University of California, Riverside


Mary Gauvain Professor of Psychology

Topics: Cognitive Development
Water and Food Contamination
Open fire cooking

Preferred Media: Print, Radio, Video

Contact Card

Tel: 951-827-4690

Media Contact: John Warren


Gauvain studies how children’s experiences with other people and how the practices and tools of culture contribute to cognitive development. She has studied the development of problem solving, planning, spatial and mathematical reasoning, and concept formation. Her book The Social Context of Cognitive Development (2001) describes social contributions to what children learn and how learning occurs. Recent collaborations have focused on children’s health and well being, including how exposure to open fire cooking relates to cognitive development, children’s understanding of water and food contamination in Tanzania, and health knowledge among rural Maasai adolescents and adults. She is also interested in the sociocultural theory of cognitive development, as well as the relation between cultural change and cognitive development

She is Co-PI on an NSF funded IGERT project on water, the environment, and sustainability; a member of the UC Global Health Initiative (UCGHI) and Co-Director of the UCGHI Center of Expertise on “One Health: Water, Animals, Food and Society.” From 2010-2012, Gauvain was chair of the Academic Senate, Riverside Division. From 2013-2014, she 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

On Cognitive Development

Gauvain is an expert in social and cultural contributions to cognitive development, including the development of problem solving and planning skills and spatial cognition

On Water and Food Contamination

Gauvain has conducted research on children’s and adults’ understanding of water and food contamination in Uganda and Tanzania in East Africa and in the United States.

On Open fire cooking

Gauvain has conducted research on relations between children’s exposure to open fire cooking vs. cooking with kerosene stores and its impact on children’s cognitive performance. Her results show moderate to strong negative relations between open fire cooking and cognitive performance, with the relations stronger for younger children. The findings are consistent with other research on open fire cooking and its negative developmental consequences, especially in the early years.