderbilt, K. E., Heyman, G. D., & Liu, D. (2014). In the absence of conflicting testimony young children trust inaccurate informants. Developmental Science17, 443-451. [pdf] [link]

Heyman, G. D., Sritanyaratana, L., & Vanderbilt, K. E. (2013). Young Children's Trust in Overtly Misleading Advice. Cognitive Science37, 646–667. [pdf] [link]

Liu, D., Vanderbilt, K. E., & Heyman, G. D. (2013). Selective trust: Children's use of intention and outcome of past testimony. Developmental Psychology49, 439-445. [pdf] [link]

Liu, D. & Vanderbilt, K. E. (2013). Children learn from and about variability between people. In M. R. Banaji & S. A. Gelman (Eds.) Navigating the Social World: A Developmental Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press. [link]

Vanderbilt, K. E., Liu, D., & Heyman, G. D. (2011). The development of distrust. Child Development, 82, 1372-1380. [pdf] [link]


PSYC 100: Introduction to Psychology Introduction to basic concepts, problems, and research methods in the science of psychology. Includes perception, cognitive processes, learning, motivation, measurement, development, personality, abnormal behavior, and biological and social bases of behavior, including cross-cultural issues. The requirements will include participation in low-risk psychological experiments or completion of additional short papers.

PSYC 330: Developmental Psychology: Infancy and Childhood Theories, methods and research on development from conception through childhood. Includes biological, genetic, and physical development; social-emotional development, cognitive and language development; perception and brain development. 

PSYC 331: Infancy and Childhood: Theories and Research Focus on theories, methods ,and research in developmental psychology from conception through childhood. Includes biological, genetic, and physical development;social-emotional development, cognitive and language development;perception and brain development. Analysis and synthesis of scholarly articles are integral parts of this course.

PSYC 395: Laboratory in Developmental Psychology Advanced research methods in life-span developmental psychology. Application of methodological principles to research in such areas as cognitive and social development. Two hours lecture and three hours laboratory.

PSYC 499: Independent Research Independent research investigation (e.g., empirical laboratory or field research) in collaboration with a faculty member.

PSYC 552: Graduate Proseminar in Developmental Psychology Advanced study of current research and theory in developmental psychology. Issues such as temperament, attachment, gender-identity, cognition, and emotion will be considered from a developmental perspective, as well as the influences of family relationships, social interactions, cultural values, education, and social policy on development. Class discussions and assignments will encourage critical and analytic thinking as well as active learning approaches. Students will make formal oral and written presentations of individual and/or group projects. 



Welcome to the R.O.C.K. S.T.A.R. Lab!

R.O.C.K. S.T.A.R. stands for Research On Children's Knowledge of Social Thinking And Reasoning.

Our main goal is to investigate how children learn about the social world. We conduct interviews with children both on the CSUSM campus, and in the surrounding community. You may see us at the San Diego Children's Discovery Museum, or at your local preschool. If you do, stop by and say hello!

 lab photo summer2015 cds 2015 poster

lab photo dec 2015  


Meet the the R.O.C.K. S.T.A.R. Lab Team:

fall 2016 lab pic

Principle Investigator

Kimberly Vanderbilt


Pets: A dog named Rocket and a cat named Bucket

Graduate Students

Jayd Blankenship

Pets: A cat named Steve

Research Assistants

Nicolette Affre


Major: Psychology

Year: Senior

Pets: Dog named Ginger

Other involvements: Alpha Chi Omega

Career aspirations: Masters in marriage and family counseling

Brent Allmon 


Major: Psychology

Year: Senior

Pets: Dog named Keira

Other involvements: Community Conversation Partners

Career aspirations: Author

Olivia DePaul 


Major: Psychology

Year: Junior

Pets: Dog named Lucy

Other involvements: Founding member of Voices of Hope, former Vice President of Active Minds, PSI CHI member, former SHCS intern

Career aspirations: Clinical psychologist

Elaine Dimopolous


Major: Psychology

Year: Senior

Other involvements: Leader of the Global Partnership Program and a member of Alpha Chi Omega

Career aspirations: I currently work as behavioral therapist, and after attending graduate school I would like to be a clinical manager for an ABA therapy company. 

Melissa Dominguez


Major: Child and Adolescent Development

Year: Senior

Pets: Two cats named Izzie and Rollie

Other involvements: Work part time as a teacher assistant at Shuckleberries home preschool and daycare in San Marcos

Career aspirations: Preschool teacher

Holly Gizlow

holly-big holly-little

Major: Psychology

Year: Senior

Pets: A cat named Cat, and a 55 gallon tank with several Cichlids

Member: PsiChi

Career Aspirations: Research that helps protect kids against advertisements and stereotypes

Jon Hoerr


Major: Psychology

Year: Senior

Pets: Cat named Boo Radley

Other involvements: State-wide CSU Research Symposium

Career aspirations: Developmental psychologist with an interest in building resilience in children

Kayla Pratson


Major: Psychology

Year: Senior

Pets: Black lab named Rocco

Career aspirations: In the future I hope to create and run my own life coaching/ teaching workshops that help to educate people in mental, emotional, and physical health and wellness.

Isabella Scuito


Major: Psychology

Year: Senior

Pets: German Shepherd named Georgia

Other involvements: Member of Delta Zeta sorority, Gamma Sigma Alpha Greek Honor Society, Order of Omega Greek Honor Society, Psi Chi, and an RA in Dr. Kim Tsai's Culture, Adolescent, Family, Adjustment (CAFA) lab

Career aspirations: Working in the field of education, whether that be as a teacher in the classroom or as a researcher examining ways to enhance students' learning. I am particularly interested in children's academic readiness and executive functioning skills and how these work together to prepare children for the classroom. I would love to do research on different executive functioning tasks and how we can implement these tasks as intervention programs in the classroom to better support students who are falling behind.

Jennifer Turner


Major: Child & Adolescent Development

Year: Senior

Pets: Luna my Australian Shepherd, Frankie my Shnauzer mix, Charmmy and Kiki my cats, and Ariel my newt.

Other involvements: PSI CHI, volunteered for the Psychology Research Spotlight in Spring 2016

Career aspirations: Elementary teacher

Lab Alumni

Monique Stolmeier, Hunter Montoya, Ruby Cuellar, Tricia Alcid, Linda Carter, Hillary Hartman, Camille McArdle-Hankin, Derrick Ocampo, Donna Phonsane, Kelsie Santoro, Karlena Ochoa, Melissa Gary, Jenny Lagervall, Leann Leite, Samantha Marshall, Bianca Medina, Sarah Ross, Tim Burtnett, Sarah Chaffins, Eileen Lux, Savanah McPhillips, Brian Voss, Lorrie Yates

Lab Alumni have continued on to gradute school at: 

University of Oregon, USC, CSUSM, CSU San Bernadino, San Diego State, CSU Dominguez Hills, UC Riverside, University of Northern Colorado, Oregon State University, Brown University, University of Arizona, California Baptist University...

Interested in joining the R.O.C.K. S.T.A.R. Lab Team?! 
Email for more information.

For Parents

Check out our newsletter for updates on the lab!

ROCKSTAR Reader Spring 2017

Frequently asked questions about the R.O.C.K.S.T.A.R. Lab

Who are we?

We are members of the CSUSM R.O.C.K.S.T.A.R. Lab. “ROCKSTAR” stands for Research On Children’s Knowledge of Social Thinking And Reasoning. We are graduate and undergraduate students studying psychological science, human development and child/adolescent development at Cal State San Marcos. Dr. Kimberly Vanderbilt is the director of the ROCKSTAR lab.


What do we do at the museum?

We help the San Diego Children's Discovery Museum promote STEM education for children and families in San Diego County. We want to help kids and their families learn about science first hand, through science-based games and even real science interviews! And kids can win stickers for playing with us!

What are we studying?

We’re interested in answering questions about how kids understand and navigate the social world around them. We’re interested in how children learn about people—such as how smart or honest a person is—and how children learn to navigate the complicated social world we live in—such as understanding other’s thoughts and actions, and knowing when to trust or share with others.

How do we learn about kids?

We play games with kids and ask them questions to learn more about how they think and learn about the world. We may play a game, or read some stories about made-up characters. Afterward, we’ll ask kids some questions about the games or the story characters—but don’t worry, there are no right or wrong answers; we just want to know what kids think! And all answers are always anonymous.

What do we do with the information?

Once we’ve interviewed a bunch of kids (usually 100-200!), we look for patterns across the responses. Then, we use those patterns to figure out how kids at a particular age (like 4-year-olds) see the world, and how that differs from kids who are older or younger.  Then, we share what we’ve learned with other researchers, teachers, and caregivers. That way, we can all better understand kids’ unique perspective of the world, and how to better help kids learn and grow!

Our Research in the News:

Psychology Today: