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

Wouter Wolf

Wouter Profile PicWouter is a third year graduate student in the Tomasello Lab. He received a BSc in Criminology and a BSc in Psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, after which he graduated Cum Laude (with honors) from the Research Master’s (MSc) program in social psychology at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. He then conducted research for a year at the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, supervised by Professor Robin Dunbar at the University of Oxford, and subsequently returned to the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam to conduct fMRI research and teach undergraduate content and methods/statistics classes. Wouter’s current research is aimed at exploring what it is in human psychology that makes us so different from other animals (specifically apes). Specifically, he is interested in how the interplay between cognition (i.e., joint attention and shared intentionality) and motivation causes humans to engage in complex cooperation and large scale social cohesion, and, ultimately, social learning and cultural transmission. His projects are funded by Duke University and by an international Fulbright scholarship awarded in the Netherlands.


Leon Li

Leon is a second year graduate student in the Tomasello Lab. He received a BSc cum laude from the University of Maryland. His undergraduate research focused on theory of mind, moral reasoning, and linguistic ambiguity. After graduation, he joined the Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), where he conducted fMRI research on mindfulness meditation, language processing, and the neural substrates of cognitive control. Before coming to Duke, Leon worked as a lab manager at Johns Hopkins University, where he coordinated projects on higher-order cognition. His current research interests are centered on normativity, the human capacity to establish values, norms, and expectations about “the way things ought to be”. Particularly, he is interested in how normativity scaffolds other important aspects of human cognition, such as culture, intentionality, or language.

Jared Vasil 

Jared is a first year graduate student in the Tomasello Lab. He received a BS in psychology (summa cum laude), a BA in linguistics (cum laude), and a minor in philosophy from the University of Florida. Under the guidance of Dr. Jeff Farrar, Jared was awarded funding through the University Scholars Program to investigate preschool children’s modeling of adult behavior in situations marked by uncertainty. His senior thesis focused on developing an active inference account of shared intentionality. Jared’s interests are in investigating how the motivation and skills for shared intentionality are involved in the genesis of language in human evolution and development, and how, in turn, language modifies evolution, development, and cultural dynamics through aligning or attuning individuals’ perspectives on, or expectations of, how the world works. He aims to investigate this through studies geared towards better understanding the role of linguistic communication in constructing common ground and regulating joint activities. He hopes to pursue these topics from the theoretical viewpoint of active inference and free energy minimization.


Lab Manager

Amanda Nafe 

Amanda is originally from South Bend (Granger), Indiana and recently graduated from Indiana University – Bloomington 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.


Senior Theses Students


Bari Britvan

Bari is a rising senior from Long Island, New York seeking a major in psychology and minor in education. Her interests include developmental and clinical psychology, specifically among children, and she hopes to receive a PhD in clinical psychology in the future. Currently, she is investigating the development of group norms among children. In her free time, Bari enjoys cheering on the Blue Devils at basketball games and hanging out with her friends!


Vivian Iva

Vivian is a rising senior from Eastern Europe, Georgia, double-majoring in Psychology and Visual Arts. Her research interests include human cognitive evolution, social cognition, and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. After graduating, she plans on taking a gap year to work in a lab, after which she will apply to graduate schools in Developmental Psychology. Vivian is also passionate about theater and philosophy.


Undergraduate Research Assistants

Kayla Harris

Kayla is a rising junior from Morrisville, North Carolina. She is majoring in Psychology, with a minor in Chemistry and a certificate in Human Development. With a plan to go to medical school after university, she hopes to go into pediatrics. She enjoys reading, volunteering in her community, and visiting her family in Jamaica during the summer.


Hope Morales
Hope is a sophomore from Miami, Florida. She is planning on majoring in Neuroscience while on the pre-medicine track. She is very interested in psychological research and fascinated by the intricacies of the brain. Hope also loves working with kids, exercising, and tenting for Duke Basketball!


  Kayley Dotson

Kayley is a sophomore from Birmingham, AL. She intends to major in Psychology with a minor in French. She loves working with kids and is interested in personality development as well as social aspects of development.



Yeonju Suh

Yeonju is a sophomore (junior by fall) from Seoul, South Korea. She is majoring in Psychology, minoring in Music and pursuing the Human Development Certificate. She is particularly interested in developmental psychology and its implications for education. During her free time, Yeonju likes to play the violin, discuss social issues with friends, and bake.


Spring 2019 Undergraduates
Julia Thielhelm – Julia is a junior from Orlando, Florida. She is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Spanish and Biology. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in medicine. Her research interests include studying how children develop language and form relationships. In her free time, she enjoys playing soccer, reading, and baking.

Ainsley Buck –  Ainsley is a freshman from Connecticut. She is an intended Psychology major with additional interests in Global Health and Child Policy. Ainsley loves working with kids and teaches kids’ dance and skating classes. Much of her free time is spent in a dance studio.

Camryn Capoot –  Camryn is a freshman from Denver, CO. She intends to major in Psychology with a minor in Global Health. She plans to go to medical school after graduating from Duke. She enjoys skiing, working with kids, and volunteering.

Sydny Long –  Sydny is a sophomore from Fort Mill, South Carolina. She is pursuing a major in Psychology with a minor in Biology and plans to eventually attend medical school in order to become a pediatric oncologist. While all of psychology fascinates her, she is especially interested in developmental and child psychology, particularly how trauma interacts with child development. In her free time, Sydny enjoys writing for The Chronicle, volunteering, and drawing.

Theresa Nardone – Theresa is a rising junior from Clarksburg, Maryland seeking a major in Public Policy and minors in Psychology and Spanish Studies. She is interested in the intersection of domestic policy and developmental psychology, specifically among children. In her free time, Theresa enjoys going on runs and hikes, making music, and spending time with friends.

Lucy Pruzan – Lucy is a sophomore from Manhattan, NY. She is planning on majoring in Psychology while on the pre-med track. She is very interested in the social aspects of child development and loves working with kids!

Anna Fink – Anna is a sophomore from Concord, North Carolina who is pursuing a major in Psychology and minors in French Studies and Cultural Anthropology. She is particularly interested in developmental disabilities and advocacy for those who are affected by them. Anna loves working with kids and enjoys dancing and teaching dance in her free time!

Caitlin Luby – Caitlin is a junior from Fair Haven, New Jersey. She is pursuing a major in psychology, a minor in Education, and a certificate in Markets and Management Studies. Her research interests include educational psychology, mental health, and the intersection of psychology and marketing. She is a three-year member of the women’s Club Lacrosse team at Duke and loves working with kids. She has particularly enjoyed her time tutoring children in Durham schools.


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)