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Melissa Koenig

Ph.D., 2002, University of Texas at Austin

Institute of Child Development
174 ChDev
51 East River Pkwy


Curriculum Vitae

Language acquisition, cognitive development, pragmatics and social cognition, word learning.

Early Language and Experience Lab

For Ph.D. program applicants: If you are indicating me as a faculty member you’re interested in working with on your application, I prefer that you contact me prior to the application deadline of Dec. 1.

My research focuses on how children acquire knowledge from other people.  Currently, this question takes two directions: First, I am interested in the social factors that influence their learning about the world and second, I study how children develop a pragmatic understanding of language.

(a) How do infants and young children understand and exploit the distinctive characteristics of other people as sources of information? How do children balance the benefits of learning new information against the risk of being misinformed? When do infants appreciate the possibility that an utterance might be false? Do children and adults evaluate speakers differently? Our research addresses these and other questions through a range of projects. We are especially interested in how children identify candidate information sources, the role that trust plays in testimonial learning, children’s estimations of knowledge and their understanding of ignorance and uncertainty.

(b) How do we come to understand the internal significance of language? Meaning is connected to speaker-oriented notions like telling, requesting, doubting, believing, supposing and so on. The relation between what sentences mean and the intentions, beliefs and doubts that speakers express is complex and subtle. How do children learn about the many pragmatic functions of their language? Our research looks especially at children between the ages of 1-5 and uses multiple methodologies.

Selected Publications

  1. Koenig, M. A., Cole, C., Meyer, M., Ridge, K., Kushnir, T., & Gelman, S., (in press).  Reasoning about knowledge: Children’s evaluations of generality and verifiability. Cognitive Psychology.

    Suarez, S., & Koenig, M., (in press). The Selective Social Learner as an Agent of Cultural Group Selection. Commentary on P. Richerson, et al., Cultural Group Selection Plays an Essential Role in Explaining Human Cooperation: A Sketch of the Evidence.  Brain and Behavioral Sciences.

    Stephens, E., & Koenig, M. A., (2015).  Varieties of Testimony: Children’s Selective Learning in Semantic and Episodic Domains.  Cognition, 137, 182-188.

    Koenig, M. A., (2015). Variations in Teaching Bring Variations in Learning.  Commentary on M. Kline’s, How to learn about teaching: An evolutionary framework for the study of teaching behavior in humans and other animals, Brain and Behavioral Sciences.

    Stephens, E., Suarez, S., & Koenig, M. A., (2015). Early Testimonial Learning: Monitoring Speech Acts and Speakers.  Advances in Child Development and Behavior, Vol. 48.

    Sher, I., Koenig, M. A., & Rustichini, A., (2014).  Children’s Strategic Theory of Mind.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Hetherington, C., Hendrickson, C., & Koenig, M., (2014). Reducing an In-Group Bias in Preschool Children: The Impact of Moral Behavior. Developmental Science, 17(6), 1-8. doi:10.1111/desc.12192.

    Reifen, M., Federico, C., M., Lyons, K., Ludeke, S., & Koenig, M. A. (2014).  Heralding the Authoritarian?  Orientation towards Authority in Early Childhood.   Psychological Science, 25(4), 883-892. 

    Sera, M., Cole, C., Oromendia, M., & Koenig, M., (2014). Object familiarity facilitates foreign word learning in preschoolers. Language Learning and Development, 10 (2), 129-148.

    Koenig, M. A., & Stephens, E., (2014). Characterizing Children’s Responsiveness to Cues of Speaker Trustworthiness: Two Proposals.  In E. Robinson and S. Einav (Eds.), Trust and Skepticism: Children's Selective Learning from Testimony. Psychology Press: Cambridge, UK.

    Carlson, S., Koenig, M., & Harms, M., (2013).  Theory of Mind.  WIREs Cognitive Science. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science. Doi: 10.1002/wcs.1232

    Doebel, S., & Koenig, M. A., (2013).  Children’s Use of an Informant’s Negative Moral Behavior: Discrimination versus Learning.  Developmental Psychology, 49 (3), 462-469.

    Koenig, M. A., & Sabbagh, M., (2013).  Selective social learning: New Perspectives on Learning from Others.  Developmental Psychology, 49 (3), 399-403.

    Koenig, M. A., (2012).  Beyond Semantic Accuracy: Preschoolers Evaluate a Speaker’s Reasons.  Child Development, 83, 1051-1063.

    Koenig, M. A., & Woodward, A. L., (2012).  Toddlers learn words in a foreign language: The role of native vocabulary knowledge. Journal of Child Language, 39, 322-337.

    Cole, C., Harris, P. L., & Koenig, M. A., (2012).  Entitled to Trust? Philosophical Frameworks and Evidence from Children.  Analyse & Kritik, 34, 195-216.

    Koenig, M. A., & Jaswal, V. K., (2011).  Characterizing Children’s Expectations about Expertise and Incompetence: Halo or Pitchfork Effects?   Child Development, 82(5), 1634-1647.