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?


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

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.

Janine Mathee, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior 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 am 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 Thonesavanh, Lab Manager & 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.

Allison Hare, Undergraduate Student

I am currently a junior majoring in Psychology and Biology, 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 junior 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 junior 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 senior 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, Lab 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 am 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 am 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!

Ariel La, Graduate Student

B.A., 2012, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Psychology and Communication Sciences & Disorders)

To understand and talk about the world around them, children learn to be expert auditory and visual processors of their environment. I am interested in how children decode and integrate multi-sensory information, and whether these processes change over time. I am particularly interested in children with autism spectrum disorders and children with specific language delays. I was an undergraduate in the Infant Learning Lab and am excited to return as a graduate student in the Department of  Communication Sciences and Disorders working with Dr. Susan Ellis Weismer and Dr. Jenny Saffran.

Jackson Stearns, Undergraduate Student

I am a junior majoring in Psychology with a certificate in Criminal Justice. I am also a United States Army ROTC Cadet, and when I am done with my undergraduate schooling I will be an officer in America's military. I have worked as a lifeguard and as a 2nd and 3rd grade Sunday school teacher, and in all of my experiences with children I have always been surprised at how intelligent and capable they are. I look forward to continuing to explore the capabilities of children as a research assistant here at the Infant Learning Lab.

Kayla Gardner, Undergraduate Student

I am a sophomore double majoring in Psychology and Human Development & Family Studies. I plan on attending graduate school after undergrad and have not yet decided on my future career but I know that I want to work with kids! I have always loved being around children and have spent my recent years working with them, including five years as a summer camp counselor. 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. It also gives me ideas of aspects of child development I may want to study in the future!