Carnegie Mellon University

Cognitive Psychology Graduate Program

The goal of the Cognitive Ph.D. Program is to train researchers to develop a deep understanding of representations and processes involved in perceiving, thinking, and acting at functional, computational, and neural levels.

Our program emphasizes not only basic research on cognitive mechanisms, but also application to diverse fields such as learning sciences, technology-aided perception and action, data analytics, and tools for rehabilitation.

The cognitive program offers:

  • individualized training tailored to the development of flexible and rigorous research and professional skills
  • opportunities for in-depth training in behavioral, computational, and neuroscience methods
  • an apprenticeship model that provides a solid foundation to conduct independent research

A unique feature of our program is that it includes a self-determined curriculum that not only meets the requirements of the Psychology Ph.D., but adds supplemental coursework in areas such as Statistics, Modeling, Machine Learning, Linguistics, and Neuroscience.

This training positions students for successful careers in both academia and industry. Prior cognitive graduates hold positions as faculty at research-focused universities and teaching institutions, higher education administration, and a variety of education and technology industries.

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


John Anderson

Richard King Mellon Professor of Psychology and Computer Science and University Professor

We study learning and performance in complex tasks like mathematical problem solving and video games.  To test our understanding we build computational models that can perform these tasks in the ACT-R cognitive architecture.


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.


Gretchen Chapman

Professor of Psychology (Courtesy) and Professor of Social and Decision Sciences

Dr. Chapman’s research combines the fields of judgment and decision making with health psychology to investigate methods to facilitate healthy and prosocial behavior such as vaccination and blood donation.


David Danks

L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, Professor of Psychology (Courtesy) and Head, Department of Philosophy

I work in computational cognitive science, integrating frameworks from cognitive science and AI/machine learning. I have focused on the nature of cognitive representations and their connection with learning processes, particularly causal learning and reasoning.


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.


Laurie Heller

Professor of Psychology (Teaching)

My research examines the human ability to use sound to understand what events are happening in the environment. My perceptual experiments address whether there are acoustic cues that reveal attributes of sound events, and how our knowledge of these cue-attribute relationships influences our discrimination of sounds, labeling of sounds, and multimodal perception.


Lori Holt

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

Chatting with a friend while walking down a busy street, tracking the quality of a sick child’s breathing through a nursery monitor, and following the melody of a violin within an orchestra all rely upon listening and learning selectively across sound. We seek to understand speech communication and auditory perception in a complex, noisy world.


Roberta Klatzky

Charles J. Queenan, Jr. University Professor of Psychology and Human-Computer Interaction

I study how humans form perceptual representations in multiple sensory modalities and use them to guide action. My work has a strong connection to application, such as aiding blind people in navigation or augmenting surgery with touch and visual displays.


Ken Koedinger

Hillman Professor of Computer Science and Professor of Human-Computer Interaction and Psychology

I study the great mystery of how complex human learning works, empirically using fine-grained longitudinal data from math, science, and language learning, experimentally through studies to identify causal relationships that lead to improved learning, and theoretically using machine learning to model how people learn to behave, reason, and problem solve.


Marsha Lovett

Associate Vice Provost for Educational Innovation and Learning Analytics, Director of Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Co-coordinator of The Simon Initiative and Professor of Psychology (Teaching)

I study how learning works (mostly in college-level courses) and then explore ways to improve it. I work with learning data from online technologies and classroom-based sensors and have developed several educational technologies to support this work.


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.


Brad Mahon

Associate Professor of Psychology

I work on the organization of object concepts in the brain, and how the brain recovers from injury.


Daniel Oppenheimer

Professor of Psychology (Courtesy) and Professor of Social and Decision Sciences

I study how do people determine what information to use when making decisions, what is worth learning, how to search for the information they need, and what people do when different pieces of information conflict and suggest different conclusions.  To answer these questions, I integrate theory from metacognition, causal reasoning, and memory.


David Plaut

Professor of Psychology and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

My research involves using computational (neural-network) modeling, complemented by behavioral, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging studies, to investigate the neural basis of cognitive processing in the domains of high-level vision, reading and language, and semantics, over the course of development, in skilled adults, and in patients with brain damage.


Lynne Reder

Professor of Psychology

I strive to better understand human memory by combining behavioral, neuroimaging, psychopharmacology and computational modeling methods to help constrain my theorizing. Currently, I am exploring how experience with stimuli affects working memory consumption and its implications for learning and partial matching.


Michael J. Tarr

Kavčić-Moura Professor of Cognitive and Brain Science, Head of the Department of Psychology, Professor of Psychology and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and Professor of Machine Learning (Courtesy)

Using tools drawn from machine learning, computer vision, computer graphics, cognitive science and neuroimaging we are exploring how high-level structures within biological vision systems arise given minimal conditions, as well as how such models can help us to better understand the processes that underlie vision.


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.


Timothy Verstynen

Associate Professor of Psychology and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

My lab studies how the architecture of cortical and subcortical circuits gives rise to the algorithms of decision-making and learning. We apply this understanding in the context of health neuroscience and artificial intelligence.