Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience

About us
The study of cognition has undergone explosive growth during the past decades with exciting developments in psychology, neuroscience, and related fields, aided by new techniques and theoretical frameworks for studying the mind and brain. The faculty in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) area group combine expertise in cognition and perception with a broad arsenal of methods including experimental, developmental, computational, and biological approaches. The area group provides a unique and stimulating graduate school experience for students interested in an interdisciplinary approach to cognition and perception.

Our Approach
We place strong emphasis on the powerful effects of experience in the development of human intellect. We also strive to think about and study cognitive science with an especially broad perspective. Rather than restrict our research programs to a small box which risks missing the broader context of cognition and behavior, we all strive to always keep the bigger picture in mind. Our graduate students are encouraged to extend their thinking beyond the myopic or the modular. Our commitment to broad thinking is part of what draws us together, to find excitement in the efforts of others. Although the questions our research addresses are varied, the answers often are found in common principles of brains and behavior. Our methods include techniques such as eye-tracking in Tim Rogers’s, Gary Lupyan’s, and Maryellen MacDonald’s laboratories,  the neural basis of executive function and attention in Yuri Saalmann’s laboratory, and transfer of learning in Shawn Green’s laboratory. Jenny Saffran and Kristin Shuts employ a variety of methods to study the behavior of infants and children. Brad Postle and Gary Lupyan use brain stimulation methods such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), while Yuri Saalmann records from human and non-human animal brains. We additionally use neuroimaging (fMRI, EEG, ERP) techniques, several of us use sophisticated computer simulations of cognitive and perceptual processes, and innovative crowdsourcing techniques via online platforms.

Our Research
Our breadth in methodologies is paralleled by breadth across several disciplines of cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience: Areas of exceptional strength in cognition include language development, neural representation of language and memory, gesture, comprehension, problem solving, statistical learning, categorization and semantic knowledge, transfer of learned skills, and computational modeling, especially in the connectionist tradition. We have fully state of the art laboratory facilities, enhanced by unique opportunities for training in neuroimaging at the Waisman Center.

The training program
As mentors, we strive to train our students to become top experimental psychologists. Some programs have students do rotations around multiple laboratories during their first year. Other programs may be very strict about students coming to work with one, and only one, faculty member during their years of study. Here, we strike a balance between these two approaches. Every student enters the program with a primary advisor and conducts an important piece of original research during their very first year in Madison. We use this First Year Project as your launching pad to research excellence. During the Fall of your second year, you will share your work with all of the faculty and students in the department. When all goes as well as possible, your first year project can also be your first Wisconsin research publication. Conducting cutting-edge cognitive science requires mastering the methods that best answer the question. At Wisconsin, you will be encouraged to let your questions define your methods, and we will encourage you to exploit the multiple talents of all of us to reveal the answers to your questions. Almost all of the CCN faculty collaborate with one another. Many of these collaborations are inspired by the interests of our students, and many students have two mentors. We encourage you to spread your wings and exploit the multiple strengths that we have to offer.


Martha Alibali
I conduct research at the interface of developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and mathematics education.

Joe Austerweil Knowledge, computational modeling, categorization, inductive inference. Pronouns: He/His/Him

Stephen Ferrigno My research investigates the evolutionary, developmental, and cultural origins of concepts and cognition. We currently focus on number, logic, grammar, and metacognition.

Morton Gernsbacher cognitive neuroscience; neural diversity; human communication; language; autism

Shawn Green visual perception, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive training, learning and learning transfer, effects of technology use on cognitive abilities

Robert Hawkins I’m interested in the cognitive mechanisms that allow people to flexibly communicate, collaborate, and coordinate with one another.

Gary Lupyan The aim of my primary line of research is to investigate and delineate these extra-communicative functions of language.

Maryellen MacDonald (Emeriti) Language production; Language comprehension; Effects of experience and literacy on language skills; Verbal working memory; Individual differences

Seth Pollak Developmental risk (child poverty, child maltreatment); mechanisms of developmental change; experience-dependent learning; stress regulation; children’s health; development and evolution of emotion; developmental psychopathology

Brad Postle short-term memory/working memory; attention; consciousness; fMRI; TMS; EEG

Tim Rogers I am interested in understanding human semantic memory; that is, our knowledge about the meanings of words, objects, and events.

Carol Ryff  Psychological well-being, resilience, biological and brain mechanisms linking psychosocial factors to health, socioeconomic and cultural influences on health

Yuri Saalmann Cognitive control, conscious awareness, brain connectivity, neural dynamics, neural coding

Jenny Saffran Language development, statistical learning, lexical processing, music perception, atypical development

Karen Schloss Visual perception; visual reasoning, color cognition, information visualization, virtual reality; visual aesthetics

Mark Seidenberg (Emeriti) Behavioral, neural and computational bases of reading. Learning to read; writing systems and reading; developmental reading impairments; the “achievement gap”; educational implications. Statistical learning and language processing.

Kristin Shutts I study social cognitive development. I am particularly interested in the development of social categories and preferences in infancy and early childhood.