Dr. Stephanie Carlson

Stephanie M. Carlson is a Distinguished McKnight University 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. She has served on several editorial boards, as Vice President of the Jean Piaget Society, and as 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 Transforming Education, the Minnesota Children’s Museum, Sesame Workshop,, and She has been nominated as a “Favorite Professor” by undergraduates and is frequently invited to speak at national and international meetings.

Dr. Philip David Zelazo headshot Dr. Philip David Zelazo

Philip David Zelazo (Honors BA, McGill ’88; PhD (with distinction), Yale ’93) is currently the Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, and the Co-Director of the Sino-Canadian Centre for Research in Child Development, at Southwest University, China.

From 1992-2007, he taught at the University of Toronto, where he held the Canada Research Chair in Developmental Neuroscience. Professor Zelazo’s research on the development and neural bases of executive function (the control of thought, action, and emotion) has been honored by numerous awards, including a Boyd McCandless Young Scientist Award from the American Psychological Association (APA), and a Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award.

He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society (APS), and the Mind and Life Institute, President of the Jean Piaget Society, a member of the Advisory Board of the Baumann Institute, and he is a member of several editorial boards (e.g., Child Development; Emotion, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience; Development and Psychopathology; Monographs of the SRCD, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience). He is also the co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness (Zelazo, Moscovitch, & Thompson, 2007), and the editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Developmental Psychology.


Jeeva Palanisamy headshot Jeeva Palanisamy

Jeeva graduated from the University of Minnesota in Spring 2018 with a B.S in neuroscience and a B.A in Child Psychology. Currently, he functions as the lab manager for the DSCN Lab.

Graduate Students

Brandon Almy headshot 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 headshot

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.

Lauren Eales

Lauren graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014 with a B.A. in Economics and Music. She completed a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine in 2017. She is interested in the relation between executive function and psychopathological development, especially for mood and anxiety disorders.

Jasmine Ernst

Jasmine Ernst graduated from Western Kentucky University with a B.S. and M.S. in Psychology. She is interested in school readiness, academic achievement, and promotion of executive function through teaching practices.
Jessica Faber headshot 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 headshot 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.

Andrei Semenov headshot 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 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

Yue Zhao

Yue is a sophomore pursuing a B.A. in Child Psychology with a minor in Family Social Science and possibly Integrative Neuroscience. She is interested in executive function and emotion regulation skills of young children.

Toolie Kersten

Toolie Kersten graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies and minors in Mathematics, Spanish Studies, and Family Violence Prevention. She is interested in researching and developing therapies to help heal the effects which complex trauma and toxic stress have on both the body and the brain, as well as sharing these therapies with the wider public.

Kerry Houlihan headshot Kerry Houlihan

Kerry is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota pursuing a B.S. in Psychology with minors in Public Health and possibly Neuroscience. She started as a research assistant in the DSCN Lab in Spring 2018 and is excited to continue to contribute to the lab and learn as much as possible. After college, she plans to go on to medical school to become either a neurologist or psychiatrist.

Maggie Schreiner

Maggie, a senior pursuing a B.S. in child psychology, has
been with the DSCN lab since Spring of 2017. She is currently working with Brandon Almy and Andrei Semenov on projects involving adolescent decision-making and early implementation of routines for executive function improvement in at-risk populations, respectively. Upon earning her undergraduate degree, Maggie plans to attend medical school for pediatrics or child and adolescent psychiatry.


 Danielle Beck, Ph.D. headshot 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, Ph.D. headshot 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, Ph.D. headshot 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, Ph.D. headshot 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.

 Donaya Hongwanishkul, Ph.D. headshot Donaya Hongwanishkul, Ph.D.

University of Minnesota; PhD in Child Psychology

Research Interests: Executive function; fMRI; neuroimaging

Toshie Imada, Ph.D. headshot 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).

Yuanyuan Jiang, Ph.D. headshot Yuanyuan Jiang, Ph.D.

Yuanyuan Jiang is currently an Assistant Professor of School and Child Clinical Psychology in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Alberta. She received her Hon. B.Sc. in the Psychology Research Specialist program at the University of Toronto, was a Lab Manager and Research Scholar at the Institute of Child Development, and received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of British Columbia. She completed her predoctoral clinical psychology internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. Her current research interests involve how attention, behavior, and cognitions interact in children, parents, and teachers, with the goal of improving the accessibility and effectiveness of assessment and intervention.

Amanda Kesek, Ph.D. headshot Amanda Kesek, Ph.D.

University of Minnesota; PhD in Child Psychology

Research Interests: Executive function; cognitive flexibility; social cognition; rule use; automatic goals

Ayelet Lahat, Ph.D. headshot Ayelet Lahat, Ph.D.

University of Toronto; PhD in Developmental Psychology

Research Interests: Executive function; moral development; EEG/ERP

Wendy Lee, Ph.D. headshot 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.

Kristen Lyons, Ph.D. headshot Kristen Lyons, Ph.D.

University of California, Davis; PhD in Psychology

Research Interests: Development of self-awareness and self-regulation; social cognition; metacognition; memory

Alyssa Meuwissen, Ph.D. headshot Alyssa Meuwissen, Ph.D.

Alyssa received her Ph.D. from the Institute of Child Development in 2017. She currently works as a Research Associate in the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) at the University of Minnesota, and is the Research Coordinator for the Center for Reflective Practice at CEED. Her work is focused on evidence-based interventions to support positive interactions between young children and the adults in their lives. In graduate school, Alyssa’s dissertation examined the experimental effects of mother and father autonomy support on preschoolers’ executive function. She had previously received a Bachelors of Art, majoring in psychology and biology, from the College of Saint Benedict in 2012.

Sammy Perone, Ph.D. headshot Sammy Perone, Ph.D.

Sammy is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 2010 and served as a post-doctoral researcher in the Carlson and Zelazo Lab from 2014 to 2016. Dr. Perone’s research has utilized neural network models to understand early cognitive and behavioral development. Much of his work has been centered on understanding how infants learn about their visual world, how infants interact with others, and the development of new methods to promote neurocognitive development during infancy. More recently, he has extended his research efforts into the domain of executive function. He is especially interested in the neurocognitive processes that enable children to engage in goal-directed behavior and the development of interventions that foster cognitive, behavioral, and neural development during early childhood.

Emily Prager, Ph.D. headshot 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 Schubert, Ph.D. headshot 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, Ph.D. headshot 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, Ph.D. headshot 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. headshot 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.