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.


Neelima Wagley

Neelima Wagley is a post-doctoral researcher studying language and reading development using multimodal neuroimaging methodologies such as fMRI, fNIRS, and MEG. She is interested in the cognitive and neural architecture of reading and the development of children’s word reading and reading comprehension abilities. Specifically, her program of research focuses on how early bilingual acquisition and varying language contexts influence children’s emerging literacy skills, brain development, and academic outcomes. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan.


Brianna Yamasaki

Brianna Yamasaki received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington. Her program of research focuses on understanding individual differences in language and literacy development, with an emphasis on the role of executive processes (e.g., selective attention, inhibition, working memory). In particular, her work thus far has leveraged cognitive neuroscience, behavioral co-variance, longitudinal designs, and training studies to explore the overlap between language, literacy, and general cognitive mechanisms. She is interested in exploring how executive processes, and their underlying brain systems, support and constrain language and literacy development in populations such as second-language learners and individuals with language impairments.

Doctoral students


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.


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.



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 is interested in pursuing a PhD in Social Psychology in the future.


Angela Scruggs

Angela Scruggs a post-doctoral research assistantShe received her PhD in Psychology and Counseling with a research study on Deaf Experiences: An Exploration of Psychological and Emotional Well-Being among American Deaf Adults. She also holds an M.A. in Marriage and Family Counseling and is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Mental Health Service Provider designation (LPC/MHSP). Along with a Sign Language Interpreting degree, Angela is a Nationally Certified Interpreter and a Qualified Mental Health Interpreter. Ms. Scruggs has worked in both the Deaf and hearing communities in various capacities throughout the United States and abroad for over 20 years. Ms. Scruggs is especially interested in brain research with Deaf people, their cognitive behavioral constructs, and the power of neuroplasticity.