Human Development

35 Beebe Hall


Marianella Casasola earned her undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Spanish Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.  Her expertise is in infant cognitive development and early word learning with a particular interest in the interaction between thought and language during the first years of development. Along with her students, she examines various aspects of early cognitive and linguistic development, but is especially interested in the emergence of spatial concepts, the early acquisition of spatial language, and the interplay between spatial cognition and spatial language in infants and young children. 

My students and I examine various aspects of cognitive development and language learning in infants and young children. I am particularly interested in the interaction between cognition and language from infancy into early childhood. Much of my work has focused on the early development of spatial skills, the acquisition of spatial language, and links and causal relations across these two domains. 

Our research team seeks to develop new methodological approaches that can be used to trace the trajectory of spatial and cognitive skills from infancy into early childhood. We combine across naturalistic and experimental methods to understand how acquiring spatial language may relate to the development of spatial skills and to test causal links between particular experiences. For example, we have conducted experimental studies that examine how children's exposure to spatial language or their engaging in particular play activities advance spatial skills. Our goal is to not only understand how early spatial skills develop, but also how best to promote their development. 

In more recent work in collaboration with Kimberly Kopko, we examine parental beliefs of young children's learning and to link these beliefs with parents' language input to their children during play.

In other work, my students and I have begun to explore how infants and toddlers learn labels in a foreign language, examining how much exposure to an unfamiliar language (such as Spanish) is necessary for infants to begin to demonstrate comprehension of words in the new language. We have also explored this question with school-aged children who are learning a new language (Spanish) during a weekly enrichment program. 

Casasola, M., Wei, W., Suh, D., Donskoy, P., & Ransom, A. (in press). Children’s exposure to spatial language promotes their spatial skill. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.  doi:10.1037/xge0000699

Casasola, M., & Ahn, Y. A. (2018). What develops in infants’ spatial categorization? Korean infants’ categorization of containment and tight-fit relations.  Child Development, 89, e382-e396. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12903.

Casasola, M., Bhagwat, J., Doan, S. & Love, H. (2017). Getting some space: Infants’ and caregivers’ containment and support constructions during play.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 159, 110-128.

Park, Y., & Casasola, M. (2017). The impact of object type on spatial analogies in Korean Preschoolers. Cognitive Psychology, 94, 53-66.

Vredenburgh, C., Kushnir, T., & Casasola, M. (2015). Pedagogical cues encourage toddlers’ transmission of recently demonstrated functions to unfamiliar adults. Developmental Science, 18, 645-654. doi:10.1111/desc.12233 

Chen, J., Meng, X.Z., Zhu, L.Q., Casasola, M. & Tardif, T. (2015). English- and Mandarin-learning infants’ discrimination of actions and objects in dynamic events. Developmental Psychology. http://dx/

Casasola, M., & Park, Y. (2013). Developmental changes in infant spatial categorization: When more is better and less is enough. Child Development, 84, 1004-1019. doi 10.1111/cdev.12010

Casasola, M., Bhagwat, J., & Burke, A. S. (2009). Learning to form a spatial category of tight-fit relations: How experience with a label can give a boost. Developmental Psychology, 45, 711-723.

Ferguson, K.T., Kulkofsky, S., Casasola, M., & Cashon, C. (2009). The development of specialized processing of own-race faces in infancy. Infancy, 14, 263-284. 

Casasola, M. (2008). The development of infants’ spatial categories. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 21-25.Casasola, M. (2005). When less is more: How infants learn to form an abstract categorical representation of support. Child Development, 76, 279-290.

Casasola, M., Cohen, L.B., & Chiarello, E. (2003). Six-month-old infants’ categorization of containment spatial relations. Child Development, 74, 679-693.

Board member, International Congress on Infant Studies

Editorial Board, Journal of Cognition and Development

Member, Society for Research in Child Development, International Society on Infant Studies, Cognitive Development Society

Ad-hoc reviewer, Psychological Science, Cognition, Child Development, Developmental ScienceJournal of Child Language, Journal of Cognition and Development, Spatial Cognition and Computation, Cognitive Science, Language Learning and Development, Infancy, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Trends in Cognitive Science, British Journal of Developmental Psychology, Developmental Neuropsychology, Perspectives on Psychological Science

My research integrates outreach and public engagement with the studies we conduct. As a former Faculty Fellow with the Brofenbrenner Center for Translational Research, I developed important partnerships with Cornell Cooperative Extension to explore ways to expand our study of early spatial skills to more diverse samples of young children throughout NY state. Thanks to the assistance of the Brofenbrenner Center, we established connections to Head Start Centers in Tompkins County and NYC and have expanded our experimental studies to these centers, allowing us to extend findings from the lab to classrooms to children's museums. The work with the Head Start centers are especially important in ensuring that findings we establish in the research lab replicate in other samples and in other contexts. We also collaborate with colleagues in the Cornell Cooperative Extension to support parent education programs.

In my courses, I strive to help students develop their writing and critical thinking, skills which I hope will be useful regardless of their career path. For students who are undergraduate research assistants in my lab, I strive to instill a sense of excitement for the process of discovery and encourage students to use their creativity in tackling a research question. 

HD 2830: Research Methods in Human Development 

HD 3460: Serious Fun: The Role of Play throughout Development

HD 4380:  Language and Thought throughout the Lifespan

HD4340: Seminar on Cognitive Development

HD 6310: Graduate seminar in Cognitive Development

B.A., University of California, Berkeley, 1992; Psychology and Spanish Literature

Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, 2000; Developmental Psychology

Dean's Fellow for Program Development, January 2019 - present


View all people