Principal Investigator

ritasvetlova1Dr. Rita Svetlova

Rita Svetlova obtained a M.A. from Lomonosov Moscow State University in Moscow, Russia, and a Ph.D in Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh under the mentorship of Dr. Celia Brownell.  She then worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.  Broadly, Rita’s research interests are concerned with the early development of social skills, especially those related to morally relevant cognition and behavior.  In addition, she is interested in how prosociality is socialized, whether through adults’ guidance or through children’s reflections on their own social experiences.  Her current research projects explore the development of emotion understanding, empathy, self- and other-awareness, prosocial behaviors (sharing, helping etc.), fairness and distributive justice, commitment and collaboration, group coordination and leadership, and the evaluation of others’ morally relevant behaviors in young children.

 Curriculum Vitae


Lab Manager

Amanda Nafe 

Amanda is originally from Granger, Indiana and graduated from Indiana University – Bloomington  in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science and minors in psychology and business. During her time at Indiana University, she worked with Dr. Emily Fyfe in the Learning, Education, and Development Lab exploring how 6 and 7 year olds use concrete objects as learning tools in mathematics.  Her current research interests involve how people think and their learning process. She is particularly interested in the types of questions people ask and why they are asking them.


Undergraduate Research Assistants

Kaelah Brauher

Kaelah Brauher is a senior from Rockford, MI. She is studying psychology and working towards a markets and management certificate. Her research interests revolve around how social interactions affect behavior. She is specially interested in gender and cross-cultural studies and loves working with children. She plans to further her education after undergrad in hopes of becoming a child psychologist. In her free time she likes to hang out with friends and play board games.


Julie Hwang

Julie is a junior from Seoul, South Korea. She is planning to major in Psychology and minor in Visual Media Studies. After undergrad, she hopes to attend medical school to pursue her interest in psychiatry. On campus, she is involved in Peer for You and NAMI, two clubs that strive to spread awareness about and fight the stigma against mental health. When not in class, Julie loves to sing, take photos, volunteer around Durham, and watch movies with friends. 


Patrisha Carter

Patrisha is a junior from Loganville, GA, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Chemistry. She plans to attend medical school after taking a gap year dedicated to research and more clinical experiences. On campus, she is a Cardea Fellow and participates in Future is Now (FIN), Black Student Alliance (BSA), and the Minority Association of Pre-Med Students (MAPS). Outside of class, Patrisha enjoys spending time with her friends and binge watching Netflix shows.


Molly Mendoza

Molly is a junior from Bradenton-Sarasota, Florida. She is double majoring in International Comparative Studies and Global Health double major and pursuing a minor in Psychology. Among her interests are early childhood education, travel, and Duke basketball!



Sarah Watkins

Sarah is a junior from Winston-Salem, North Carolina majoring in Psychology with minors in Chemistry and Global Health. She loves working with children and enjoys finding the intersection of her love for children and psychology in research. Her research interests involve the influence of differing cultures and structures on child social and behavioral development. At Duke, Sarah is also involved with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Sustainable Duke, The Penny Pilgram Women’s Leadership Cohort, and PASH. In her free time, Sarah enjoys baking bread, hiking, volunteering in the Durham community, and singing along to sappy Spanish music.


Zack Holtz

Zack is a sophomore from Cleveland, OH. He is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Chemistry and Theater Studies. After his time at Duke, Zack plans to attend medical school to further pursue his interests in psychiatry/psychology. His research interests include emotional development and development in children with mental disorders. In his free time, he enjoys performing, exploring new restaurants, traveling, and baking.


Other Collaborators

Paula Yust

Paula is a 4th year developmental psychology PhD student primarily working with Dr. Steve Asher. Her primary research interests focus on children’s friendships, particularly high quality friendships and the various processes that might promote high quality relationships. She is collaborating with Dr. Svetlova on a study on preschool friendship ideas and sharing behavior. She received her BA from Wellesley, where she worked with Dr. Tracy Gleason studying preschool friendship development and maintenance across the school year. She then spent several years at Temple as Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s lab coordinator before coming to Duke.

Rosa Li

Rosa is a postdoctoral associate in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. She teaches courses for Duke’s undergraduate Certificate in Decision Science and is collaborating with Dr. Svetlova on studies of empathy and prosocial decision-making. Rosa’s research investigates how children, adolescents, and adults make decisions when outcomes are uncertain and/or when peers are involved.

View Rosa’s Website



Lab Alumni

Janette Levin (RA 2018); Charlie Sarria (RA 2018); Sarah Turner (RA 2018); Celia Kohler (Honor’s Thesis RA 2018-2019); Victoria Trimm (Honor’s Thesis RA 2018-2019); Mahnoor Nazeer (Honor’s Thesis RA 2018-2019); Phoebe Caplin (Honor’s Thesis RA 2018-2019); Lauren Owens (RA 2018-2019); Tia Kelley (RA 2018-2019);  André Mego (RA 2018-2019); Molly Mendoza (RA 2019); Maia Whelan (RA S2019); Kelsey Langley (RA S2019); Sarah Watkins (RA S2019); Janelle Carmichael (RA 2018-2019); Roya Abbasi-Asl (Collaborator 2019); Lauren Steiner (HS RA 2019);