Brianna McMillan, Graduate Student

B.S., 2008, University of Arizona (Psychology)

M.S., 2012, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Psychology)

I am interested in the dynamics that both hinder and facilitate early word learning in children. Currently I am studying how children learn words in environments where there are multiple people talking. While it is not uncommon for children to learn words in a complex auditory environment, the extent to which this complexity hinders or helps the development of language still remains uncertain.

Chris Potter, Graduate Student

B.A., 2008, Stanford University (Psychology & Spanish)

M.S., 2012, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Psychology)

I am interested in the differences in acquiring first and second languages, particularly with respect to individual variability in learning. How does adults’ learning differ from children’s? Why is it that some adults seem to have a harder time than others when they try to learn a second language and how does this ability relate to other cognitive skills?

Erica Wojcik, Graduate Student

B.A., 2009, Princeton University (Psychology)

M.S., 2010, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Psychology)


As any parent knows, infants learn an incredible number of words in their first two years of life. Their word knowledge, however, consists of more than just associations between a label (i.e."dog"), and an object (i.e. furry, slobbery four-legged animal). I am interested in how infants learn the complex knowledge that makes up their semantic network. Currently, I am working on projects looking at both early semantic knowledge and how that knowledge is learned.


Tianlin Wang, Graduate Student

B.S., 2005, Nankai University (Physics & Psychology)

I am interested in how infants use phonological cues in language learning. My current research focuses on how babies and adults behave when they are in language environments that are linguistically different from English, i.e., a tone language. I am co-advised by Jenny Saffran and Mark Seidenberg.


Jenny Saffran, Principal Investigator

College of Letters & Science Professor of Psychology

Ph.D. 1997, University of Rochester

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.

Phone: (608) 262-9942
Office: 528 Psychology

Courtney V
enker, Graduate Student

B.A., 2004, Truman State University (Communication Disorders)

M.A., CCC-SLP, 2007, University of Illinois (Speech & Hearing Science)

I am a graduate student in the Department of Communicative Disorders, working with Susan Ellis Weismer and Jenny Saffran. My research focuses on characterizing the learning mechanisms that underlie atypical language acquisition, in hopes of better understanding why some children have such difficulty acquiring language. I am interested in a variety of clinical populations, including children with autism spectrum disorders and children with specific language delays. As a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist, I am also interested in delineating the impact of adult language input on language development in children with developmental delays. My dissertation work focuses on statistical word learning and non-social visual attention in children with autism, using real-time eye-gaze methodology.


                                        Erin Long, Laboratory Manager

                                                    B.A., 2012, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Psychology & Spanish)

                                                    Phone: (608) 263-5876


                                                    Office: 501 Waisman Center

Lynn Perry, Postdoctoral Research Associate


B.S., 2006, Indiana University (Psychology)

M.A., 2009, University of Iowa (Psychology)

Ph.D., 2012, University of Iowa (Psychology: Developmental Science)

Children are amazing word learners, yet it is unclear what the ‘know’ in their

memory for a new name. For example, when a child learns the word ‘banana’,

has she learned something about its color, its shape, or both? Furthermore, little is known about individual differences in this knowledge, and what drives such differences: for example, do differences in existing vocabulary knowledge lead to differences in what children remember about new words? My research in the Infant Learning Lab explores children’s attention to and memory for objects that they can already name (e.g. ‘apple’) and of novel objects for which we teach children the name (e.g. ‘wug’). I am co-advised by Jenny Saffran, Gary Lupyan, and Mark Seidenberg.

Anthony Goodwin, Postdoctoral Research Associate

B.A., 2006, Arizona State University (Psychology)

M.A., 2010, University of Connecticut (Developmental Psychology)

Ph.D., 2013, University of Connecticut (Developmental Psychology)

I am interested in the processes that children use to acquire language, and how these are different or similar in children who are developing atypically. I study grammatical and lexical development in children with autism spectrum disorders, and how their language is influenced by other aspects of their development (e.g., cognitive abilities), as well as their linguistic environment (e.g., parents’ speech and gestures). I am co-advised by Jenny Saffran and Susan Ellis Weismer.

Ron Pomper, Graduate Student

B.A., 2011, Stanford University (Human Biology)

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)

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.

Ellen Breen, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a certificate in Global Health. I am a flutist, and have always been interested in the many cognitive benefits and effects of music on the brain. I am interested in psycholinguistics and its relation to music in the speech, language and hearing sciences. I plan on attending grad school to become a speech pathologist, and would love to work with kids!

Janine Mathee, Undergraduate Student

I am a junior this year, majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a certificate in Education and Educational Services. I hope to eventually go on to grad school and become a Speech-Language Pathologist, and of course work with kids! My main interest in speech and hearing sciences has to do with the incredible and fascinating ways that children acquire language. And I'm especially interested in how children with intellectual/developmental disabilities and/or hearing loss overcome those challenges and learn language in their own unique ways. I'm looking forward to learning from everyone in this lab and from these fascinating children and their incredible abilities.

Viridiana L. Benitez, Postdoctoral Research Associate

2008 University of Houston, B.S. (Psychology)

2013 Indiana University, Ph.D.  (Developmental Psychology)

Learning about the world requires making sense of the large amount of information that surrounds us. How do we attend to the right kinds of patterns that promote learning? How does this process change how we learn new information?  My research focuses on understanding the interaction between attention and learning processes in infants, children, and adults. I study this interaction in the context of word learning, and by examining how learning experience and development change attentional abilities. 

Tatiana Campbell, Research Specialist

B.S., 2013, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Human Development and Family Studies)


I am a recent UW - Madison graduate with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies and emphasis on Child Development. I am interested how children acquire a second language and how acquiring more than one language relates to literacy skills. I am so excited to learn more about how infants interact in their environments by learning language.

Eileen Haebig, Graduate Student

B.S., 2008, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Communication Sciences & Disorders)

M.S., CCC-SLP, 2010, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Communication Sciences & Disorders)

I am a doctoral candidate in the department of Communication Sciences and Disorders studying under Dr. Susan Ellis Weismer and Dr. Jenny Saffran. As a clinical researcher and certified speech-language pathologist, I am interested in language learning in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. I study language abilities in children with fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and specific language impairment. My dissertation focuses on how children with autism and children with language impairment without autism learn words.

Allison Hare, Undergraduate Student

I am currently a sophomore planning to major in Psychology and Biology, possibly with a certificate in global health. I hope to go to graduate school in a psychology- or biology-related discipline one day, or to medical school to become a pediatrician. I have always loved working with children in many areas of my life including volunteering at schools, day cares, churches, or children’s hospitals, so the Infant Learning Lab seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my interest in psychology with my love of children. I hope to make the most of my time here at the lab both through learning as much as I can about how children accrue knowledge of language and their language abilities, as well as contributing to what we already know about this area of developmental psychology.

Sarah Oakley, Undergraduate Student

I am a sophomore majoring in Psychology with a certificate in Criminal Justice. I plan on attending graduate school in the future, and also hope to enter a field in which I can interact with children on a regular basis. I am particularly interested in the acquisition of sign language in infants and young children as well as the influence of music on the language learning process. I look forward to working in the Infant Learning Lab and learning more about the research process!

Lizzie Hoff, Undergraduate Student

I am a sophomore double majoring in Psychology and Sociology. Following my undergraduate years, I plan to further my education in clinical psychology, specifically with children. I have worked with children of all ages with a range of abilities. Through my work as a nanny and many volunteer opportunities, I have developed a deep interest in the development of children. I look forward to being actively involved in research at the Infant Learning Lab!

Catherine Ruekert, Undergraduate Student

I am a junior double majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders, as well as Human Development and Family Studies. I have always had a passion for working with children of all ages, and I love watching them grow each day! During my undergraduate career thus far, I have discovered how interesting and unique language is and I love exploring how children learn to talk with such ease. In the future, I hope to be a pediatric speech pathologist in a hospital and focus on children with developmental disabilities. I can’t wait to explore the research side of this field through working in the Infant Learning Lab!

Rachel Reynders, Laboratory Manager

B.A., 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Psychology)

Phone: (608) 263-5876


Office: 501 Waisman Center

Frances Meger, Undergraduate Student

I am a currently a junior majoring in Psychology and Zoology. I'm interested in academic research related to the behavior of both human infants and animals, including the acquisition of communication and language. In the future, I plan on going to graduate school in a field related to either child or animal behavior/development. I have always had a passion for working with both children and animals. I'm very eager to gain hands-on research experience at the Infant Learning Lab, and to see how this experience will guide me in my future endeavors!

Paige Cooper, Undergraduate Student

I am a Junior studying Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies with a certificate as a Certified Family Life Coordinator. I have always been interested in working with children with developmental disabilities and their families. In the future, I plan to attend graduate school either in Clinical Psychology or Social Work. I look forward to learning more about language acquisition and the research process!