Carnegie Mellon University

Developmental Psychology Graduate Program

Our graduate program focuses on training students to become independent scientists in developmental psychology.

The faculty in this area study how experience and maturation contribute to changes in our mental, physical, and social capabilities, often with a focus on changes in cognitive processes such as learning, attention, perception, and representation. Our approach places a strong emphasis on identifying the psychological, biological, and environmental mechanisms that provide causal explanations for change over developmental time.

The developmental graduate program emphasizes:

  • collaboration with faculty/students in the program
  • acquisition of qualitative skills
  • theory development
  • training with multiple methodologies, including behavioral, computational, corpus analysis, eye-tracking, and neuroimaging techniques
  • open science efforts to encourage replicable research
  • analysis of behavior, perception, and cognition

Unique features and strengths of our program include:

  • the selection of an advisor and a committee to provide guidance throughout your graduate experience
  • encouragement to collaborate with at least one other faculty member’s (in addition to the primary advisor’s) lab during the program
  • opportunity to design studies, collect one’s own data, and develop a program of research
  • program’s connection to the larger Pittsburgh community which includes University of Pittsburgh programs, area schools, and patient populations

  • training in both observational and interventional data collection and analysis

  • Carnegie Mellon University Children’s School, a laboratory school that facilitates developmental research with children between the ages of 3 and 5

  • opportunities for field work and real-world application
  • access to large longitudinal data sets

This program prepares students well for careers in academia, industry, and other research-related professions. For example, graduates of our program have taken positions as assistant professors at universities, but also in a wide variety of other settings including research institutes, government organizations, startup companies, and many industries that value research skills.

These faculty routinely train Developmental Psychology Ph.D. students:


Marlene Behrmann

Thomas S. Baker University Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience

Behrmann's research program is on understanding the psychological and neural bases of visual cognition, with particular emphasis on the recognition of faces, words and common objects. The research involves a multimodal approach using psychophysics, functional MRI and EEG and different populations including normal and brain-damaged adults and children.


Jessica Cantlon

Ronald J. and Mary Ann Zdrojkowski Professor of Developmental Neuroscience and Associate Professor of Psychology

We study the developmental, evolutionary, and cultural origins of logic and mathematics using fMRI and behavioral methods with children and adults, comparative studies with non-human primates, and cross-cultural research in the Amazon. Our studies test the kinds of computations that are shared among primates, their developmental trajectory, and what makes the human brain unique.


Sharon Carver

Director, Children's School and Professor of Psychology (Teaching)

My work aims to utilize theories and research in the learning sciences to improve education, for young children at the Children’s School where I am the Director, for undergraduates in the Dietrich College where I am the Associate Dean for Educational Affairs, and for graduate students in the Program for Interdisciplinary Education Research (PIER) where I teach one of the core courses and serve on dissertation committees.


Anna Fisher

Chair, Departmental Committee on Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Professor of Psychology

I study development of attention regulation, role of attention in learning in formal and informal settings, and development of higher-order cognition including semantic memory and reasoning. On-going projects in the lab examine how children sustain attention to dynamic events, the role children’s developing attention regulation plays during reading, and learning-driven changes in semantic memory in ecologically-valid settings.


Lori Holt

Chair, Departmental Strategic Planning Committee and Professor of Psychology and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

Our research in auditory cognitive neuroscience has a developmental component in its examination of how children learn about the structure of sound in the world. This is important for spoken language learning, and for how speech communication interacts with developing literacy in school-age children.


David Klahr

Walter van Dyke Bingham Professor of Cognitive Development and Education Science, Emeritus

I study the development of scientific thinking in children. Specific projects range from basic studies of the development of curiosity and question-asking skills, to more applied investigations of the construction of adaptive, intelligent programs that can guide students through the process of designing and evaluating experiments in a variety of domains.


Brian MacWhinney

Teresa Heinz Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Professor of Psychology

I have created the crosslinguistic multimodal TalkBank database system for the study of spoken language interactions in children, adults, bilinguals, language learners, and a variety of language disorders. My Competition Model for first and second language learning relies on concepts and data from usage-based linguistics, embodied cognition, and neuroemergentism.


David Rakison

Associate Professor of Psychology

I study various aspects of infant perception and cognition using behavioral methods and computational modeling. I apply information-processing and evolutionary psychology approaches to examine how infants learn about causality, categorization, induction, cues to animacy, labels, and fear.


Erik Thiessen

Director of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor of Psychology

I study learning, with a particular focus on language learning and how infants and adults take advantage of probabilistic information in the input to discover phonological, lexical, and syntactic patterns.  I am interested in both the effects of learning - such as how adults process input differently from infants - and also the mechanisms underlying learning, and have ongoing projects exploring both of these questions.