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Meet the Lab!

portrait of professor Casasola

Dr. Marianella Casasola, Professor

Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs
Director, Cornell Infant Studies and Play & Learning Laboratory

1300B Martha Van Rensselaer Hall/ 35 Beebe Hall
Department of Human Development
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14850

Phone: (607) 254-1388

Current Professional Activities:

Member, Society for Research in Child development Member, International Society on Infant Studies Member, American Psychological Association Member, Cognitive Development Society Guest Reviewer, Infancy Guest Reviewer, Child Development Current Research Activities.

My research program focuses on infant cognitive development and early word learning. I am particularly interested in the interaction between cognition and language acquisition during the first two years of development. In collaboration with colleagues and my students, I examine infants’ ability to discriminate the spatial relations between objects as well as their ability to group these events into spatial categories. A portion of our research explores the degree to which infants’ perceptual and cognitive abilities provide them with the meanings expressed across language-specific semantic categories. The goal of this line of research is to document not only which spatial concepts infants understand (and when they acquire these concepts), but also to delineate the processes that guide how infants acquire this understanding. We also are exploring how specific linguistic input can aid infants in forming spatial categories that they do not form in the absence of language. In related research, we also are exploring how language can direct infants’ attention to the objects versus location in a dynamic event. More recently, we have begun to explore these issues with toddlers and preschool-age children. Finally, we have been studying whether infants learn to comprehend visual gestures as labels for objects earlier and more easily than spoken labels. In addition, my students and I are exploring whether presenting a visual gesture with a spoken word aids infants in comprehending the spoken word. In sum, my students and I are conducting numerous experimental studies that explore developmental changes in infant cognitive development, how these abilities are recruited in the acquisition of language, and whether language can influence how infants organize their world. In addition to studying how infants learn, I also enjoy running, swimming, playing piano and cello. Among my most favorite activities are spending time with my family.


Ph.D. 2000 – University of Texas at Austin Psychology
M.A. 1995 – University of Texas at Austin Psychology
B.A. 1992 – University of California, Berkeley Psychology & Spanish Literature

Courses Taught

HD2830 – Research Methods in Human Development
HD3460 – Serious Fun! The Role of Play Throughout Development
HD4340 – Current Topics in Cognitive Development
HD6310 – Advanced Topics in Cognitive Development

Current Lab Members:

Valerie Bambha | Ph.D. Candidate

Valerie graduated from William & Mary in 2019 with a B.S. in Psychology and a Minor in Linguistics and is currently a second-year PhD student in Dr. Marianella Casasola’s Play and Learning Lab. She is broadly interested in studying play as a learning experience that fosters children’s development of complex cognitive and perceptual skills, as well as in the interplay of various domains of development throughout childhood. Her work with Dr. Casasola centers on how infants’ acquisition of mental rotation, a fundamental spatial skill, is influenced by non-spatial factors such as visual short-term memory, visual processing biases, and motor development.

Picture of David Tompkins

David Tompkins | Ph.D. Candidate

David Tompkins is a first year Ph.D. Student in Dr. Casasola’s Play and Learning Lab. David is interested in the intersection of emerging technology and early childhood, as well as the ways that new technology may be used in developmental research. David’s current projects involve computer vision, 2D-3D transfer, and virtual reality. Prior to joining the lab, David worked at the Hasbro toy company on a preschool brand.

picture of mary

Mary Simpson | Lab Manager

Mary is originally from West Windsor, NJ and began working in the lab in August 2020. She received her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Human Development from SUNY Geneseo in May 2020.

Undergraduate Research Assistants

  • Adina Mistry
  • Alison Capaldi
  • Angelyn Loh
  • Anika Kumar
  • Ashley Liu
  • Brandon Man
  • Brittanie Pic
  • Caroline Wortman
  • Chaelin Lee
  • Isabella Lepez
  • Jahnvi Bhojwani
  • Kaithleen Rodriguez
  • Kelly Zhou
  • Kimberly Zhang
  • Kira Lee-Genzel
  • Lindsey Sexton
  • Madeline Hanscom
  • Madeline Lei
  • Marie Hwang
  • Max Portnoy
  • Michelle Yang
  • Millena Yohannes
  • Naina Murthy
  • Natalie Kiefaber
  • Nicole Werner
  • Obi Abii
  • Rachel Bank
  • Samantha Feliz
  • Shayna Morgan
  • Stacey Li
  • Talia Petigrow
  • Victoria Guevara
  • Yasmeen Masri

Current Lab Collaborators

  • Dr. Kim Kopko | Senior Extension Associate; Associate Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension and Associate Director of Extension and Outreach in the College of Human Ecology
  • Ana M. Cañas | Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Parenting Education Program
  • Dr. Lisa Oakes | Director of the Infant Cognition Lab, UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain
  • Dr. Vanessa LoBue | Director of the Child Study Center, Rutgers University
  • Play & Learning Across a Year (PLAY) | The Cornell Play & Learning Lab is collaborating on this project! For more info on PLAY, click HERE

Lab Alumni:

  • Deaven Winebrake | Former Lab Manager
    • Deaven is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Developmental Science at Boston University
  • Isabelle Pai | Former Graduate Student
    • Isabelle is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology at UC Davis.
  • Eunice Yiu | Former Undergraduate Research Assistant
    • Eunice is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Developmental Psychology at UC Berkley and is being mentored by Dr. Alison Gopnik
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