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.


Lab Manager

Heather Gallant

Heather received her Hon. BSc. in psychology from Dalhousie University. As the laboratory manager of the Language and Learning lab, Heather oversees the work of research assistants and keeps the lab running day-to-day. In terms of research, Heather’s primary interests include memory and learning.

Interesting fact: Heather recently walked along the Great Wall of China and visited Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand – the film set for the 2000 movie The Beach.

Graduate Students

Ruth Lee

2nd year PhD student in DPE program

Ruth is interested in how multiple dimensions of the ability to construct and update mental models of stories as they unfold, and the ability to integrate these components, emerge and develop in and beyond childhood. She is particularly interested in prediction, and has used short stories in video format to investigate the effect of picture-text encoding conditions on children’s ability to use an inference to update a mental representation. She is developing an interest in how children and adults predict upcoming linguistic input in a narrative context, and has also worked with autistic adolescents to investigate their strategies during narrative comprehension. Ruth hopes to use the situation model as a theoretical framework to investigate new ways of tapping children’s narrative competence.

Begüm Özdemir

1st 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 processes and their interrelations enable children to acquire knowledge about the world around them. She is particularly interested in the dynamic relations between mental representation and emerging language ability.

Interesting fact: As a child, she believed she and her elder brother emerged simultaneously in mother’s womb but she waited 7 years inside for her elder brother to grow up before being born.

Kadria Simons Ghafari

2nd 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.

Undergraduate Students

Bianca Bondi

2nd year BSc student

Bianca is currently a second year student at the University of Toronto pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Science, majoring in Psychology and Human Biology. She recently joined the Language and Learning Lab through the Research Opportunity Program. She is particularly interested in the cognitive development of young children and is excited to observe the individual differences that occur in children regarding verbal updating in a research setting.

Amanda Cheung

2nd year BSc student

Amanda is currently a second year student working towards a Bachelor of Science in Physiology, Psychology and French at the University of Toronto. The Research Opportunity Program has given her the chance to join the Language and Learning Lab. She is particularly interested in how picture books and stories can increase children’s learning of science concepts.

Victoria Shirriff

2nd year BSc student

Victoria is a second year student at the University of Toronto working on a BSc in Genome Biology and Global Health. She is particularly interested in learning processes associated with electronic media as well as developments in memory.

Research Assistants

Nicole Larsen

1st Year MA Student in CSE Program

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.

Kelly O'Driscoll

Kelly received a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Psychology and French from Dalhousie University. She’s interested in child development and hopes to pursue graduate school and a career in the field.

Interesting fact: Kelly ran her first half marathon in Halifax, Nova Scotia last summer. She hopes to someday work her way up to a full marathon.