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 home environment and early social interactions on children's brain and behavioral development. Our ultimate goal is to understand how to best support and empower caregivers during their child's first three years of life.

Current Studies

ORCA (Online Remote Child Assessment)

The aim of the Online Remote Child Assessment (ORCA) study is to make participation in research studies more accessible in order to better understand how diverse early experiences impact child development. Families are invited to hop on a 20-minute Zoom call where their baby watches short videos on their computer, tablet, or smartphone. Families also complete some short surveys and may be invited to participate in an interview.

Click here to learn more about ORCA!

We are actively recruiting pregnant women and families with 0-4 month olds. Sign up and determine if you are eligible here:

COVID-19 & Perinatal Experiences (COPE) Study

The aim of the COVID-19 and Perinatal Experiences (COPE) study is to understand the experiences of stress and resilience during the pandemic and potential impacts on infant development. We are currently following over 150 families across multiple stages of their baby’s life, collecting survey data, behavioral observations, neuroimaging and biospecimens.

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.  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!

Past 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.

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. 

Meet Our Team

Dr. Natalie H. Brito


Natalie Hiromi Brito is developmental psychologist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU. Dr. Brito’s research explores how social and cultural contexts shape the trajectory of brain and behavioral development, with the goal of better understanding how to best support caregivers and create environments that foster healthy development. Specifically, her ongoing studies examine how both proximal factors (e.g., caregiver mental health, caregiver-child interactions) and distal influences (e.g., social policies) impact the development of attention, memory, and socioemotional skills during infancy and toddlerhood.

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 K99/R00 postdoctoral research fellow within the Division of Developmental Neuroscience at Columbia University Medical Center. She received her PhD in Human Development and Public Policy from Georgetown University. Dr. Brito has received numerous awards and honors for her work, including recognition from the American Psychological Association (Boyd McCandless Award), CIFAR (Global Scholar), Association for Psychological Science (Rising Star Award), and the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology (Kucharski Young Investigator Award).

Maggie Zhang

Lab Manager

Maggie graduated in 2020 with a BS in Applied Psychology from New York University. She has been a research assistant at ISLAND since 2018 and is looking forward to continuing her time with the lab as lab manager! She is excited to explore her research interests on how environmental factors, such as stress, impacts parent child interactions and child development.

Dr. Denise Werchan

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Denise Werchan is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the New York University School of Medicine. Prior to coming to NYU, Denise received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from Brown University. Her research broadly focuses on how human brain and cognitive development is shaped by experience in the presence of risk and opportunity in infancy and early childhood. In her postdoctoral research, Denise is particularly interested in examining how early environmental factors, including variations in caregiving behaviors, stress/adversity, and socioeconomic variability, can act as risk and protective factors for healthy neurocognitive development and adaptive functioning. She examines these questions using behavioral paradigms, eye tracking, secondary data sets, and neuroimaging methods, including functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

Annie Aitken

Postdoctoral Fellow

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.

Amy Hume

Research Associate

Amy is a third year undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in Psychology at the University of Bath, completing a year-long internship at the ISLAND Lab as part of her degree. She is interested in the neurocognitive development of language and gender identity, and how these are influenced by factors like bilingualism, socioeconomic status, and attachment type. As a research assistant at the ISLAND Lab, she is excited to gain a better understanding of how to utilise these areas of research to support disadvantaged families.

Sasha Andrews

Research Coordinator

Sasha graduated from the University of Denver in 2022 with a BA in Psychology and Spanish (double major) and is joining ISLAND Lab as a Research Coordinator.
Sasha is very excited to be joining a developmental psychology team that focuses on understanding how risk factors, such as maternal stress and adverse perinatal experiences, can impact the developing brain. While working with ISLAND Lab, she will be exploring her research interests and building on her research skills before pursuing graduate studies in psychology. Welcome to the ISLAND team!

Alejandra Lemus

Research Associate

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.

Cindy Huitzil

Research Associate

Cindy graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a double major in Criminology and Latin American and Latina/o Studies. While working as a teaching assistant and tutor for the Math and Science Resource Center and Alan Siegel Writing Center at John Jay, she discovered a passion for teaching and learning. After completing her M.A. in Applied Quantitative Research from NYU, she worked on NYU Langone’s study “Families, Children and Teachers Thriving Together” which aimed to improve pre-K education through the implementation of ParentCorps. She is excited to join ISLAND lab and is interested in learning how social environment impacts early childhood development. In the future, she hopes to pursue doctoral studies in Education.

Michelle Masiello

Research Associate

Michelle graduated from NYU in December 2023 with a B.S. in Applied Psychology and Global Public Health. She is interested in developmental and cognitive psychology, with a focus on how infant and child-directed speech influences cognitive development and resilience. She hopes to investigate the linkages between psychology and public health to inform accessible and effective implementation of community interventions. Michelle worked as a research assistant at ISLAND throughout her undergraduate career and is excited to continue at the lab in a new capacity.

Lissete Gimenez

Doctoral Student

Lissete is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology program at NYU Steinhardt. She received a B.A. and M.A. in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College. Her previous research examined language access in bilinguals utilizing event-related potentials (ERPs). Her current research interests include identifying how individual and societal factors affect the cognitive and linguistic functioning of bilinguals.

Gianina Perez

Doctoral Student

Gianina is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology program at NYU Steinhardt. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Biology from Fordham University in 2015 and her M.S. in Neuroscience and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2021. With the support of Dr. Karen Froud at Teachers College and Dr. Natalie Brito, she wrote her master's thesis on the development of joint attention in bilingual and monolingual infants. She is interested in examining factors that influence maternal mental health in hopes of implementing support systems for caregivers that promote healthy infant development. Additionally, she is interested in examining how bilingualism in infancy influences infant neurocognitive development with the ultimate goal of supporting bilingual families.

Nikita Ghodke

Research Assistant

Nikita is a non-binary disabled researcher from India. She is an aspiring Speech Language Pathologist and hopes to apply for grad school in the near future to continue her clinical research interests. She is interested in investigating how poverty/inequality has adverse effects on the infant-toddler’s brain and cognitive development, especially population from the lower-middle income countries (LMICs). She hopes to understand how we can incorporate research to better assist to inform policies and in creating interventions for the underrepresented population. She is very excited to join ISLAND Lab as she hopes to continue pursuing her interests and gain knowledge and experience by working in the lab.

Jamiez Vo

Research Assistant

Jamiez Vo is a junior pursuing a B.A in Digital Design and Psychology with a minor in Child and Mental Health Studies. She is interested in understanding how technology helps enhance child development. She believes that future technology can be further developed and innovated to support children’s learning and development. She is mainly working on the OWLET project, which she hopes to enhance the experience of online assessment for caregivers and their babies.

Ksenia Zuyev

Research Assistant

Sophie Lehmann

Research Assistant

Sophie is a rising junior at NYU working toward a B.S. degree in Applied Psychology. As a ski racer, she spent every summer in Argentina immersing herself in the culture and learning about the ways of Latin America. Because of this experience, Sophie is interested in the cognitive development of children who grow up in bilingual vs. monolingual households. She anticipates pursuing a career in developmental psychology research, focusing on marginalized Hispanic communities. Sophie is thrilled to join the ISLAND Lab where she will gain experience, improve her skills, and build strong connections with an amazing team.

Amelia Almonte

Research Assistant

Amelia is a third year undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in Neuroscience at Barnard College. She is interested in understanding how the brain develops during the early years and how it influences behavior, as well as how factors such as bilingualism and socioeconomic status play a role. She believes that comprehending these fundamental aspects is crucial for creating a nurturing environment that supports healthy growth and development in children. As an aspiring medical student, she is constantly seeking opportunities to broaden her knowledge, and enhance her research skills. She is excited to join ISLAND Lab!

Alexa Guzman

Research Assistant

Alexa Guzman is a third year undergraduate student pursuing a B.S in Psychology and a minor in Spanish and Latin American Studies at Barnard College. She is interested in understanding psychology's greatest question of nature versus nurture, and how different home environments impact childhood development in the first few years of life through various factors. She believes that mental health should be accessible to all, and resources should be easily available to families from diverse backgrounds. She is excited to join the ISLAND lab this summer!

Marielle Sauber

Research Assistant

Marielle Sauber is a rising junior undergraduate student pursuing a major in Neuroscience and a minor in Spanish at Smith College. She is interested in understanding how diverse backgrounds and experiences impact childhood neurological development in the first years of life. She is excited to join the ISLAND Lab and have the opportunity to conduct research that investigates the intersection of childhood development and public health. Marielle is passionate about creating equitable spaces within the medical field to ensure all children have access to the care they need to thrive. Marielle is thrilled to be a research assistant in the ISLAND Lab this summer!

Kyla Bernal

Research Assistant

Kyla is a rising sophomore pursuing a degree in Applied Psychology and History at NYU. Her public-spirited virtues and fondness for research are driven by her intense passion in harnessing the principles of developmental and educational psychology and the power of the legal system. Her experience as a Community Affairs Liaison for New York State Assemblymember Steven Raga influenced her to advocate for family protection and children’s rights. Her goal is to create equitable, inspiring, and transformative learning environments for all children to thrive. Kyla is thrilled to join the ISLAND Lab as a research assistant and aims to further her career by attending law school!

Kelechi Nwokoma

Research Assistant

Kelechi is a rising Sophomore at New York University pursuing a combined major in Global Public Health and Applied Psychology with an intended minor in Genetics. She is interested in exploring the different ways in which public health and psychology intersect, which she is excited to learn more about in the COPE Study. Kelechi is passionate about ensuring all individuals have equal access to healthcare and is delighted to be a research assistant in the ISLAND lab this Summer.

Angelina Grzybowski

Research Assistant

Angelina Grzybowski is a rising Junior at New York University pursuing a B.S. in Applied Psychology with a minor in Chemistry on the Pre-Health track. She is interested in understanding how physical health and mental health interact, as well as the impact of culture on early development. She is excited to work with ISLAND this summer!
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