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)

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.

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. 

Allison Hare, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior 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.

Lizzie Hoff, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior 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!

Rachel Reynders, Lab Manager

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

Phone: (608) 263-5876


Office: 501 Waisman Center

Kayla Gardner, Undergraduate Student

I am a junior 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. It also gives me ideas of aspects of child development I may want to study in the future!

Jaclyn Johnson, Undergraduate Student

Hello! I am a senior studying Communication Sciences and Disorders with a certificate in Leadership. I have always had a passion for children and I am especially interested in how they learn and acquire language! In the future, my goal is to become a Speech Language  Pathologist in a hospital setting.  I am very excited to be apart of the Infant Learning Lab to further my interest in children and gain hands-on research experience! 

Xuechun Liu, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior majoring in psychology and statistics. I love spending time with kids and I am always fascinated by the "magical" thoughts they come up with. I may pursue further education in social psychology or applied psychology and I believe the patterns adults use to communicate with others can always be related to his/her thoughts in childhood or babyhood. Babies express themselves by interacting with other people or the environment and language learning is a big and important part of the interactions. The Infant Learning Lab is the start for me to closely get involved in psychological research. I am looking forward to devoting my enthusiasm and exploring babies' incredible capabilities together in the Infant Learning Lab.

Ariadna Arias, Undergraduate Student 

I am a sophomore majoring in Psychology with a certificate in Chicano and Latino Studies. My current plan involves me going to grad school to become a Clinical Psychologist. Since I am at the beginning of furthering my education post high school, I am exploring different options I have going into the psychology field. I hope to learn about language acquisition and how to conduct research. I am very excited to be a part of the Infant Learning Lab Team!

Ellen Breen, Graduate Student

B.S. 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Communication Sciences & Disorders)

From a very early age, infants are able to track patterns and make sense of their auditory environment. I’m interested word learning and the mechanisms that allow babies to learn the sound structure of their native language. I worked in the Infant Learning Lab as an undergraduate research assistant and am thrilled to return as second year graduate student in UW’s speech-language pathology program. 

Erika Smithrud, Undergraduate Student  

I am a Senior majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a certificate in Education and Educational Services. I have always loved working with children, so working in this lab was a wonderful way for me to foster my research interest in child development and language acquisition. I'm particularly interested in the social and cognitive aspects of speech, and the various ways children use language to communicate. After I finish my undergrad, I plan to attend grad school and work as a speech-language pathologist in a clinical setting. I'm looking forward to gaining valuable research experience and exploring the field of language acquistion!

Michaela McCabe, Undergraduate Student

I am a junior double majoring in communication sciences and disorders and vocal perfor-mance. I have always loved working with children and have had various jobs as a camp counse-lor, an assistant daycare teacher, and a nanny. As a double major in CS&D and music, I am es-pecially interested in the overlaps between the perception of music and language and how mu-sic can potentially act as a clinical tool to utilize these similarities and foster language develop-ment and communication in both typically developing children and those with intellectual/devel-opmental disabilities. In addition, I am very interested in the treatment of voice disorders. My ul-timate goal is to become a speech and language pathologist and perhaps obtain certification in music therapy. I am so excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the Infant Learning Lab, and I cannot wait to learn from all of the other lab members and get actively involved in lan-guage development research!

Samantha Rauch, Undergraduate Student

I am currently a sophomore 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.

Chiara Santolin, Postdoctoral Research Associate

M.S., 2012 University of Padova, (Psychobiology)

Ph.D., 2016 University of Padova, (Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Science)



To what extent the processes serving language development are unique to language? To answer this question, I am exploring two broad aspects of the study of language: syntax acquisition and speech preferences. The first line of research investigates whether discovering the structure of a language reflects a domain-specific (linguistic) process or a more general learning ability. The second line of investigation focuses on whether or not infants’ preferences for speech are driven by properties shared with other animals’ vocalizations. 

Lauren Silber, Undergraduate Student

I am a sophomore double majoring in Psychology and Human Development & Family Studies. After taking Jenny'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 I jotted down last year into something tangible! Someday I hope to pursue a career in family or school counseling.