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

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.


Carolyn Hansen

Carolyn graduated from the University of Minnesota in Fall 2017 with a B.S. in Multidisciplinary Studies and a minor in Neuroscience. She joined the lab in 2015 as an undergraduate research assistant, and is currently our lab manager. Carolyn’s research interests include the relation between executive function skills, reflective practices, and prosocial behavior in preschool-age children.

Graduate Students

Destany Calma-Birling

Destany graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with a B.S. in Psychology and Human Development. Her research interests include developmental neuroscience, executive function, and mindfulness.

Romulus Castelo

Romulus graduated from the University of Maryland (UMD) with a B.S. in Psychology. He then worked as a research coordinator at the UMD School of Medicine prior to arriving at ICD. He is interested in the development of executive function in the context of early life adversity and family influences. 

Jasmine Ernst

Jasmine graduated from Western Kentucky University with a B.S. and M.S. in Psychological Sciences. Her research broadly examines executive function skills, learning, and early educational experiences.

Andrei Semenov

Andrei is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Child Development. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 2013 with a B.A in psychology and philosophy. As a researcher at the institute, he has studied the development of executive function skills and how practices like mindfulness meditation can help improve these skills in children and their parents. Andrei has implemented the Ready4Routines intervention program across the country as well as locally in Minnesota. Andrei is also interested in the development of measurements and instruments that can capture changes associated with mindfulness meditation.

Journal Publications

Pesch, A., Semenov, A. D., Carlson, S. M., (in press) The path to fully representational theory of mind: Conceptual, executive, and pragmatic challenges. Frontiers in Psychology.

Semenov, A.D., Zelazo, P.D., (2019) Mindful family routines and the cultivation of executive function skills in childhood. Human Development, 63(2), 112-131.

Book Chapters

Semenov, A. D., Kennedy, D., Zelazo, P. D. (2020) Mindfulness and Executive Function: Implications for Learning and Early Childhood Education. In Educational Neuroscience: Development Across the Life Span (Thomas, M. (Ed.)).

Semenov, A. D., Zelazo, P. D. (2018) The Development of Hot and Cool Executive Function: A Foundation for Learning and a Framework for Early Childhood Education. In Executive Function in Education, Second Edition (Melter, L. (Ed.)).

Honors and Awards

Dr. Ruth Winfred Howard Diversity Award (2020) University of Minnesota

Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (2020)
University of Minnesota

Julie Vaisarova

Julie is a sixth year PhD student at the Institute of Child Development (ICD). She graduated from Scripps College in 2014 with a B.A. in Psychology, and subsequently earned an M.A. in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include the development of imagination and creative thinking and their relations to executive function, as well as the developmental significance of children’s play. 

Journal Publications

Vaisarova, J. & Carlson, S.M. (2020, October). The role of executive function in young children’s divergent thinking. Talk presented at the Society for the Neuroscience of Creativity virtual meeting.

Vaisarova, J. & Carlson, S. M. (2019, October). Relations between divergent thinking and executive function in early childhood. Poster presented at the Cognitive Development Society biennial meeting, Louisville, KY.    

Vaisarova. J. & Carlson, S.M. (2019, July). Measuring creativity in early childhood: Mess or meaningful challenge? Talk presented at the Creativity Conference at Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR.

Research Assistants

Anne Stalboerger

Anne is a senior pursuing a B.S. in developmental psychology. Her research interests include executive functioning, school readiness, and cognitive development, which she hopes to explore further in graduate school. Anne’s positivity and enthusiasm to learn has been indispensable while working on a study that examines math and executive functions skills.

Shelby Hornberg

Shelby plans to graduate in spring of 2022 with a B.S. in Developmental Psychology and a minor in Integrative Neuroscience. New to the Carlson and Zelazo lab in 2021, she is eager to explore a range of research topics in child psychology. Shelby’s curiosity and attention to detail makes her a perfect match to work on a project about creativity and executive function skills.

Maci Law

Maci is a second year undergraduate student studying Developmental Psychology with plans to pursue a PhD in educational or clinical psychology. Her interests are in education at both the micro level (cognitive functioning of children in a school environment) and the macro level (curriculum development/educational policy). Maci’s previous research experience, ambition, and flexibility is key to supporting multiple projects in the lab.

Deborah Walters

Deborah has 15 years of clinical experience with families addressing physical and mental illness through mindfulness techniques and natural remedies. She recently returned to complete a PhD in child development, and is currently enrolled in the Masters of Biological Sciences program. Deborah’s research interests include developing approaches to help children reduce fear, and is respected for her initiative to share different perspectives and undertake difficult tasks.

Brittany Kubricky

Brittany is a senior, majoring in Developmental Psychology with an Integrative Neuroscience minor. Her interests include executive function as a measure of academic interest, and hopes to pursue a career in school psychology. Brittany brings a strong sense of responsibility and dedication as lead RA for a project that looks at toddler’s choice preference. 

Sophie Richardson

Sumaya Hanafi

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.