Lori Markson, PhD

Principal Investigator
Professor Markson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences and the director of the Cognition & Development Lab. Her research explores the cognitive mechanisms that allow children to successfully navigate the social world, with a focus on social exclusion, preferences, learning, and trust. Much of this research occurs in the context of children's understanding of different social categories, such as race, gender, nationality and language and the implications and consequences of these differences. We try to include children from a diverse range of backgrounds in our studies, enabling us to explore the effects of early experience on children's cognitive and social cognitive development. Along these lines, we are currently investigating the effects of adversity on the development of optimism and the influence of cross-race exposure on children's social choices and learning.

Natasha Marrus

Physician Scientist
Natasha Marrus is a child psychiatrist and researcher interested in developing measurement tools of social motivation, the capacity by which humans preferentially orient to social stimuli, seek social interactions, and work to maintain social interactions. The capacity for social motivation is believed to arise in infancy and is fundamentally impaired in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Natasha is working with Dr. Markson to develop behavioral paradigms that will allow quantification of social motivation. The goal is for these paradigms to contribute to assessments allowing earlier diagnosis of autism, as well as to inform studies characterizing the development of social motivation and its relationship to other key abilities, such as language.

Laura Hennefield, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Associate
Laura’s research interests broadly revolve around the question of how children acquire knowledge, with an emphasis on the social and cognitive constraints and/or biases that affect the learning process. Her doctoral research broadly focused on social influences – specifically others’ preferences – on infants and young children’s own choices and evaluative judgments of options. More recently, her research focus shifted to questions concerning the development and maintenance of optimism (as a cognitive bias) in preschoolers. A core goal of her research is to elucidate how the optimism bias affects how children learn from and about the world around them, including the role of early experiences on this process.

Hyesung Grace Hwang

Graduate Student
Grace is interested in how children start to learn and reason about social exclusion and social categorization based on race, language, and other group markers. Her research interests also include socio-cognitive development of empathy and sympathy. As a part of the Computation Cognitive Systems Neuroscience (CCSN) pathway, she is also interested in understanding the neurobiological mechanisms behind social cognitive functions and the neurophysiological responses to social exclusion and discrimination.

Alexandra Katsarelis

Lab Manager
Alexandra graduated Summa Cum Laude from WashU in December 2015 with a degree in Psychology and a concentration in Cognition in Children. She minored in Anthropology and Spanish. She began working as a research assistant in the Cognition & Development lab during the fall of her sophomore year, and completed her senior honors thesis research in the lab. Her thesis, "Children's Evaluations of Peers' Gender Expression," was published in the WashU Undergraduate Research Digest. She currently works as a Lab Manager for the lab.

Nasreen Moursi

Postgraduate Research Assistant
Nasreen is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis with a Bachelor's in Psychological and Brain Sciences. She helps run experiments, as well as enter and organize data. Her interests lie in clinical child psychology and she hopes to attend graduate school to obtain a Ph.D. She has worked in other psychology and psychiatry labs with Washington University in St. Louis, but is very excited to be with Dr. Markson's lab working directly with children.

Molly Cutler

Undergraduate Research Assistant
Molly is a junior majoring in Psychological & Brain Sciences and minoring in Spanish. Outside of the lab, she dances with kids as a part of the Cerebral Palsy Sports Rehabilitation program and is involved with Dance Marathon. Additionally, she has been doing gymnastics since the age of 3.

Alex O'Neal

Undergraduate Research Assistant
Alex is a rising sophomore from St. Louis majoring in Psychological & Brain Sciences. She is working in the lab as a research assistant, helping with scheduling, coding, and other activities around the lab. Alex is excited to work under Lab Manager Alexandra Katsarelis and Principal Investigator Lori Markson on a study that examines the effects of diversity in books on children.

Olivia Dewitt

Summer Research Assistant
Olivia is a rising senior at Saint Louis University majoring in Psychology. As a research assistant in the Cognition & Development Lab, she helps run experiments, schedule participants, and code date. Olivia hopes to attend graduate school in the future to study clinical child psychology.

Ariel Miller

Undergraduate Research Assistant
Ariel is a rising junior majoring in Psychological & Brain Sciences with a minor in Children’s Studies. She is working in the lab as a research assistant, helping with scheduling and running participants, coding, and more. In the future, she hopes to attend graduate school to pursue developmental or clinical psychology.