About us
Faculty and students in the developmental program focus on the interrelationships of biological and behavioral processes throughout the life span, and on the mechanisms and processes of change. Because student studying developmental psychology are focused on the development of some domain (such as language, emotion, cognition, personality, or well-being) the program emphasizes interdisciplinary studies, and allows graduate students tremendous flexibility in designing their own program of study consonant with their goals and interests.

Our Approach
The developmental program embraces diversity among our students, our methods, and our scientific approaches. The faculty are equally divided among those whose laboratories emphasize experimental and quasi-experimental techniques to uncover developmental mechanisms, and those who emphasize “big data” and longitudinal techniques to understand developmental trajectories. Our associated research groups cover all age spans, including infancy, early childhood, adolescence, adults, and the elderly.

Martha Alibali’s research group uses a range of experimental and observational methods, including laboratory experiments, gesture studies, and observations in educational settings. Hill Goldsmith and his students use longitudinal behavioral genetic methods applied to behavioral and biological data. Janet Hyde’s lab group uses both large, longitudinal data sets as well as meta-analytic techniques. Students working with Seth Pollak use a variety of neuroscientific methods such as ERP, neuroimaging, hormonal, and epigenetics.  Carol Ryff uses longitudinal and, and cross-cultural designs with population-based samples on which extensive psychological, social, and biological data are collected. Jenny Saffran’s laboratory uses a variety of experimental approaches, including eye-tracking, to study infants. Kristin Shutts’ lab uses cognitive-science based techniques to address issues about social development.

Our Research
Our breadth in methodologies is paralleled by breadth across several domains of behavior. Specific faculty research interests include the development of mathematical reasoning and problem solving, development of visuospatial cognition, development of social cognition, interaction of cognitive and motor development in symbolic reasoning, temperament and affective development, gender role development, developmental psychopathology, effects of stress on development, resiliency in adulthood and aging, and language acquisition.

Our strength is enhanced by extremely rich relationships between the developmental area group and the Institute on Aging, the Waisman Center, and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. We have fully state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, enhanced by unique opportunities for training in neuroimaging at the Waisman Center.

The training program
Students within our program focus on cognitive, emotional, language, perceptual, personality, social development, or relations between these areas. Within these content domains, students and faculty conduct research on both typical and atypical development, and work with individuals representing a wide range of ages, including infants, preschool and school age children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. 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 the student’s launching pad to research excellence. During the Fall Semester of the second year, students share their work with all of the faculty and students in the department. Also during your first year, students and their mentor will develop an individualized educational plan. This personalized curriculum, which is then discussed and approved by all area faculty, ensures that each student achieves breadth across domains of development, as well as cross-disciplinary depth in an area of interest to the student.

Many of the faculty collaborate with one another, and these collaborations often begin with a student’s interest. Therefore we encourage prospective students to contact our faculty directly to share your ideas prior to submitting an application.


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

Hill Goldsmith
The focus of our laboratories in the Psychology Department and at the Waisman Center is the development of childhood psychopathology and developmental disabilities.

James Li
My research examines the interplay between genes and environments that contribute to the development of child externalizing problems.

Seth Pollak
I am a developmental psychopathologist. My students and I are interested in understanding the mechanisms through which children’s experiences increase biobehavioral development and vulnerability for behavioral disorders.

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

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

Kristin Shutts Social cognitive development; attitudes and stereotypes; social and cultural learning