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 fifth 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 fourth year graduate student in the Tomasello Lab. He received a BS cum laude in psychology from the University of Maryland, where he investigated language representation with Dr. L. Robert Slevc and moral development with Dr. Melanie Killen. Before attending Duke, Leon also conducted research on mindfulness meditation and language at the Center for Advanced Study of Language and worked as a lab manager for Dr. Susan Courtney at Johns Hopkins University. At Duke, he is excited to continue investigating topics related to language and morality, such as how the linguistic framing of a situation influences children’s actions and interpretations of events or how children engage in moral reasoning when interacting with other people. 



Jared Vasil

Jared is a third 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. Broadly, Jared’s interests are in the evolution and development of human communication and cooperation. Jared’s experimental work studies the effects of ‘we’-framing on preschool children’s cooperation with a partner (i.e., the effects of describing a dyadic activity as a collaborative, joint venture on children’s social behavior). Additional work relates the active inference formulation of biological systems to human communication. In his spare time, Jared enjoys running, rock climbing, and reading.





Lab Manager

Julia Thielhelm

Julia is from Orlando, Florida and graduated from Duke in 2020. She earned a B.S. in Psychology and minors in Spanish and Biology. She worked as a research assistant in the Tomasello Lab for three years and conducted an honors thesis her senior year. Her research interests include studying how children develop social bonds through shared experiences and the role joint attention plays in child development. In the future, she hopes to attend medical school and is interested in both general and developmental pediatrics. In her free time, she enjoys playing soccer, reading, and baking.



Senior Thesis Students

Dayna Price

Dayna is a senior from Iowa. She is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience. She plans on pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology and will hopefully be able to work with children in the future in the areas of moral and emotional development. In her free time, she loves hiking and baking.


Kayley Dotson

Kayley is a senior from Birmingham, AL. She is double majoring in Psychology and French, and she is interested in pursuing a PhD in developmental or clinical psychology. She loves working with kids and is interested in the different applications of joint attention, such as in Autism Spectrum disorder research. In her spare time, she loves hiking, biking, and travel (when COVID isn’t happening!)

Research Assistants

Camryn Capoot

Camryn is a junior from Denver, Colorado. She is majoring in Neuroscience with minors in Psychology and Chemistry. She is interested in the intersection of social behavior and cognitive function in the context of development. She loves working with children, volunteers at the Duke Children’s Hospital, and works with a program dedicated to promoting the participation of female-identifying middle schoolers in STEM.



Sydny Long

Sydny is a senior 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.


Kelly Marsh

Kelly is a junior from Spartanburg, South Carolina. She is planning on majoring in Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience. She is interested in how early childhood experiences impact mental health, and plans on becoming a pediatric psychiatrist.



Jocelynn Murphy

Jocelynn is a junior from Creedmoor, NC. She is planning on majoring in Psychology on a premed track. She loves working with kids and plans to go to medical school upon graduating Duke where she will either focus on Psychiatry or Pediatrics.



Sarah Teixeira

Sarah is a senior from São Paulo, Brazil, pursuing a major in Psychology and minor in Neuroscience. She is interested in social development, bilingualism, and the developmental impacts of cultural background. She loves working with children and currently tutors students of all ages in afterschool programs. Her hobbies include digital photography, crafting, and baking.



Melinda Guo

Melinda is a sophomore from Seattle, Washington. She intends to major in Psychology and Neuroscience, and plans to attend medical school after graduation. She is fascinated by decision-making and the factors that affect peoples’ choices. Melinda enjoys working with children, playing badminton, traveling, and exploring.



Lucy Pruzan

Lucy is a senior 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 senior 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!




Bella Larsen

Bella is a second-year at Duke from Chapel Hill. She has not yet declared a major, but she is interested in psychology and especially fascinated by empathy and how the field of psychology can be used in restorative justice. She plays trumpet in the Duke Wind Symphony and is also a tour guide. Bella enjoys hiking, has two dogs named after food (Cheese and Waffles), has a younger brother, and thinks that kids are awesome.


Aren Tucker

Aren is a junior from New York City pursuing majors in Philosophy and Psychology. He is very interested in how youth trauma impacts development and mental health, and intends to become a clinical psychologist.


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)