Lab Director

Dr. Angeline Lillard

Dr. Lillard is a Professor of Psychology and Developmental Area Head at the University of Virginia. She obtained her BA in English Literature from Smith College and her PhD in Psychology from Stanford University. Her primary research interests include pretend play and Montessori education, and her book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius received the Cognitive Development Society Book Award in 2006. Dr. Lillard is also interested in the development of theory of mind, children's executive function, children and media, neuroplasticity, contemplative practices, and culture and development.

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Dr. Lillard's website
Dr. Lillard's Wikipedia

Lab Coordinator

MJ Heise

MJ is the EDL's Lab Coordinator. She grew up in New Jersey and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BS in Child Psychology in 2013. Following college, she worked for two years as a Faculty Research Assistant in the Child Development Lab at the University of Maryland. She is interested in how best to develop learning environments for children based on children's natural curiosity and behavior. Her other research interests include theory of mind, executive function, and pretend play.

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Postdoctoral Research Associate

Dermina Vasc

Dermina Vasc is a Postdoctoral Research Associate. She obtained her bachelor, master and PhD degrees from the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where she worked in the Developmental Psychology Lab. During her PhD she also completed a research stage at the Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Her PhD thesis investigated children's iconic gestural communication and pretend play. In addition to her research interests in children's gesture and pretend play, she is also interested in children's social learning and in how children enrolled in Montessori schools learn.

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Graduate Students

Sierra Eisen

Sierra is a fourth year graduate student, originally from Pinole, CA. She received her BA in Psychology with Honors from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013. Her current research focuses on how children think about and learn from interactive technologies, particularly educational apps. She is also interested in how children learn from stories and how fiction can advance children's moral development.

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Personal Website

Jessica Taggart

Jess is a fourth year graduate student, originally from Norwalk, CT. She received her BA in Psychology and English from Johns Hopkins University in 2012. She is broadly interested in our engagement with fictional worlds. In one line of work, her research explores parents' and children's ability to entertain themselves using only their thoughts and imagination. Her other line of work explores whether exposure to prosocial fictional media can subsequently make us more empathetic and prosocial individuals.

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Personal Website

Graduate Student Collaborators

Helet Botha

Helet is a fourth year graduate student specializing in Ethics at the Darden School of Business at UVA. She's from a small town in central South Africa you have never heard of! Helet completed a BA in Economics and Organizational Decision-Making; as well as an MPhil in Organizational Behavior at the University of Stellenbosch. The boundary between pretend play and reality is one of her two main areas of interest. She is curious about whether pretend play shares cognitive or other psychological underpinnings with entrepreneurial behaviour. Currently, she is looking at whether children perform better at cognitive tasks when these tasks are part of a pretend game than when they are not. (Helet's main second area of interest pertains to how children and adults learn from moral failure.)

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Marissa Drell

Marissa is a sixth year graduate student, originally from Watchung, NJ. She received her undergraduate degree in American Culture with foci in Developmental Psychology and Women's Studies from Vassar College in 2008 and her MA in Psychology from Brandeis University in 2010. Marissa works primarily in the Child Language Learning Lab with Vikram Jaswal. Her work in the Early Development Lab focuses on the effects of media on social and cognitive development.

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Distinguished Majors Program

Meghan Ellwood

Meghan is a fourth year undergraduate student from Mechanicsville, VA, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Biology. For her honors thesis, she is interested in how children learn from pretend, and whether pretend play can be an optimal learning environment for children.

Dan Yonas

Daniel Yonas is a fourth year undergraduate student from Falls Church, Virginia majoring in Cognitive Science and Psychology. For his honors thesis, he is interested in the role of fantasy content (such as anthropomorphism) in children's media, and how it might affect children's prosocial behavior following media exposure.

Research Assistants

Hala Al Kallas

Hala is a fourth year undergraduate student from McLean, VA, majoring in Cognitive Science (Pre-med Track). In the lab, she is investigating how different perspectives in telling a story might influence prosocial behavior in children.

Kiara Lemon

Kiara is a fourth year undergraduate student from West Orange, NJ, majoring in Psychology. In the lab, she is working with Dan to examine the role of fantasy content (such as anthropomorphism) in children's media, and how it might affect children's prosocial behavior following media exposure.

KC Paltell

KC is a fourth year undergraduate student from Baltimore, MD, majoring in Psychology and Speech pathology. In the lab, she is examining children's preferences for pretend and real activities and roles, as well as the portrayal of prosocial content in children's books.

Kathryn Reynolds

Kathryn is a second year undergraduate student from Goochland, VA, majoring in Psychology and Media Studies. In the lab, she is examining the portrayal of prosocial content in children's books.

Julia Worley

Julia is a third year undergraduate student from Leesburg, VA, majoring in Psychology and Biology. In the lab, she is examining the portrayal of prosocial content in children's books.

Amanda Yi

Amanda is a second year undergraduate student from Herndon, VA, majoring in Psychology and Economics. In the lab, she is investigating how the materials that children use to learn math influences their performance on standardized math assessments, and Montessori education.

Lab Alumni

Meet our Lab Alumni

Meet our Research Assistant Alumni

Meet our Summer Internship Alumni