Jenny Saffran, Principal Investigator
College of Letters & Science Professor of Psychology
Ph.D. 1997, University of Rochester
Phone: (608) 262-9942
Office: 528 Psychology; 538A Waisman Center
How do children acquire their native language? My research focuses on the kinds of learning abilities required to master the complexities of language. Three broad issues characterize my work. One line of research asks what kinds of learning emerge in infancy. A second line of research probes the biases that shape human learning abilities, and the relationship between these biases and the structure of human languages. A third issue concerns the extent to which the learning abilities underlying this process are specifically tailored for language acquisition. Related research concerns infant music perception, and the relationship between music and language learning.
Sarah Oakley, Lab Manager
B.S., 2017, University of Wisconsin – Madison (Psychology)
Phone: (608) 263-5876
Office: 501 Waisman Center
I am a recent graduate of UW-Madison, where I majored in Psychology and minored in Criminal Justice. I love working in the Infant Learning Lab and find children’s language acquisition fascinating! I am currently studying the development of babies’ musical perception. I am also interested in child and adolescent development, particularly pertaining to antisocial behaviors.
Ron Pomper, Graduate Student
B.A., 2011, Stanford University (Human Biology)
M.S., 2014 University of Wisconsin, Madison (Psychology)
Word learning involves more than just being able to identify an object. For example, apples can be eaten, are fruits, grow on trees, and come in different colors. I am interested in studying how children learn these other dimensions of a word’s meaning. My current work focuses on whether children have difficulty flexibly shifting between these different dimensions of a word’s meaning and if this difficulty relates to other developing cognitive skills like attentional control.
Martin Zettersten, Graduate Student
1st St.ex., 2013, Heidelberg University (Mathematics, Linguistics, Psychology)
M.S., 2014 University of Wisconsin, Madison (Psychology)
Children learn about the world in a rich social environment where they are constantly interacting with other adults and children. How does growing up in a social world help children learn language? How does social interaction structure language input and motivate children to learn to communicate using language? In my research, I explore how social context and children’s learning mechanisms and biases work together in language development. I am co-advised by Jenny Saffran and Gary Lupyan.
Desia Bacon, Graduate Student
B.S., 2017, University of Central Florida (Psychology)
I am interested in studying how children use environmental stimuli and perceptual cues to facilitate language learning and comprehension. My current research focuses on whether children use associations between words and social categories as anticipatory cues, and if so, what in their environment leads to these associations.
Kayla Gardner, Undergraduate Student
I am a senior double majoring in Psychology and Human Development & Family Studies. I plan on attending graduate school after undergrad and I want to work with kids! I have always been fascinated by children and love observing the way they interact with their environment, particularly infants who are learning new information at such a rapid rate. The Infant Learning Lab is my first step into the world of psychology research and has been a great experience. I love watching the senior lab members discuss their projects and get excited about what they are working on.
Michaela McCabe, Undergraduate Student
I am a senior double majoring in communication sciences and disorders and vocal performance. I have always loved working with children, and I have had various jobs as a camp counselor and an assistant daycare teacher. As a double major in CS&D and music, I am very interested in the overlaps between language and music perception. Specifically, I love learning about how music can act as a clinical tool to foster language development and communication. In addition to this, I am very interested in the treatment of voice disorders. My ultimate goal is to become a speech and language pathologist, obtain certification in music therapy, and participate in research throughout my life. I love being a part of the Infant Learning Lab, and I can’t wait to keep learning from all of the other lab members!
Samantha Rauch, Undergraduate Student
I am currently a junior majoring in Psychology with a certificate in Global Health and Gender and Women’s Studies. After my undergraduate years, I hope to attend graduate school and eventually become a physician’s assistant.
I love working with kids especially while working as a public pool supervisor, swimming lessons teacher, student teacher for a kindergarten class. I am passionate about helping people and expanding my knowledge on how to help them. In this lab, I plan to gain experience learning and interacting with children to eventually become a PA working in obstetrics and gynecology.
Lauren Silber, Undergraduate Student
I am a junior, double majoring in Psychology and Human Development & Family Studies. After taking Dr. Saffran’s Child Psychology course my freshman year, I was hooked on the topic of language development! After a semester of jotting down notes for ideas of future studies and coming to office hours wanting to learn more, I decided the best way to explore my interest in the research side of psychology would be to join the Infant Learning Lab! I know that I’ll be able to take with me all the experience in the lab, learning how to interact with clients and help organize research studies, to follow my professional goals and turn my ideas into something tangible! Someday I hope to pursue a career in school psychology.
Rachel Ziser, Undergraduate Student
My name is Rachel and I am a senior majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders. I have had various experiences working with children in schools, summer camps and through babysitting. During my sophomore year in college I began volunteering at a pediatric therapy clinic. My experiences there validated my passion for speech pathology and deepened my curiosity for how children acquire language. Why do some children struggle with language and communication, while others seem to grasp these skills naturally and with ease? I plan to attend graduate school once I finish my undergraduate studies and hope to become a speech and language pathologist. I am excited to learn more about how infants develop language and engage with the world around them. I am looking forward to experiencing this field through research!
Maddie Cincebeaux, Undergraduate Student
I am a senior majoring in both Psychology and Human Development & Family Studies. For years now, I have loved watching kids explore their environments, and discovering the great world around them. I specifically wanted to be a member of this lab because I am fascinated by the transition periods in each individual child’s development, and so many of these moments are captured in infancy. Specifically, I am interested in the ways in which infants pick up patterns through speech and sounds in their environment, and quickly learn to transform patterns into their own language comprehension and production. I am grateful for the opportunity to have such an active role in the research of this lab, and look forward to gaining valuable experience!
Grace McCune, Undergraduate Student
I am a junior majoring in Psychology with a certificate in Criminal Justice. I have always loved working with children, so when I heard about this lab opportunity I was overjoyed. I have had a lot of experience working with children. I have worked at a summer camp for the past two years and have been a tutor for children in the Madison area. I also am the Assistant Philanthropy Chairwoman for my sorority and we work to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I’m still unsure of what my plans will be after I graduate, but I am hopeful that this lab experience will help me in making my future decision. I am super excited to be working in the Infant Learning Lab!
Tori Rehfuss, Undergraduate Student
I am a senior majoring in Psychology with a focus in child development. I plan to go to school to become a Physician-Assistant after graduating from the UW here. I love working with children and have an interest in their health and development especially in the language acquisition. This lab is a great way for me to get hands on experience in understanding the acquisition of language and its implications for children. I want to work to better the lives of children from providing adequate healthcare to educational resources on nutrition to the skills to get children to go above and beyond their academic capabilities, so I am excited to get involved in the research and gain hands on experience with just how children develop.
Emily Cummings, Undergraduate Student
I am a junior majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Once I complete my degree, I plan to attend graduate school to pursue a career as a speech-language pathologist. After taking the course Language Development in Children and Adolescents, I was captivated and knew I wanted to explore the topic further. I love working with kids and enjoy gaining valuable research experience as a part of the Infant Learning Lab team!
Tess Gapinski, Undergraduate Student
I am a junior majoring in Psychology at UW, but before I decided on my major I was seriously considering studying Communication Sciences and Disorders. Throughout my studies, I have very much enjoyed learning about the facets of language acquisition in children. Being from a family of 8 kids, I have constantly been surrounded by children and absolutely love learning how they explore the world around them, especially as infants. I believe that my time in the Infant Learning Lab will allow me to merge my interest of children and language learning, while also developing my professional skills. After my undergraduate studies, I will work towards a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy in the hopes of having my own practice.
Lauren Bullock, Undergraduate Student
I am a senior majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with certificates in Educational Services as well as Educational Policy. I have always had a passion for working with children and have been able to reaffirm this though various experiences I’ve had working as a daycare teacher, an after-school care provider, and a volunteer with a birth to three services clinic back in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I look forward to exploring my interests in speech and language acquisition as well and how children use language to navigate their world. I also plan to use my newfound experience in the Infant Learning Lab as I go forward to pursue a Master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology in graduate school.
Louisa Forrest, Undergraduate Student
I am a sophomore majoring in Linguistics and Spanish at UW-Madison. I hope after graduation to attend graduate school and continue my studies in Linguistics. I have always enjoyed working with kids. I love goofing off with them and watching them experience and learn new things. I took a special interest in how children acquire language after being blown away by Dr. Saffran’s guest lecture on language acquisition in my child psychology class. I am very excited to join this research team, and look forward to being a part of its findings.
Ally Mitchell, Undergraduate Student
I am a sophomore majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders, and thinking about double majoring in Psychology as well. I have always loved spending time with kids and have a lot of experience working with them, through babysitting and by working as a camp counselor for preschoolers the past three summers. I took a linguistics class and a class of about language development in children last semester that got me very interest in language development. Someday I hope to pursue a career as a speech-language pathologist, and I’m very excited to learn more about the field through my experiences here.