Current Members

Lab Director

Patricia Ganea, Ph.D.

My primary research area is early cognitive development. I investigate the processes involved in young children’s learning about the world through symbolic means, such as language, pictures, videos, and replica objects. I am especially interested in children’s use of language to think and communicate about what is perceptually not present. Developing the ability to communicate about absent objects and events is a major cognitive achievement, one that enables children to learn about the world indirectly. My research is focusing on the social, linguistic and representational factors that influence children’s learning about the world. I am also interested in how children develop an understanding of the pragmatics of language and of social cognition.


Postdoctoral Fellow

Gabrielle Strouse, Ph.D.

Gabrielle received her Ph.D. and M. S. from Vanderbilt University in Psychology, and her B. A. in Psychology from Northwestern University.  Gabrielle’s research is focused on exploring supportive situations for young children’s learning and transfer of information from media to the real world, including parent-child conversations during co-viewing.


Graduate Students

Sharon Chan

1st year PhD student in the SCCP program.

Sharon received her BSc in Psychology from the University of Toronto and MSc in Psychology from the University of Victoria. Her research interests are broadly within the domain of child cognitive development. Her previous research has focused on children’s use of memory strategies in novel problem solving contexts, and explored how training of such strategies transferred across different tasks. In her current program she is focusing on increasing knowledge in the assessment and treatment of children with special needs and developmental delay in hopes of one day practicing as a child psychologist.

Ruth Lee

3rd year PhD student in DPE program

Ruth is interested in how the ability to construct and update mental models of narratives – ‘situation models’ –  emerges and develops in childhood. Her thesis work concerns the implicit, online predictions and the explicit, reflective predictions that young children make in a narrative context.  She is also interested in the strategies used by older children on the autistic spectrum to make sense of fiction.

Begüm Özdemir

2nd year PhD student in DPE program

Begum received her BA in Philosophy from Middle East Technical University and MA in Psychology from Bogazici University, Turkey. Her primary research interest covers how early development of cognitive and symbolic processes  enable children to acquire knowledge about and interact with the world around them. She is currently exploring individual differences in children’s ability to update their mental representations on the basis of verbal testimony from toddlerhood to preschool years. As a second line of research, she is interested in early social-pragmatic development, specifically, perspective-taking ability of children in their communicative interactions.

Kadria Simons Ghafari

3rd year PhD student in DPE program

Kadria received her B.A. in Hispanic and Italian Studies from the University of Victoria. After working overseas in Israel and South America, she completed her M.A. in Child Study and Education at the University of Toronto. At the Language and Learning Lab, her research is focused on children’s ability to distinguish fact from fiction in picture books and their learning and transfer of information from pictures to reality.

Research Assistants

Shelley He

Shelley is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto doing a double major in Pharmacology & Biomedical Toxicology and Nutritional Sciences. She shares a passion of working with children and hopes to pursue a career path in paediatrics. It is her goal to continue learning about the different aspects of developmental research and to approach each challenge at the lab with enthusiasm. On her free time, she likes to draw and play with her dog.

Irina Kalyazina

Irina completed her Specialist (Bachelor’s + 1 year of research) Degree in Developmental Psychology at Moscow State University. Her primary research interest is the impact of parenting style and parent-child relationships on children’s cognitive development. Irina’s thesis work examined the relationship between parenting style and speech development in preschool-age children. Irina has worked as a teacher’s assistant in an education center for preschool children and as a psychologist’s assistant in the Burn Unit of the Speransky Children’s Hospital. Her intent is to continue her research in the field of child cognitive development.

Cristina Feraru

Cristina is a second-year student at the University of Toronto, working towards completing a double major in Lingustics and Psychology. After being introduced to the field of cognitive science, she developed a strong interest in exploring how we can naturalistically explain the mind; more specifically, understanding how infant brains are structured to acquire language and whether we can mechanize this process. When she has free time, Cristina loves to do tuck burpees and sing Broadway, hopefully not at the same time.

Pavethra Yogeswaran

Pavethra is currently in her fourth year of undergraduate studies pursuing a double major in Biochemistry and Health Studies. She has always been interested in how children perceive the world around them and how this influences their cognitive development. Pavethra looks forward to broadening her research experience by working with the Language and Learning Lab.  Even though it has been quite a while since her eleventh birthday she is still secretly awaiting her Hogwarts letter.

ME Leroy

Mary Elizabeth (M.E.) Leroy Picher is a second year doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology and Education Program at OISE.   She is the Co-founder and Educational Director of Wholeplay Family Services Inc., a company that helps parents support healthy development in their young children.  Her research interests focus on how parents use interactive screen-based technology with their infants and toddlers.

Bacibel Vasquez

Bacibel completed a Hons. BSc in Psychology and Hons. BA in French Linguistics from the University of Toronto. She is continuing her studies at the University of Toronto as she is completing a Masters of Child Study and Education where she is focusing on studying how children acquire new languages. Therefore, she is looking forward to investigating the language development of bilingual and multilingual children.  ​

Rafiya Asad

Rafiya is a fourth year undergraduate student studying Linguistics, Psychology, and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. At some point during her undergrad career she fall madly in love with psycholinguistics and child language acquisition — and she hopes to continue exploring these fields for the rest of her life. In her spare time, she can usually be found getting lost in her own head, snuggling with her cat, and aspiring to be the next Noam Chomsky.

Abhijeet Manay

Abhijeet completed his Hons. BSc at McMaster University in Biology, where he worked in Neuroscience and Molecular Biology labs. Currently he’s completing his Masters in Child Study and Education at the University of Toronto, and is enthralled to work in the placements in the educational and psychology fields. At the Language and Learning Lab he hopes to combine his scientific and education/psychology experiences and find how children optimally learn scientific concepts (such as evolution and gravity). Interesting fact: He writes song lyrics, poetry and short stories as a stress buster!

Abbi Indrakumar

Abbi is currently in her final semester as a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, completing a major in Cognitive Science as well as a double minor in English and Philosophy. Concentrating on “Perception and Attention” in Cognitive Science, Abbi is interested in combining the philosophy of mind with a child’s development of perception and attention. She’s looking forward to all the experiences the Language and Learning Lab, and its participants, has to offer. Her hobbies include photography, design and watching as many movies as possible!

Emilie MacDonald

Emilie is currently a fourth year student at the University of Toronto Scarborough and is doing a Specialist in Mental Health Studies as well as a minor in French. Emilie is interested in children’s language development, especially in bilingual children. She is looking forward to the new opportunities that the Learning and Language Lab has to offer!

Elvana Xhakollari

Elvana holds a BA in Clinical Psychology from the University of Tirana. Her early experience involved working with refugee children from Kosovo and later on with babies and infants in hospitalized settings. She also has experience working with children with autism. Apart from her clinical experience she has a keen interest on research and children’s early learning experiences and the Language and Learning lab is a great fit. Elvana has a passion for singing and speed walking.

Karen Moreira

Karen is a 4th year undergraduate student at the Univeristy of Toronto doing a double major in human biology and psychology. She is currently one of the work-study students at the Language and Learning Lab.

Heidi Kuang

Heidi is currently a second year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto studying Psychology and Pharmacology & Biomedical Toxicology. Having worked with autistic children, she is curious about language and communication developments in children. In the Language and Learning Lab, she is interested in how children learn differently from electronic books and traditional picture books as well as how children interpret stories.

Nicole Larsen
Nicole received her Honours B.A. in Political Science and Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Western Ontario. She is particularly interested in how children learn from picture books and the impact that books can have on their development and their social relations.

Interesting Fact: Nicole has a 5-year-old lizard named after her favourite Ninja Turtle, Donatello.