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Kimberly E. Vanderbilt

Kimberly E. Vanderbilt

Associate 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



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


M.A., University of California, San Diego
Experimental Psychology


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., Ochoa, K. D., & Heilbrun, J. (2018). Consider the source: Children link the accuracy of text-based sources to the accuracy of the author. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 36(4), 634-651.

Vanderbilt, K. E., Heyman, G. D., & Liu, D. (2014). In the absence of conflicting testimony young children trust inaccurate informantsDevelopmental Science17, 443-451. Read PDF

Heyman, G. D., Sritanyaratana, L., & Vanderbilt, K. E. (2013). Young Children's Trust in Overtly Misleading AdviceCognitive Science37, 646–667. Read PDF

Liu, D., Vanderbilt, K. E., & Heyman, G. D. (2013). Selective trust: Children's use of intention and outcome of past testimonyDevelopmental Psychology49, 439-445. Read PDF

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.

Vanderbilt, K. E., Liu, D., & Heyman, G. D. (2011). The development of distrustChild Development, 82, 1372-1380. Read PDF


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!

Interested in joining the R.O.C.K. S.T.A.R. Lab Team?! Download an application!
Email if you have any questions.

students smiling
lab photo summer 2015
cds 2015 poster
lab photo dec 2015
rock star students
rock star helping elementary student

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

Principal Investigator

Kimberly Vanderbilt, Ph.D. 

Kimmie Kimmie as a child

  • Pets: A cat named Bucket

Graduate Students

Jarwyn Cruz, B.A.

 Jarwyn CruzJarwyn as a child

  • Pets: A pitbull named Bubba
  • Career aspirations: Developmental Psychologist

Jennifer Ruckoldt, B.A.

JenniferJennifer as a toddler

  • Pets: one cat named Charming and one dog (pitbull/boxer) named Olive
  • Career Aspirations: Clinical Psychologist with a Child Focus

Research Assistants

Ashley Mota Ortega

AshleyAshley as a child

  • Major: Psychology and Child and Adolescent Development
  • Year: Junior
  • Pets: 3 dogs, a bird, and a turtle
  • Other involvements: PSO member
  • Career aspirations: she hopes to become a Clinical Psychologist and eventually have her own practice 

Emily Esquivel

EmilyEmily as a baby

  • Major: Child and Adolescent Development
  • Year: Junior
  • Pets: dog named Daisy
  • Other involvements: McNair Scholars Program and Pi Psi Delta Zeta
  • Career aspirations: she hopes to become a School Psychologist 

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, Elaine Dimopolous, Kayla Pratson, Isabella Scuito, Jennifer Turner, Jayd Blankenship, Nicolette Affre, Brent Allmon, Olivia DePaul, Melissa Dominguez, Holly Gizlow, Jon Hoerr, AJ Vega, Ashley Torres, Carissa Velasquez, Michelle Rios, Priscilla Duran, Kristin Nelson, Rachel White, Karina Solis, Lizmery Vigil, Elaina Mehrabian, Rachel Flowers, Raquel Keck, Jahlan Loche, Keely Lopes, Judith Michel, Soleil Olsen-Corona, Jackie Reyes, Charlene Andreason, Rosa Hunt, Janette Ruiz Mora, Melissa Melchor Botello, Evan Weidele, Sarah Trinh, Pooja Punjabi, Justin Mejia, Renee Pierce

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?! Download an application!
Email if you have any questions.

Participate in Science!

testing testing testing Student with child

We want to know what kids think! 

We are currently interviewing children (ages 3-6) to learn more about how kids think about people and the social world! Sign up for an interview below! 


We are interested in learning about what kids think about people and the social world we live in. We are currently working on a project to help scientists learn more about this, and we are hoping you and your child will agree to help!

Let me tell you a bit about what your child would do. Each child will be interviewed individually (via Zoom). During the interview, children will be introduced to made-up characters and play a short guessing game with them. After the game, children will be asked a few simple questions about their impressions of the characters. There are, of course, no right or wrong answers, we just want to know what kids think! Children typically enjoy the interviews; it’s fun for them to play the game and say whatever is on their mind.

Your child’s participation will help us learn more about the way kids understand the world around them, and will help adults better understand how to teach and guide them along the way.  If you have any questions, we’d be happy to answer them. Please feel free to contact us!


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!

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child with insect activity

Our Research in the News: