Welcome to the Infant Studies of Language and
Neurocognitive Development Lab

Our Research

We are a developmental psychology lab interested in the impact of the social and language environment on early neurocognitive development. Our ultimate goal is to understand how to best support caregivers and create environments that foster optimal child development.

Current Studies

Stress, Home Environment, Language & Learning (SHELL) Study

Understanding how the early home environment impacts trajectories of language and cognitive development is crucial for identifying early risk and resilience factors associated with later school readiness. This study examines how caregiver stress and the home language environment influence early language and memory skills during the first two years of life. We are currently recruiting infants 0-3 months - families will receive $30-$60 for participating and reimbursement for transportation costs.

Háblame Bebé

Háblame Bebé is an educational phone application that aims to empower Hispanic parents and caregivers to engage with their cultural identities, to feel pride in being Hispanic and in speaking Spanish, and to promote bilingualism. This app seeks to change conceptions of bilingualism and promote ‘Language Nutrition’ in the home language. Fundamental to Háblame Bébe is the message that parents are their baby’s first and best teachers – regardless of what language they speak. Watch to learn more, and like us on Facebook and Instagram!

Family Interactions and Neural Synchrony (FINS) Study

Early learning is a social process. The ability to initiate interactions, respond appropriately, and take turns during bouts of communication are important aspects of growing up in a social world. This study uses EEG hyperscanning to simultaneously record neural responses of the dyad (caregiver and child) while interacting in a series of semi-naturalistic tasks. We are currently recruiting caregivers and their children (4-10 years old).

COVID-19 & Perinatal Experiences (COPE) Study

The COPE Study aims to better understand the impact of the pandemic on parents and their young children, in order to identify the needs of families, inform our communities, and contribute to better outcomes in the future. As the public health crisis is disproportionately affecting communities of color, we are particularly interested in experiences of Black and Latino families. We are currently recruiting pregnant women in their 1st or 2nd trimesters.

Meet Our Team

Natalie H. Brito


Dr. Brito is an Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt. Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Dr. Brito spent two years as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar and two years as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center. She earned her PhD in Human Development and Public Policy from Georgetown University in 2013. Dr. Brito focuses on how early social and cultural contexts (e.g., poverty, multilingualism) shape the trajectory of neurocognitive development using a variety of methodologies including behavioral paradigms, electrophysiology, and secondary data sets.

Karina Kozak

Lab Manager

Karina graduated in 2014 with a BA in Psychology from Drew University. Following undergraduate studies she joined Teach For America and taught high school science in rural Arkansas. Her experience inspired questions about the impact of stressful environments on the development of self-regulation. She is very excited to work in the ISLAND Lab where she hopes to sharpen her data analysis skills and learn of ways to empower parents to support their infants.

Annie Aitken

Doctoral Student

Annie a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology department. Annie is broadly interested in coupling biological and behavioral assessment methods to explore the impact of early childhood experiences on executive functioning and academic achievement. As an NSF Fellow, Annie aims to incorporate EEG methods in her research to better understand the relationship between SES and academic achievement and to ultimately inform intervention methods. Prior to attending NYU, Annie worked in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience research at UC San Francisco. Annie graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in Psychology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Stephen Braren

Doctoral Student

Stephen is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology program at NYU Steinhardt. Broadly, he is interested in how stress, particularly in contexts of socioeconomic disadvantage, affects brain and cognitive development. At the ISLAND lab, Stephen uses electrophysiological and behavioral measures to investigate how stress can be transmitted between a caregiver and child during dynamic social interactions. He further intends to use this research to better inform parenting and education interventions and programs to improve outcomes, especially for underprivileged and disadvantaged groups.

Ashley Greaves

Doctoral Student

Ashley is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology department. She received a B.A. from Swarthmore College in Neuroscience and Educational Studies. Broadly, she is interested in how adversity, particularly poverty, affects brain and cognitive development. With help from Swarthmore research advisers and Dr. Kimberly Noble at the Neurocogniton, Early Experience, and Development Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University, she wrote her senior thesis on socioeconomic disparities in infant recognition and recall memory development. In the ISLAND lab, she plans on continuing her research in infant executive functioning, language, and memory development across socioeconomic differences in order to ultimately inform intervention methods for infants before they begin formal schooling.

Sarah Vogel

Doctoral Student

Sarah is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology program at NYU Steinhardt. She received a B.A. in Psychology and French from the University of Rochester in 2016. She is interested in how early life adversity, specifically economic and social adversities, influence the development of executive functions, and mechanisms that may shape those relationships. In the ISLAND lab, Sarah studies relations between early life experiences, the gut microbiome, and cognitive development. Prior to attending NYU, Sarah worked as a lab manager for two years with Dr. Laura Germine at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

Maggie Zhang

Research Assistant

Maggie is pursuing a B.S. in Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt and expects to graduate May 2020. She has previously done research at the Institute for Human Development and Social Change at NYU and at the Schoppik Lab in the NYU Langone Medical Center. She is interested in how environmental factors such as stress, and family structure or background can impact early childhood development and is excited to be part of the ISLAND lab and gain more research skills.

Alejandra Lemus

Research Assistant

Alejandra graduated from Florida International University (FIU) with B.A. in Psychology and then went back to her country (Colombia) to obtain a Master’s degree in Clinical Neuropsychology. She practiced neuropsychology and clinical psychology at different institutions in Bogotá, Colombia, and her interest on research brought her back to the United States. She is currently working as a research assistant at the Island Lab and is very excited to learn research skills and understand how social environment, bilingualism, and socioeconomic status are correlated with cognitive skills during childhood. Alejandra hopes to further pursue a doctorate in Clinical Psychology in order to apply her clinical knowledge.

Sarah Gouriche

Research Assistant

Sarah is a second year student at New York University currently pursuing a B.S. in Applied Psychology and Global Public Health at Steinhardt. She has worked with infants in a variety of research roles, one being a research assistant at the Center for Research on Culture, Education and Development lab (CRCDE). She is extremely interested in the roles language and culture plays in childhood development. She is very excited to learn more about early childhood development and gain research experience at the ISLAND lab.

Nick Tong

Research Assistant

Nick is currently in his senior year of the Applied Psychology program at New York University. Prior to his membership at ISLAND lab, Nick was a research assistant at ROSES, a research-based intervention program oriented towards youth criminal justice and gender issues.
Nick is interested in the effects of stressors associated with socioeconomic status, and how they pertain to psychological and physiological well-being. As a research assistant at the ISLAND lab, Nick hopes to see how the knowledge attained regarding infant development can inform better policy-making.

Gianina Perez

Research Assistant

Gianina is a first year graduate student pursing her Master's in Neuroscience and Education at Teachers College at Columbia University. During her undergraduate studies at Fordham University, Gianina worked as a research assistant in a Developmental Psychology lab studying the implementation of new therapy techniques for children with autism spectrum disorders. Gianina is excited to join ISLAND Lab to further learn about the impacts of bilingualism on neurocognitive development and learning during childhood. She hopes to use research to implement new interventions for multilingual children with developmental and learning disorders in the future.

Liz Peron

Research Assistant

Liz is a junior at Rye High School in Rye, NY. Liz was inspired by the work of a local parenting program in Portchester, NY, which educates underprivileged parents (many of whom are bilingual) on their children’s development. She hopes to further explore the relationship between home language environment and children’s cognitive development. She is also excited to learn more about the research process.

Audrey Lin

Research Assistant

Audrey is currently a second year student pursuing her B.S. Degree in Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt. She is very passionate about children and hopes to pursue a career in clinical psychology where she can help destigmatize mental health issues. She is also very interested in science, where she published her own paper on the topic of tea and NMR. She is very excited to be a part of ISLAND lab to gain more hands on research skills and learn more about children and language development.

Carla Maddalena

Research Assistant

Carla is a first year Master’s student in the Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness program at NYU. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and French Translation from Montclair State University. During her sophomore and junior years of her undergraduate studies, she worked alongside Dr. Dickinson in a forensic psychology lab studying if young children are liable in court for sexual harassment cases. During her senior year, she worked with Dr. Sandry in a neurocognitive lab studying memory in MS patients. Being someone who is deeply interested in languages, Carla is thrilled to be part of the ISLAND lab to further comprehend how bilingualism affects development.

Joy Shen

Research Assistant

Joy is a junior pursuing her B.S. in Applied Psychology in Steinhardt. She has previously worked with children in a clinical setting at Boston Children's Hospital, and as a teacher in math and academic settings. She is interested in gaining a better understanding of environmental factors on young children and is excited to be a part of ISLAND lab to learn more about this and expand her research skills.

Maya Metser

Research Assistant

Maya is a junior at NYU pursuing a B.S. in Applied Psychology. Prior to joining the ISLAND Lab, she worked as an advocate at ROSES, an intervention program for justice system-involved youth, and as a research assistant at the SCAN Lab studying fetal neuroscience. She is excited to continue investigating how various early environments affect language, cognitive, and socio-emotional development at the ISLAND Lab. She also hopes to explore how these findings can inform education policy and intervention models.

Akshar Patel

Research Assistant

Akshar approaches his senior year as a student of Applied Psychology and Neural Science at New York University. Bilingual himself, Akshar finds personal commitment to explore the neural correlates of bilingualism, and by extension, the developmental trajectories of children nurtured in various home language environments.
Akshar values community partnerships and has previously dedicated his skills and knowledge to support various NYC public schools and youth organizations as a peer health educator, after school tutor, and youth mentor. Additionally, he attends to pediatric ED patients as a volunteer at New-York Presbyterian Hospital. He aspires to continue his support of children, their families, and educational healthcare initiatives as a pediatric surgeon.

Makenzie Bayless

Research Assistant

Makenzie is a first year Master’s student in the Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness program at NYU. She recently graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science and Psychology. In addition to being a Research Assistant in the ISLAND Lab, Makenzie is a Graduate Assistant for the Office of the Associate Dean for Students at NYU’s College of Arts of Sciences.

Makenzie finds great value in community service and advocacy work. For years, she has been highly involved with The Family Resource Network of New Jersey - an organization devoted to supporting individuals and their families who are living with epilepsy, autism, intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, and chronic illnesses. Further, Makenzie was a Behavior Assistant in a contained classroom with four students on the autism spectrum. With this being her first experience in a research lab, Makenzie is very excited for the opportunity and looks forward to understanding how stress in a child’s early home environment impacts their cognitive development.

Srinidhi Ananth

Research Assistant

Srinidhi is a freshman pursuing her B.S. in Applied Psychology/Global Public Health at Steinhardt. She is very passionate about infant studies and prematurity research. In the past, she worked with disabled children in schools, published scientific papers on prematurity complications, and fundraised money for infant mortality research. The ISLAND Lab is her first official research experience in a lab setting, and she is very excited to gain more research skills, collaborative skills, and understand the consequences of neonatal complications in everyday life.

Fernanda Alonso

Research Assistant

Fernanda is a second-year Master’s student in the Neuroscience and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She graduated from the University of Chile with a B.S. in Speech and Language Pathology. She is very passionate about children’s brain development in the first years of life. Her research interests include cognition, speech, and language in children. Besides being a Research Assistant in the ISLAND Lab, she is also a Teaching Assistant for the Cognitive Neuroscience Course at Teachers College.

Erin Curran

Research Assistant

Erin graduated in 2018 from Tulane University, where she majored in Psychology and Early Childhood Education and minored in French. She is interested in clinical child psychology with a focus on the development of mental illness. In her undergraduate career, she worked in Columbia University’s GPEG group at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where she contributed to a longitudinal epidemiological study using quantitative methods to look at the health effects of the September 11th attacks on individuals who were children in the New York area at the time. Erin is excited to gain more research experience and learn more about parent-infant interaction while working in the ISLAND lab.

Sarah Harris

Research Assistant

Sarah will be a sophomore at Colgate University this Fall with an intended double major in Psychology and Educational Studies. In her psychology classes at Colgate, Sarah developed a passion for understanding both how one’s environment impacts their behavior and how one’s behavior influences the environment that they interact with. Sarah spends most of her extracurricular time working with children in volunteer-based clubs. She continues to pursue this work with children in the field of psychology by immersing herself in developmental psychology.

Ariel Gianukakis

Research Assistant

Ariel will be a senior at Wake Forest University where she is majoring in Psychology with Biology and Environmental Studies minors. At Wake Forest, Ariel works in a psychology lab researching the formation of help-seeking behaviors in children of different backgrounds. She enjoys working with infants and young children through coaching and volunteer programs. Ariel is hoping to pursue a career in child clinical psychology. She is interested in learning more about infant neurocognitive development and excited to gain research experience at the ISLAND lab.

Leslie Gaines

Research Assistant

Leslie just graduated from the University of Richmond with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in theatre. During her senior year, Leslie worked in a psycholinguistics lab where she helped collect, process, and present eye-tracking data. She also has experience working with children on the autism spectrum and recently interned at Blue Sky Autism, a charity in London providing early intervention services to children on the autism spectrum and/or experiencing developmental delays. She is excited to be a part of the ISLAND Lab and to learn more about child developmental research.

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