Current Lab Members



James Booth

James R. Booth is the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. The overall goals of his research are to understand the brain mechanisms of the development of reading, math and scientific reasoning in typical and atypical populations. Prof. Booth has been continuously funded for close to two decades and has published extensively in diverse journals. He has served in various roles both within and outside of the university, such as departmental chairperson, review panel member and associate editor. Prof Booth aims to facilitate the interaction between the fields of cognition, neuroscience and education.

Post-doctoral research associates


Macarena Suarez-Pellicioni

Macarena Suarez Pellicioni a post-doctoral researcher for the Math Cognition Project. She received her PhD from the University of Barcelona (Spain), on the topic of math anxiety, using ERPs. Currently, her research focuses on the brain correlates of longitudinal changes in math performance in children, using fMRI. She is interested in both cognitive and emotional/attitudinal factors affecting mathematical performance and their impact on the brain. She is also interested in how general-domain, math-specific and environmental/emotional aspects interact throughout development and their impact on children’s math learning and brain. Moreover, she is especially interested in investigating behavioral/brain markers that would be useful to predict improvement or learning deficits over time.


Yael Weiss-Zruya

Yael Weiss is a neuro-cognitive researcher and a certified speech-language pathologist. She is interested in typical and atypical brain development of language and literacy skills in different populations, including children and adults with specific language impairments, dyslexia, learning disabilities, and deaf and hard of hearing. Her work has focused on skill related brain mechanisms involved in reading, both in children and adults, using an fMRI imaging technique. In her current projects, she examines early specialization of different brain regions for distinct linguistic processes (including semantic, phonological and morpho-syntactic processes) in pre-school children with different levels of language abilities. In addition, she examines the reading-related brain mechanisms in deaf and hard of hearing children depending on their preferred way of communication: oral or sign language.


Brianna Yamasaki

Brianna Yamasaki received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington. Her research interests lie at the crossroads of developmental and cognitive psychology. Her program of research focuses on understanding the sources of individual differences in language development, with an emphasis on the role of general information processing mechanisms (e.g., selective attention and working memory). In particular, her work thus far has leveraged cognitive neuroscience, behavioral co-variance, and training studies to explore the overlap between language and general cognitive mechanisms. She is interested in exploring how information processing mechanisms, and their underlying brain systems, support and constrain language development in populations such as second-language learners, individuals with language impairments, and individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Doctoral students


Jin Wang

Jin Wang is a doctoral student in the Brain Developmental Lab. She is interested in the neural basis of language and reading development using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During her doctoral studies, she will focus on how brain activation during language processing is related to reading skills in pre-school children and how early brain activation predicts the later reading performance.


Jake Kaufman

Jake Kaufman is pursuing his PhD in cognitive neuroscience. He is interested in the relationship between cognitive development and learning in both mathematics and language. He hopes to study how early learning patterns relate to academic success later on, and how we can use this information to improve the learning outcomes of children who initially struggle academically. He is also very interested in the relationship between language and math, with a particular interest in researching the aspects of language that children rely on when learning math, and hopes to study this topic in both typical and atypical populations. He hopes his research will help improve the academic success of children struggling in school.



Emily Algert

Emily Algert graduated from Cornell University with her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Biology, Health and Society. She is now working as the project coordinator for the Early Language Project. In the future, she is interested in pursuing a M.D. in Pediatrics.


Marisa Lytle

Marisa Lytle graduated from Vanderbilt University with her Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience and Child Development. She is currently a research assistant in the Brain Development Lab and is also involved in a project that aims to freely share our neuroimaging data. She hopes to pursue a M.D. specializing in Pediatric Psychiatry.