Back to Program Areas
Contact the Cognitive Area

Graduate Office

Sherri Gilliland, Graduate Records



Department of Psychology 
125 Moore Building 
The Pennsylvania State University 
University Park, PA 16802-3106

You are here: Home / Graduate / Program Areas / Cognitive / Research in the Cognitive Area

Research in the Cognitive Area

The Cognitive Psychology program at Penn State emphasizes research and theory in a variety of sub-areas of cognitive psychology and human performance. All cognitive students' programs emphasize basic theoretical issues and research methodologies in cognitive psychology, but individual programs vary widely depending upon the student's substantive interest. As in the other programs in the department, the student works with his or her faculty adviser to develop an individualized program of major and minor areas. Faculty and students in the cognitive area participate in a weekly "bag lunch" that provides opportunities to discuss ongoing research projects and issues. Graduates of the program are prepared to enter research and teaching positions in university or college settings, or to work in applied research organizations.

Research Labs

Bilingualism and Language Development (BILD) Lab - Website

Director: Janet van Hell

The Bilingualism and Language Development (BiLD) Lab studies the cognitive and neurocognitive processes related to language development, second language learning, and bilinguals’ use of two languages. We combine behavioral, neuropsychological (mostly ERPs), and linguistic techniques to study patterns of cross-language interaction and transfer in child and adult second language learners at different levels of proficiency. We also study the neural and cognitive mechanisms involved in code-switching and in the comprehension of foreign accented speech. A second research theme in the BiLD Lab focuses on language development in school-aged children with typical or atypical development, including children with specific language impairment and children who are deaf. Part of our neurocognitive research takes place in an RV mobile lab parked at schools, the 'brain bus'. We also use the 'brain bus' for outreach activities, e.g., science fairs or research demonstrations. For more information on our research projects, the people in the BiLD lab, how to get involved, and our recent publications, see the BiLD lab website,

The Brain Development Lab - Website

Director: Rick Gilmore

Research in the Brain Development Lab takes a cognitive neuroscience approach to understanding the development of perception, action, and memory. Our goal is to understand patterns of brain and behavioral changes in infants, children, and young adults. We use behavioral, EEG, and computational methods in our research. We have several foci. One is the development of motion processing, specifically optic flow patterns associated with self- and object motion. A second concerns the expansion of open science practices and the development of 'big data' infrastructure to support research and advance discovery in developmental cognitive science.

Brain, Language, and Computation Laboratory - Website

Director: Ping Li

In our laboratory we conduct research to understand the relationships among language, brain, and culture. In particular, our research focuses on the dynamic changes that occur in the language learner and the dynamic interactions that occur in the competing language systems over the course of learning. We investigate the computational and neural mechanisms underlying language acquisition and representation in both native and non-native speakers of Western languages (e.g., English) and Asian languages (e.g., Chinese). Our research identifies common and distinct cognitive and neural processes in language acquisition and representation. To achieve these goals, we rely on a variety of convergent behavioral, computational, and neuroimaging methodologies (e.g., reaction time studies, artificial neural network models, and functional magnetic resonance imaging). 

Current research projects include the development of self-organizing neural network models of language acquisition and the study of brain processes underlying lexical and sentence processing and representation in first and second languages.

The Cognitive Aging & Neuroimaging (CAN) Lab - Website

Director: Nancy Dennis

The Cognitive Aging & Neuroimaging (CAN) Lab, in the Department of Psychology at Penn State, examines the effects of aging on learning and memory processes using both behavioral and functional neuroimaging (fMRI) methods. Our lab focuses on several cognitive processes associate with learning and memory including the study of true memories, false memories, relational memories, implicit learning and cognitive control of both remembering and forgetting. With respect to cognitive aging, our research concentrates on the examination of age-related neural markers of cognitive decline, as well as mechanisms for neural compensation.

Cognitive Skill Acquisition Lab

Director: Richard Carlson

As individuals acquire cognitive skills, not only does their performance improve, but the nature of the control processes guiding performance and of the accompanying metacognition change.   Control comes to rely more on environmental regularities, and errors in fluent performance may be difficult to detect.  For example, individuals count more fluently when the events to be counted occur at regular intervals, but they have more difficulty detecting counting errors.  In our lab we study these phenomena using behavioral methods and cognitive tasks ranging from counting to rule use to spatial cognition.  Current research projects focus on the acquisition of anticipatory timing in acquiring information, on the representation of control processes, on the role of embodiment in control (e.g., pointing while counting), and on the role of momentary emotion in cognitive control. 

Child Language and Cognition Lab - Website

Director: Dan Weiss

One of the longstanding questions in the study of language is why humans are the only species on the planet capable of its acquisition. One of the main goals of the Child Language and Cognition Lab is the study of the mechanisms underlying language acquisition. These include statistical learning mechanisms that have been implicated in the early acquisition of phonetic categories and word boundaries, rule learning, and generalization of learning. Our approach compares the performance of human infants and adults, as well as nonhuman primates on a variety of behavioral tasks in order to identify the underlying similarities and differences both between species and across stages of development. 

Human Performance Rhythms Laboratory - Website

Director: Frederick Brown

My laboratory studies the genetically determined circadian-rhythm feature of  human morningness/ eveningness time preferences for daily activity. We measure these preferences on changes in daily alertness and cognitive functioning, as well as on the internal sense of time, both when rested and sleep deprived. We survey these preferences using the Basic Language Morning Scale, developed in my laboratory. These preferences relate directly to changes across the day in intellectual functioning, driving behavior, and athletic performance. Also, time perception changes are being measured using high-density EEG recordings. A second area of laboratory research investigates sleep-disruption effects on wellbeing for older adults. We survey different populations of older persons using the Sleep Disruption Survey, also developed in my laboratory. That research is to develop strategies or intervention techniques to improve good sleeping for better over-all health.

Lab of Developmental Neuroscience - Website

Director: Suzy Scherf

The Lab of Developmental Neuroscience studies a variety of topics in human brain development using both fMRI imaging and behavioral techniques. We are particularly interested in the development of face processing. The lab is located in Chandlee Laboratory, home of the Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center (SLEIC).

Language & Aging Lab - Website

Director: Michele Diaz

Individuals in the Language and Aging Lab study age-related differences in language. We are specifically interested in how the brain supports language and use a variety of behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to answer our research questions. Our lab has focused on phonological and semantic aspects of language production because older adults differ in these areas. Semantic aspects of language, such as world knowledge, experience, and vocabulary, continue to develop and grow throughout the lifespan. In contrast, older adults have greater difficulty with phonological aspects of word retrieval (e.g., increased incidences of tip-of-the-tongue phenomena). We are also interested in neural plasticity and how individual differences in ability or experience influence the brain.

Wyble lab - Website

Director: Brad Wyble

The visual system has an impressive capacity to comprehend elements of rapidly presented visual information and we are interested in understanding how the brain integrates this information into a coherent representation that contains episodic information such as temporal precedence between two stimuli and whether any stimuli were repeated.  
To understand this capability, we explore questions like these: What neural mechanisms underly our ability to filter relevant stimuli from a visual scene and then immediately store that information for complex mental operations?  Can natural images trigger attention by virtue of their conceptual content?  How do attention and memory processes interact to segment a continuous stream of visual input into meaningful memories?

We attempt to answer these questions with several approaches which include the development of computational models, and the collection of experimental data using involving behavior, eye tracking and EEG.  Through these experiments, the models are refined to more closely represent the brain functions that they attempt to simulate. 

Our work in the Psychology department of Penn State University (University Park) is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Applied Research Labs at Penn State and the Office of Naval Research.

Return to Top