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 and 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

Agnieszka Turek

Agnieszka received her M.Ed. in Educational Studies form the University of Warsaw, Poland with 6 months scholarship experience in Psychology at Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven, Belgium. During her studies she expanded her knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorders. She worked as a special needs teacher and therapist where she dealt with cognitive, communicative and social problems of children with autism. She has also pursued a clinical work in the Neuropsychiatric Pediatric Department of the University Hospital ”Federico II” of Naples, Italy assisting in cognitive and mental tests for children with developmental disorders. Agnieszka is particularly interested in interdisciplinary studies focusing on atypical cognitive development. Agnieszka is passionate about traveling especially Italy, where she has lived for 6 months and which she travelled across.

Savannah Barker

Savannah received her BSc in Psychology from the University of Western Ontario. She is now working toward completing her M.A. in Child Study and Education at the University of Toronto, and is hoping to become a primary teacher when she graduates. She is excited to be a part of the Language and Learning Lab, and is looking forward to becoming more involved in the research that focuses on how children learn from picture books!

Emily 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!

Leanne Ma

Leanne received her B.A. in Psychology with minors in Linguistics and Educational Psychology at McGill University. During her time with the McGill Infant Research Group, she studied the social, cognitive, and linguistic development of bilingual infants. Her current research interests include the development of empathy, perspective-taking abilities, and emotional regulation of school-age children in collaborative learning contexts.​

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.

Sabrina Hyde

Sabrina is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto majoring in Psychology and Immunology. She is interested in learning about human development, specifically in young children. Sabrina is excited to be a part of the Language and Learning Lab and looks forward to gaining insight into research methodologies.​

Andrea Diaz

Andrea Diaz is a second-year Undergraduate student at University of Toronto. She is on her way to becoming a Psychology Specialist and a Cognitive Science Major. Interesting fact: For several Christmases in a row, she asked Santa for a unicorn egg so she could have her very own unicorn. This stopped when she realized unicorns would be mammals.

Paula Rico

Paula is a third year undergraduate student, double majoring in psychology and neuroscience at the University of Toronto. She is interested in clinical psychology as a future career working especially with children. She also loves painting, drawing and taking pictures.

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.