Dr. Stephanie Carlson

Stephanie M. Carlson is Professor and Director of Research at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, the #1-ranked department for developmental psychology (U.S. News & World Report). She received a BA (summa cum laude) with Honors in Psychology from Bucknell University (1991) and a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oregon (1997). After a McDonnell-Pew postdoctoral fellowship in developmental cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Carlson became an Assistant and then Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington (1998-2007). She has been at the University of Minnesota since 2007, and was promoted to the rank of Professor in 2013.

Dr. Carlson is an internationally recognized leader in the study of executive function (brain basis of self-control). She has developed innovative ways of measuring executive function in very young children and made discoveries about the role of executive function in other important aspects of human development (decision-making, perspective-taking, and creativity). Dr. Carlson’s current research focuses on ways to help promote executive function through physical health (nutrition and sleep), caregiving practices and preschool curricula. Her work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, Institute of Education Sciences, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, and the Character Lab. She also has conducted cross-cultural research in North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and has been a Guest Professor of Southwest Normal University in Chongqing (2006-2009) and Zhejiang Normal University in Hangzhou, China (2013-2016).

Dr. Carlson is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science, serves on several editorial boards (e.g., Child Development), is Vice President of the Jean Piaget Society, and is a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group (University of Chicago) and the Frontiers of Innovation Pre-k Standards and Assessments Working Group (Harvard Center on the Developing Child and the National Governors’ Association). She is an Advisor to Sesame Workshop® as well as the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Dr. Carlson is an invited speaker to numerous national and international organizations (e.g., Aspen Brain Forum, Learning & the Brain, Young Presidents’ Organization). Her work has been featured in several media outlets, including Time, New York Times Magazine, and National Public Radio.

Publications     Honors and Grants


Alana Anderson

Alana graduated from St. Olaf College in 2012 with a BA in Psychology and Music. She manages a longitudinal research study on executive function and learning in early childhood. Before joining the team at the Institute of Child Development, she worked with children and parents at several mental health organizations in the Twin Cities area.

Nicole Stucke

Nicole Stucke

Nicole graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Developmental Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. She now manages the Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience (DSCN) Lab and coordinates the University's Infant Participant Pool. Her research interests sparked when she joined the DSCN back in 2014 as a research assistant involved in studies of neural networks and executive functioning in children.

Post Graduate Researchers

Sammy Perone

Sammy Perone, Ph.D.

Sammy Perone graduated from the University of Iowa with a Ph.D. in Developmental Science. Dr. Perone’s research has utilized neural network models to understand early cognitive and behavioral development. Much of his work has been centered on understanding how infants learn about their visual world, how infants interact with others, and the development of new methods to promote neurocognitive development during infancy. More recently, he has extended his research efforts into the domain of executive function. He is especially interested in the neurocognitive processes that enable children to engage in goal-directed behavior and the development of interventions that foster cognitive, behavioral, and neural development during early childhood.


Graduate Students

Brandon Almy

Brandon Almy

Brandon graduated from Brown University with a B.S. in Psychology in 2012. After graduating, he spent two years at a Children's Research Center in Providence working on an emotion regulation intervention for teens. He is interested in the relationship between executive function and decision-making for adolescents.

Rebecca Distefano

Rebecca Distefano

Rebecca graduated from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Psychology in 2011. She is interested in the effects of poverty and homelessness on the development of executive function.

Jessica Faber

Jessica graduated from Rice University with a B.A. in Psychology. She then worked at Baylor College of Medicine for two years in neuroimaging research (structural MRI and pediatric mTBI). She attended and presented at the annual International Neuropsychological Society on DTI and TBI. Her research interests included neuropsychology, executive functioning, and academic achievement.

Amanda Grenell

Amanda Grenell

Amanda graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Psychology and Spanish in 2012. Her research interests include cognitive development, executive function, symbolic representation, and pretense in early childhood.

Alyssa Meuwissen

Alyssa Meuwissen

Alyssa graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a BA in Psychology and Biology in 2012. Her research interests include social cognitive development, executive functioning, and parenting influences.

Annelise Pesch

Annelise graduated from Arizona State University in 2014 with a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in philosophy. She is interested in social-cognitive development, including theory of mind, social learning, and executive function in early childhood.

Emily Prager

Emily is a graduate student at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. She graduated in the spring of 2009 with a B.A. in Psychology and a concentration in Neuroscience. After graduating, Emily spent two years working on the Language Development Project at the University of Chicago. Emily’s research interests include general cognitive development with a particular focus on the development of executive function and symbolic representation.

Andrei Semenov

Andrei graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2013 with a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy where he studied the relationship between a child's daily schedule and their executive functions. He is interested in how children use play, mindfulness, and neurocognitive skills such as executive functions to solve problems.

Julie Vaisarova

Julie graduated from Scripps College in 2014 with a B.A. in Psychology. Her research interests include cognitive development, pretend play, symbolic representation, and creativity.

Research Assistants


Megan Albarado

Audrey Benson

Audrey is a senior at the University of Minnesota planning to graduate in the spring of 2016 with a B.S. in psychology. Once graduated, she plans to attend graduate school for occupational therapy and pursue a career in pediatric rehabilitation. In addition to the lab, she works at a day treatment program for children with autism.

Emily Cranberg

Emily is a senior who will graduate in May, 2016 with a major in psychology and a minor in family social science. She hopes to go to graduate school and pursue a career in school counseling. Outside of lab she has a job at the university office of admissions. In her free time, she loves hanging out with her family and friends as well as exploring the twin cities.


Joseph Drobek

Sophie Greiger

Sophie Greiger

Sophie will graduate in the Spring of 2017 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. Afterwards, she plans to go to graduate school and pursue a career in a military/government setting. She is originally from Excelsior, Minnesota and in her free time she enjoys going to Gopher games, spending time with friends, and going to concerts.


Karolina Kaczor


Soumya Maraskatla

Soumya is currently a sophomore planning to graduate in the Fall of 2017 with a B.S. in Biology and minors in Neuroscience and Child Psychology. Afterwards, she is planning to go to medical school to pursue a career in pediatrics. She's originally from Plymouth, Minnesota, and outside of lab she's involved in student groups like UNICEF and Bharat. During her free time, she enjoys hanging out with friends, catching up on her favorite TV shows, or reading!


Carley Mason

Elsa Mattson

Elsa is a sophomore planning to graduate Spring of 2018 with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. She hopes to attend graduate school and is currently interested in clinical psychology. Outside of the lab, she enjoys being outdoors, spending time with friends, or sitting down with a good book.


Sumaya Mohamed


Katrina Ostby

Jeeva Palanisamy

Jeeva is currently a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and child psychology. Having always been told he worked well with kids, he thought that it might make a good career choice. With that goal in mind and a strong belief in pursuing rewarding, yet fun opportunities, he joined the DSCN lab at ICD. He has been involved in many studies but primarily works on a study utilizing the video game Rock Band as a measure of learning and executive function. Outside of the lab, he enjoys watching movies, playing sports and reading.


Cerena Vang


Kristy Wagner

Shannen Yap

Shannen is a transfer student from Malaysia. She is currently a senior, graduating in Spring 2016 with a BA in Child Psychology. Upon graduating she hopes to gain more experience working in a child development center in the US and back in Asia.


Yu Yan


Emily Zwirlein

Emily Zwirlein

Emily Zwirlein is a junior majoring in Psychology, minoring in Spanish, and pursuing a certificate in Addictions Studies. She’s originally from Nashotah, Wisconsin, a small town between Milwaukee and Madison. She’s been involved in a variety of activities and groups including Admissions Ambassadors, Welcome Week, and SUA. In her free time she enjoys hanging with friends, playing intramural sports, and watching Gopher games.


Danielle Beck, Ph.D.

Danielle Beck, Ph.D.

Danielle Beck completed her Ph.D. under Dr. Carlson’s supervision at the University of Washington and has published papers with Dr. Carlson on symbolic play and measurement of executive function (Beck, Schaefer, Pang, & Carlson, 2011; Carlson & Beck, 2009; Carlson, Faja, & Beck, 2015). Currently she is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Simpson University in Redding, CA, where she enjoys teaching and conducting research on executive function and child nutrition and obesity.

Jason Cowell

Jason Cowell, Ph.D.

Jason Cowell completed his Ph.D. at the Institute of Child Development working with Dr. Carlson and Dr. Philip D. Zelazo. He came to the Institute after graduating with a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of St. Thomas. Jason’s research deals with the situational constraints on executive function. He is interested in social cognition, particularly regulation in the moral domain. Dr. Cowell was a post-doctoral fellow in the research lab of Dr. Jean Decety at the University of Chicago, and is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ripon College in Wisconsin.

Angela Davis-Unger

Angela Davis-Unger, Ph.D.

Angela Davis-Unger completed her Ph.D. in developmental psychology in the Carlson Lab at the University of Washington. She graduated from St. Joseph's College in Maine with a B.A. in Psychology. She also received a M.A. from Tufts University in School Psychology. Her interests include children's theory of mind, self-control and pretend play skills. She is currently working as a Research Scientist in the University of Washington Office of Educational Assessment. Dr. Davis-Unger has published papers with Dr. Carlson regarding children’s teaching abilities and the role that theory of mind and executive function play in effective teaching (Davis-Unger & Carlson, 2008a, 2008b).

Madeline Harms

Madeline Harms, Ph.D.

Madeline Harms completed her Ph.D. at the Institute of Child Development working with Dr. Kathleen Thomas and Dr. Carlson. She graduated from Wellesley College in 2008. She is interested in the relationships between executive function, social understanding, and emotion processing in children, and published a paper on longitudinal predictions from executive function at age 8 to EF and other outcomes at age 12 (Harms, Zayas, Meltzoff, & Carlson, 2014). Dr. Harms is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Seth Pollak at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is exploring developmental changes in reward processing and the influences of social feedback and social experience on the ways in which children, adolescents, and adults respond to potential risks and rewards. Another line of her research examines developmental and individual differences in neural responses to emotional facial expressions.

Toshie Imada, Ph.D.

Toshie Imada is currently an Assistant Professor at Brunel University in London. Her research investigates the interplay between individuals’ psychological tendencies and their cultural environment. On the psychological side, her research aims to identify culturally variant forms of cognitive processes of individuals, particularly North Americans and East Asians. On the environmental side, her research examines factors that foster and maintain culturally specific psychological tendencies, such as children’s stories, narrative communication, and historical contexts. Through her research, she tries to address the importance of understanding human cognition and behaviors in cultural contexts and to explain the functional meanings of culturally specific psychological propensities. Dr. Imada completed a NIMH postdoctoral fellowship in the Carlson Lab and published a paper with Dr. Carlson on Japanese and American children’s context sensitivity and executive function (Imada, Carlson, & Itakura, 2012).

Wendy Lee, Ph.D.

Wendy Lee, Ph.D.

Wendy Lee completed her Ph.D. at the Institute of Child Development under the supervision of Dr. Carlson. Wendy's research interests include the development of self-control and other cognitive processes in early childhood. Her dissertation research showed that young children's economic decision-making (delaying gratification and saving) is more adaptive in children with better executive function skills (Lee & Carlson, 2015). Dr. Lee is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Cristina Atance at the University of Ottawa.

Erin Schubert

Erin Schubert

Erin graduated from the University of Wisconsin in the spring of 2011 with a B.S. in psychology. As a student at the Institute of Child Development, Erin studied social cognitive functioning in early childhood and parenting influences on such functioning.

Tamara Spiewak Toub

Tamara Spiewak Toub, Ph.D.

Tamara Spiewak Toub earned her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Washington under the mentorship of Dr. Carlson and Dr. Betty Repacholi. Tamara is interested in early social-emotional and social-cognitive development. With Dr. Carlson, Tamara studied developmental benefits of preschoolers' pretend play, with a focus on the relation between pretense and executive function. Dr. Spiewak Toub is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow working with Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek at Temple University, where she is interested in the application of research findings to children's education and everyday lives. She also works with Reflection Sciences (co-founded by Dr. Carlson and Dr. Zelazo) to design and deliver client services.

Rachel White

Rachel White, Ph.D.

Rachel White completed her Ph.D. at the Institute of Child Development under Dr. Carlson’s supervision. After graduating from Wellesley College with a B.A. in Psychology, she spent two years working in Dr. Richard Aslin’s Infant Perception Lab at the University of Rochester. Her research focuses on children’s pretend play and related cognitive development in the preschool years, as well as emotion regulation and academic achievement in middle school students. She has several papers published on the concept of psychological distancing and executive function (Carlson & White, 2013; Carlson, White, & Davis-Unger, 2014; White & Carlson, 2015; White, Kross, & Duckworth, 2015). Dr. White is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the research lab of Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania.

Vivian Zayas, Ph.D.

Vivian Zayas is Associate Professor of Psychology at Cornell University. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Carlson Lab at the University of Washington during which time she collaborated on a study of the neural correlates of executive function (including risky decision-making) in children (Carlson, Zayas, & Guthormsen, 2009; Harms et al., 2014). Her current research examines the cognitive-affective processes that regulate behaviors within close relationships.