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Principal Investigator

Dr. Michael Tomasello

Mike Profile picMike obtained a B.A. in Psychology in 1972 from Duke University and then a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1980 from University of Georgia. He was a Professor of Psychology at Emory University and an affiliate scientist at Yerkes Primate Center from 1980 to 1998. Since 1998, he has served as the Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Currently, he is also a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke. His research interests focus on the processes of social cognition, social learning, and communication/language in human children and great apes. His recent books include Origins of Human Communication (MIT Press, 2008), Why We Cooperate (MIT Press, 2009), A Natural History of Human Thinking (Harvard University Press, 2014), and A Natural History of Human Morality (Harvard University Press, 2016).



 Graduate Students

Jared Vasil

Jared is a sixth year graduate student in the Tomasello Lab. Under the mentorship of Dr. M. J. Farrar, Jared received a BS in Psychology (summa cum laude), a BA in Linguistics (cum laude), and a minor in Philosophy from the University of Florida. Jared is interested in the development of communication and cognition. Specifically, Jared’s work investigates the relationship of reference and groupminded (normative-conventional) thinking in young children. In his spare time, Jared enjoys rock climbing, running, and reading.



Trisha Katz

Trisha is a third year PhD student at Duke and she is co-advised by Dr. Michael Tomasello and Dr. Tamar Kushnir. Trisha started her psychology journey at Boston University, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and completed an honors thesis on the efficacy of a play-based intervention for children with Autism. She then spent two years at UC-San Diego, where she worked as a lab manager for Dr. Caren Walker and Dr. Federico Rossano, investigating a variety of topics related to causal reasoning and social cognition in young children. At Duke, Trisha hopes to design studies related to costly signaling, respect, and reputation management during early childhood. Additionally, Trisha has conducted fieldwork on cultural behaviors in Japanese Macaques, and she hopes to design modified versions of her studies that can be run with non-human primates.



Jessa Stegall

Jessa is a third year PhD student at Duke and she is co-advised by Dr. Michael Tomasello and Dr. Tamar Kushnir. She received her BA in both Psychology and Philosophy (Magna Cum Laude) from Michigan State University and joined Teach for America post-graduation as a first grade teacher. Before joining Duke, Jessa spent two years as a research coordinator for the Department of Psychology at Stanford University under the direction of Dr. Hyowon Gweon. Broadly, Jessa’s research interests lie in the domain of moral development. More specifically, Jessa plans to study early conceptions of moral obligation – emphasizing the social factors that influence children’s moral decision-making and judgments. In her spare time, Jessa enjoys tending to her plants, adding to her rock collection, and reading 19th century British satire.


Postdoctoral Associates

Meltem Yucel

Dr. Meltem Yucel is a postdoctoral fellow funded by the NIH (NRSA; F32) at Duke University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Meltem received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology with a concentration in Quantitative Psychology at the University of Virginia in 2021. She is primarily interested in social cognition and morality, specifically focusing on how and when children become moral beings. Using behavioral, eye-tracking, pupillometry, and network analysis methods, her research investigates how children and adults understand and enforce norms and the role of affect in moral decision-making.

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Pearl Han Li

Pearl Han Li is a Postdoctoral Associate at Duke working with Dr. Tamar Kushnir and Dr. Michael Tomasello. Pearl received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota in 2022. Pearl is primarily interested in social learning and moral development across cultures, specifically focusing on the different ways in which testimony can affect children’s moral judgments, and the interpersonal and collaborative aspects of children’s testimonial learning. In her down time, Pearl enjoys movies, trying out new food, and playing with her toddler, Charlie.



Lab Manager

Juliette Chartier

Juliette graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in Psychology and Rhetoric & Writing in 2023. During her undergraduate, she wrote her honors thesis under the guidance of Dr. Jacqueline Woolley on children’s beliefs in astrology and its effects on behavior. Juliette is primarily interested in children’s beliefs in the superstitious, supernatural, and fantastical and how these beliefs impact their way of navigating the world around them. In her spare time, Juliette enjoys creative writing, baking, and reading fantasy novels.





Senior Thesis Students

Alissa Rivero

Alissa is going into her fourth year in the lab. She is especially interested in using primate studies to better understand children’s cognitive and psychosocial development. She is currently conducting her senior thesis in the Tomasello Lab on children’s coordination in groups of 2’s and 3’s. In her free time, she loves to walk her dog and watch Criminal Minds.






Sarah Williams

Sarah is a senior from Durham, NC, pursuing a B.S. in Psychology and a certificate in Child Policy Research. She is currently conducting her senior thesis in the Tomasello Lab on children’s promise keeping. After Duke, she hopes to attend graduate school for Developmental Psychology. Sarah is especially interested in children’s social cognition, learning, and motivation, as well as the relationship between psychology and education. In her spare time, she also loves dancing and listening to music!





Research Assistants

Kaelin Main

Kaelin is a senior from Stamford, Connecticut pursuing a B.S. in psychology with a minor in statistics. She is currently conducting her senior thesis project in the ECC Lab. After Duke, she hopes to attend graduate school for clinical psychology, where she hopes to research treatment of psychopathology in young children. In her free time, Kaelin loves going to yoga classes, baking, and finding fancy coffee shops.





Jadelyn Ding

Jadelyn is a junior from State College, PA, hoping to double major in Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology with a minor in Chinese. She is interested in the relationship between evolutionary theories and developmental psychology, particularly with social cognition, empathy, and communication in children. In her free time, she enjoys cooking/baking, drawing, reading, and playing with her friends’ cats.





Claire Heyne

Claire is a junior from Owatonna, Minnesota planning to major in Psychology and minor in EvolutionaryAnthropology. She’s especially interested in how prosociality and group-mindedness develop in children. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to attend graduate school for Clinical or Counseling Psychology. In her free time, she enjoys running, hiking, baking, and gardening.






Jeanie Jia

Jeanie is a junior from New York City, pursuing a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in East Asian Studies. She is interested in the intersection between race/ethnicity and mental health, especially when it comes to diaspora in the United States. Jeanie is a proud member of Duke’s all-Asian acapella group, the Temptasians, and enjoys drawing, listening to music, drinking bubble tea, and watching shows/movies.





Naomi Holtzman

Naomi is a junior from Tucson, Arizona, pursuing a B.S. in Psychology with an Ethics & Society Certificate. She is interested in child development and plans to attend graduate school for Clinical Psychology after Duke. She is also interested in exploring Sport Psychology with a focus on children, which stems from her own enjoyment of playing sports and working out. In her free time she also loves cooking, spending time outside, and hanging out with friends.





Chi Nghiem

Chi is a rising senior majoring in Psychology. She is interested in moral development and moral reasoning behind prosocial behaviors and intentions. After graduating, she hopes to conduct interdisciplinary research on how to promote prosociality and empathy through moral messages and evaluation. In her spare time, she enjoys walking, sunbathing in the garden, and people watching.





Kathleen Nguyen

Kathleen is a Junior from Houston, Texas pursuing a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. She is interested in exploring the intersection of biological factors and behavior and how they can be influenced by psychological development. In her free time, she enjoys camping, eating new foods, and retail therapy.






Ruth Amare

Ruth is a sophomore from Silver Spring, Maryland studying neuroscience and psychology. She hopes to study the development of psychopathology in young children from a neurological perspective. After Duke, Ruth aspires to attend medical school to become a pediatric neurologist. In her free time Ruth enjoys reading psychological thrillers and Ethiopian coffee.






Lab Alumni

Rachel Gallegos (Honor’s Thesis RA 2017); Chandler Cissel (RA 2017); Emma Koltun-Baker (RA 2017); Abby Muehlstein (RA 2017); Mackenzie Roberts (RA 2017); Julia Weber (RA 2017); Fernando Moreno (Visiting Scholar 2017); Andrea Lin (RA 2017); Leila Milanfar (RA 2017); Paige Scarbrough (Lab Manager 2016- 2018); Amy Zhang (HS RA 2018); Mareike Heinrich (Visiting Scholar 2019); Bari Britvan (Honor’s Thesis RA 2017-2019); Vivian Iva (Honor’s Thesis RA 2018-2019); Hope Morales (RA 2018-2019); Yeonju Suh (RA 2018-2019); Theresa Nardone (RA 2019); (Krystal Hu RA 2019); Chandler Warren (RA 2019); Sawyer O’Keefe (RA 2019); Ainsley Buck (RA 2018-2019); Caitlin Luby (RA 2018-2019); Amanda Nafe (Lab Manager 2018-2020); Kayla Harris (Honor’s Thesis RA 2018-2020); Paula Moreno (RA 2019-2020); Dayna Price (Honor’s Thesis RA 2020-2021); Sydny Long (RA 2019-2021); Anna Fink (RA 2019-2021); Lucy Pruzan (RA 2019-2021); Julia Thielhelm (Honor’s Thesis RA 2018-2020 & Lab Manager 2020-2021); Wouter Wolf (Graduate Student 2017-2021); Leon Li (Graduate Student 2017-2022); Camryn Capoot (Honor’s Thesis RA 2019-2022); Aren Tucker (Honor’s Thesis RA 2019-2022); Jocelynn Murphy (RA 2019-2022); Bella Larsen (Honor’s Thesis RA 2020-2023); Maya Provencal (Honor’s Thesis RA 2021-2023); Eleanor Robb (Undergraduate RA 2022-2023); Kayley Dotson (Honor’s Thesis RA & Lab Manager 2018-2023); Alex Rodriguez (Undergraduate RA 2022-2023); Sabrina Takemoto-Spraggins (Undergraduate RA 2022-2023); Alex Springer (Undergraduate RA 2022-2023); Ben Trokenheim (Undergraduate RA 2024); Isabelle Ginn (Undergraduate RA 2022-2024)