Current Lab Members

Click on each person's name to learn more about their work.


Dr. Caren Walker, Principal Investigator

Caren Walker is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2015. Dr. Walker’s research is in the area of cognitive development, examining the various learning mechanisms that underlie knowledge acquisition and change. This work addresses basic questions about the nature of mental representations in human cognition, and she is particularly interested in the early development of abstract reasoning about causality.


Elizabeth Lapidow, Graduate Student

Liz is a third-year graduate student in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego. Broadly, her research is interested in how learners seek to ‘figure out’ the world around them by taking actions and considering possibilities. She is particularly intrigued by questions about how agents learn and reason about causal systems and about decision making during exploration. Prior to starting graduate work at UCSD, Liz received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2014 and did research in computational cognition at Rutgers University.


Alex Rett, Graduate Student

Alex is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego. She received her BSc and MASc from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada where she studied children’s learning and language development. She is broadly interested in how children develop scientific reasoning skills and how cues from the learning environment impact children’s causal reasoning. Specifically, she is interested in whether object design constrains the hypotheses that children make about causal systems. She is also interested in science education and programming for children, and how the lab’s research can be applied to real world learning environments.


Holly Huey, Graduate Student

Holly will be a first-year graduate student in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego in the Fall of 2019. How do we represent the complex concepts we learn? How do we convey them to other people? Her research addresses these questions by exploring how people communicate through visual forms — from the exploratory play of children to the high-level spatial symbols of adults. To study the development of learning mechanisms, her studies also draw from computational neuroscience, cognitive science, and AI methods. She received her BA from St. John’s College where she studied philosophy and the history of mathematics and sciences. She is co-advised by Dr. Judith Fan in the Cognitive Tools Lab.


Jae Engle, Graduate Student

Jae is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Neuroscience at The Scripps Research Institute. Her research centers on learning processes in children, with a special focus on the underlying mechanisms that facilitate scientific reasoning skills. Specifically, she is interested in studying the effects of counterfactual reasoning and pretend play on children's learning. To probe this phenomenon, she is taking a multidisciplinary approach using methods in both cognitive neuroscience and psychology. Additionally, she is also interested in examining the development of reward-processing in children with and without Autism.


Tiffany Wang, Graduate Student

Tiffany is a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego. She received her BA and BS in Psychology and Human Biology from UCSD. After graduating, her research mainly focused on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) focused interventions and the implementation of these interventions in community settings.  Her current research is focused on causal reasoning in children with ASD. Specifically, she is interested in what mechanisms children with ASD use when reasoning about causality as well as the differences in how they approach physical and social causal relationships. Additionally, she is also interested in early brain development in infants at-risk for ASD. 


Alex Carstensen, Visiting Scholar

Alex Carstensen is a visiting scholar in the Psychology Department at the University of California, San Diego. She completed her PhD in psychology at UC Berkeley and postdoctoral research at Radboud University in the Netherlands, focusing on the nature of category systems across languages—how these semantic structures vary, evolve, and influence thought. Her current research examines the roles of language and culture in children’s early reasoning about causes, relations, and space.


Trisha Katz, Lab Coordinator

Trisha graduated from Boston University in May 2019, where she studied Behavior and Health. She is interested in the function of imagination in regards to cognitive development, and how social information may influence children’s causal learning. She looks forward to meeting you and your family, and in working to make your experience with the ELC Lab as wonderful as possible.  Please contact her with any questions you may have. When she’s not in the lab, she enjoys staying active, trying new restaurants, and exploring the city!

Research Assistants

Collaborating Graduate Students

International Lab Members

The Early Learning & Cognition Lab partners with the Junior Researcher Programme in support of their international apprenticeship for psychology students and young researchers. Our team of student researchers, supervised by Alex Carstensen, explores how language, culture, and cognitive maturation influence the development of relational reasoning. This project examines preschool-age children across five countries that are culturally and linguistically diverse to determine which features of a child’s learning environment shape the developmental trajectory of their early relational reasoning abilities.


Lab Alumni

Andie Nishimi, Lab Coordinator
Bella Killeen, Graduate Student

Caitlyn Lanigan, Research Assistant
Taylor Osman, Research Assistant
Amanda Stroiman, Research Assistant
Sierra Ampudia, Research Assistant
Emily To, Research Assistant
Yashna Bowen, Research Assistant
Daylin Anderson, Research Assistant
Nadia Keddo, Research Assistant
Sarah Gan, Research Assistant
Lorna Liu, Research Assistant
Alicia Lunardhi, Research Assistant
Angela Wu, Research Assistant
Natalie Godfrey, Research Assistant
Jessica Ray, Research Assistant
Jess Wallach, Research Assistant
Joelle Robinett, Research Assistant
Johanna Walker, Research Assistant at UC Berkeley
Ruth Bagcus, Research Assistant
Helen Fu, Research Assistant
Kamilah Cunanan, Research Assistant
CC Collora, Research Assistant
Juliet Ealy, Research Assistant
Ashley Garrison, Research Assistant
Kyle Hausheer, Research Assistant
Nirav Patel, Research Assistant
Liliana Robertson, Research Assistant
Christyn Jackson, Research Assistant
Noor Alomar, Research Assistant
May Jaber, Research Assistant
Alex Leever, Research Assistant
Shantel Leyva, Research Assistant
Emily Wilds, Research Assistant

Research Partners