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

Angela Nyhout

My main interests are in the areas of children’s language and literacy development. In particular, I am interested in children’s interactions with narratives, or stories. Every day, children are exposed to many narratives, both fictional and non, in the form of books, TV shows, and the tales they hear from friends and family. I am interested in how children come to understand stories about things that are far away or have never happened. I am also interested in whether stories (e.g., in the form of picture books) can be a vehicle for learning new information about the world. I recently completed my PhD at the University of Waterloo, where I studied early readers’ ability to mentally represent (e.g., visualize and imagine) narratives.

Graduate Students

Sharon Chan

2nd 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.

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.

Ruth Lee

4th 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

3rd 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.

Vaunam Venkadasalam

1st year PhD student in DPE program

Vaunam graduated with a BSc in biology and psychology from York University and with a MA in Developmental Psychology and Education from the University of Toronto. She is primarily interested in the how young children learn science concepts from media such as picture books. She is currently researching how children learn about falling objects from information narrative books and traditional informational books.  Vaunam loves to dance and has been dancing since she was 6. She is also an avid sports fan.

Undergraduate Students

Reem Draz

Reem is double majoring in Immunology and Human Biology. She is in her second year. She enjoys reading, occasionally baking, traveling and exploring, and she cannot wait to try out an extreme sport one day.

Cailie Gordon

Cailie is a 2nd year undergraduate student studying Health and Disease, Physiology and Statistics at the University of Toronto. She has been teaching children art and taekwondo for the last 6 Years, and has always been interested in learning more about cognitive development and psychology. She hopes to work in the medicinal field, or in pharmaceuticals. Outside of work and school, Cailie enjoys traveling and painting.

Maggie Hong

Maggie is a second year undergraduate student, who is specializing in Pharmacology & Biomedical Toxicology. She has many experiences working with children, including her position as a tutor at Kumon. She is interested in learning about the factors that affect the language development of younger children. During her free time, she enjoy reading

Terra Morel

Terra is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, working towards a double major in Immunology and Global Health with a minor in Psychology. She has a strong fascination with the intersection of developmental psychology and physiology. She hopes to continue her education to medical school, and specialize in paediatrics. She is excited for the opportunity to gain research experience while getting to interact with children and investigate their cognitive development. In her time-off she enjoys playing basketball and inner-tube water polo.

Amanda Tallon

Amanda is a second-year student at the University of Toronto, and is currently completing a double major in Health & Disease and Cellular Biology. She developed an interest in adolescent cognitive growth after observing her younger siblings use of electronics as a learning tool. Amanda is interested to discover the benfits of traditional books and e-readers in child development. When she’s not in the lab, Amanda enjoys hiking and exploring the great outdoors.

Katherine Pullella

Katherine is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, completing a major in Health and Disease as well as a double minor in Immunology and Physiology. She enjoys working with children of all ages and is interesting in learning more about early language and cognitive development. She is excited to have the opportunity to gain research experience while interacting with young children in the Language and Learning Lab. In her free time, Katherine enjoys swimming and skating with her three siblings.

Research Assistants

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.

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.

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!

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.

Heidi Kuang

Heidi is currently a third 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, and subsequently completed her Masters of Arts here at the University of Toronto in Child Study and Education. 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.

Emilie MacDonald

Emilie is currently a fifth 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!

Krisma Saini

Krisma is currently a Master of Arts candidate in the Child Study and Education program at the University of Toronto. She has specialized her understanding of child development in the areas of Early Childhood Education and Special Education. Krisma currently works with the Learning Disabilities Association alongside children with LDs, comorbid disorders and autism spectrum disorder. She is interested in how LDs and ASD are associated with prenatal factors and their postnatal outcomes, in particular language development and communication. She is very excited for the research opportunities available at the Language and Learning lab!

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.  ​

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.

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.