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


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.

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.

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

Olivia Christopher

Olivia is a senior at the University of Minnesota graduating in Spring of 2017. She is pursing a B.S. degree in Psychology and minors in Neuroscience and Spanish. After graduation, she is enrolling in an Occupational Therapy program and hopes to specialize in pediatrics. She loves working with children in her two current jobs as a PCA and as a Childcare Worker with Minneapolis Parks and Recreation. She began researching with DSCN Lab because of her interests in cognitive and brain sciences and child development.

Jennifer Chuchvara

Jennifer is a junior majoring in Psychology and Sociology: Law, Criminology, and Deviance. She has been helping in the DSCN Lab for two semesters now, and she has enjoyed every minute of it! After her time as an undergraduate, she hopes to continue her education in graduate school or law school. As of right now, she has no specific career path, but would enjoy a job that involves helping others.

Cydney ​Coleman​​​

Cydney is a senior at the University of Minnesota. She will be graduating with a B.S. degree in Child Psychology. After graduation, she plans to go to graduate school and pursue a career in clinical psychology. She has a variety of experience working with kids like working as a developmental trainee at Fraser School. Fun fact about her is that she is left-handed and can move her ears. She is excited to learn from her research experience!

Malaz Ebrahim

M​alaz is​ currently a pre-med student pursuing a B.S. degree in Child Psychology. ​She ​really enjoys being an RA and hope​s​ to continue down this path throughout the remainder of ​her time at the U. Researching at ICD has been an incredible way for ​her to apply her studies. Post graduation, ​she​ aspire​s​ to continue ​her academic journey and attend medical school. Outside of academic life, ​she​ love​s​ to travel, camp, hike and run.

Shiloh Edwardh

Shiloh is a junior in the B.S. Child Psychology program with an interest in neuroscience. Her goal is to work as a private practice therapist with children who have behavioral and trauma problems, using hands-on therapy methods such as art, nature and play therapy. Shiloh has worked as a personal care assistant but is currently a nanny for a sweet two-year-old boy. In her free time, she loves to explore the North Shore and be with friends and family.

Sophie Grieger

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.

Abby Guetter

Abby is a sophomore studying Child Psychology. She is originally from St. Paul and works with children during the summer as an overnight camp counselor. She loves children and would like to pursue a graduate degree in developmental psychology. Abby currently assists Brandon Almy on his research study in the DSCN lab.

Alex ​Khan

Alex is a senior at the University of Minnesota graduating in Spring of 2017. He is pursuing a B.S. degree in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience while following a Pre-Medical track. After graduation, he plans on taking a gap year before going to medical school. He is highly interested in orthopedic surgery, neurology or pediatrics. Outside of the lab, he is involved in two student group clubs Pre-Med AMSA and MEDLIFE and works as an EMT and CNA. He also enjoys doing anything related to football.

Kasin Lewicki

Kasin is a senior at the University of Minnesota. She will be graduating with a B.S. degree in Child Psychology. After graduation, she plans to find a career in the public school system working with adolescents in middle school or high school. She has a wide range of experience working with kids of all ages and in many different settings. Her favorite opportunity to work with kids was as a literacy tutor at an elementary school. She is excited to be a part of the DSCN Lab for her senior year!

Heather Markun-Heard​

Heather is a senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology: Law, Criminology, and Deviance. She began volunteering with the DSCN Lab in May 2016. Heather usually stays busy with her two jobs as a nanny and PCA. After graduation, Heather would like to go to graduate school for clinical psychology and become a ​​clinical neuropsychologist.​

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.

Stephanie Perez-Pria

Stephanie is a senior at the University of Minnesota looking to graduate in Fall 2016 with a B.S. in psychology. She plans to go to graduate school to specialize in clinical psychology and hopes to pursue a career in a clinic or hospital setting. She is always pursuing opportunities to expand her research skills and that is how she found herself assisting Andrei Semenov and Annelise Pesch with their research. In her free time, Stephanie likes to take care of animals, play PokemonGo, and watch movies.

Ellen Samuelson

Ellen is an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota entering her junior year as a psychology major. Though she is unsure of her plans after college, she loves kids and hopes to work with them as a psychotherapist in the future. Ellen is currently an assistant teacher for the University of Minnesota child care center and assists Julie Vaisarova with her research study.

Nikita Tavares

Nikita Tavares is currently a sophomore at the University of Minnesota pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Child Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. She has previously spent time working with young children in an orphanage in India and is interested in a career of developing specialized developmental and educational programs for autistic and underprivileged kids. She is currently a research assistant at ICD’s Carlson Lab and is a part of the BeliEF study.

Pa Houa Vang

Pa is currently a junior at the University of Minnesota majoring with a B.S. in child psychology. She is a research assistant for the ICD's Carlson Lab with Amanda Grenell and is also working on campus with the Center for Neurobehavioral Development. She loves and enjoys working with children, and is hoping for a future career in pediatric nursing. ​

Jessica Widboom

Jessica is a junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Child Psychology. She has been working in the Carlson Lab since the summer of 2016. She is currently looking into graduate school programs and would like be a family therapist one day. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, coloring, and trying new foods.​ ​

Shiloh Zhou

Shiloh is a freshman studying Psychology and Computer Science. She’s passionate about the connection between cognition and mindfulness. She’s also interested in developing computer programs for educational, clinical, and research purposes. Shiloh is considering pursuing a Ph.D. degree in psychology. ​


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). Wendy completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Cristina Atance investigating the effect of psychological distance on children's future-thinking, and is currently a knowledge broker at the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, and teaches undergraduate psychology at the University of Ottawa.

Emily Prager, Ph.D.

Emily received her Ph.D. from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota in 2016, working with Dr. Stephanie Carlson and Dr. Michele Mazzocco. She had previously attended Kenyon College and received a Bachelors of Art, majoring in psychology and neuroscience. While at the University of Minnesota, Emily joint enrolled in the School Psychology department. Currently, Emily is completing her School Psychology internship with Minneapolis Public Schools and will earn her Ed.S. degree in the Spring of 2017. Working in schools allows Emily apply her research interests, looking at how executive function skills relate to traditional areas of academics such as mathematics, in elementary and early childhood settings.

Erin Casey

Erin Schubert, Ph.D.

Erin received her PhD from the Institute of Child Development in 2016, after completing her dissertation showing that lower-income preschoolers benefit most from executive function training. She had previously received a Bachelors of Science, majoring in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in Spring 2011. Since receiving her doctorate, Erin has accepted a position as the Director of Outcomes and Evaluation for Sojourner Family Peace Center, a non-profit agency serving children and families affected by domestic violence in Milwaukee, WI. She is interested in evaluating the effectiveness of intervention and prevention programs that enhance resilience among children and families in adversity.

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 is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hamilton College. She completed her Ph.D. at the Institute of Child Development under Dr. Carlson’s supervision and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania with Dr. Angela Duckworth. Rachel’s research examines the development of self-control in children and adolescents. She is particularly interested in how children can use imaginative strategies, like taking the perspective of another person, to better regulate their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Rachel has published several papers on psychological distancing and self-control (e.g., White & Carlson, 2015; White, Duckworth, & Kross, 2015; White, Prager, Schaefer, Kross, Duckworth, & Carlson, 2016).

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.