The University of Texas at Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Infant Learning Project

LAB TEAM


Principal Investigator


Melanie Spence

Melanie Spence, PhD

The Infant Learning Project is conducted by Melanie J. Spence, PhD. She received MA and PhD degrees from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is currently a professor and associate dean of undergraduate education in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. Her research includes findings that newborn infants recognize speech properties and the mother’s voice heard during the last weeks of pregnancy. Her more recent published work has shown that 6-month-old infants detect differences in intonation patterns used by adults to communicate different meanings to babies, such as expressing approval or comfort. Current work in the lab explores infants’ perception of emotional messages communicated by both infant-directed speech and facial expressions.

View Dr. Spence’s BBS faculty page


Current Undergraduate Students


Madeline Hale

Madeline Hale

Madeline is a sophomore double majoring in speech-language pathology and audiology and neuroscience. She is also involved on campus as Peer Lead Team Learning Leader for General Chemistry II. Outside of school, Madeline enjoys traveling and trying new foods. After graduation, Madeline plans to attend graduate school for a joint masters/PhD in communication disorders and later become a licensed speech-language pathologist.


Julia LaFond

Julia LaFond

Julia LaFond is a Freshman majoring in speech-language pathology and audiology. She joined the lab in spring of 2019 and is interested in infant cognition and normal speech development. Julia plans to pursue a masters degree in communication disorders after graduating in spring of 2022. Outside of research, she works as an Eco-Rep for the Office of Sustainability and is a member of the Model UN team.


Meg Mickelsen

Meg Mickelsen

Meg is a junior at The University of Texas at Dallas. She is a psychology major and joined the lab in the summer of 2018. Meg is passionate about psychopathology and hopes to one day help families in crisis. She appreciates working with children and parents and is interested in learning about the non-verbal ways infants communicate. Outside the lab, Meg enjoys volunteering at a suicide crisis hotline, baking, and oil painting. She hopes to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology after graduation.


Hollis Ratliff

Hollis Ratliff

Hollis is a senior neuroscience major with a minor in child learning and development. She is interested in researching children with learning disorders from a neurological perspective. Hollis plans on pursuing a PhD in neuroscience after graduating in spring 2018. Beyond research, Hollis enjoys running on the UTD women’s cross-country team and playing the violin for the University Orchestra.


Samia Razvi

Samia Razvi

Samia is a sophomore majoring in neuroscience. On campus, she is involved in volunteering at the OSV Community Garden and is an active member of the Neuroscience Student Association. In her free time, Samia enjoys photography and watercolor painting. She also loves to work with children and wants to help them experience a healthy childhood. After graduation, she plans on going to medical school in hopes of getting her MD and becoming a pediatric neurologist.


Sarah Rehman

Sarah Rehman

Sarah Rehman is a freshman speech-language pathology and audiology major at UT Dallas. She joined the lab in spring 2019 with an interest in researching infant language development. She loves working with children and hopes to get her master’s degree in communication disorders, so she can work as a speech pathologist. Outside of academics, Sarah loves traveling, art, and volunteering in her community.


Abbie Roberts

Abbie Roberts

Abbie is a junior speech-language pathology and audiology major at The University of Texas at Dallas. Abbie is also involved in other organizations on campus such as the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) and the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, and is a UTD Orientation Leader. She plans on attending graduate school to obtain her master’s degree in speech-language pathology to become a licensed speech pathologist.


Alumni


Kristen Kuhlman Atchison

Kristen Kuhlman Atchison

Kristin received her BS from Texas A&M University and her PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas. Kristin’s research aims to help us understand if infants can categorize emotions in infant-directed speech. Infant-directed speech is a special way we all speak to infants. Kristin’s dissertation research focused on the role of synchrony of the face and voice in infants’ categorization abilities.


Mariah Fowler

Mariah Fowler, MS

Mariah earned her associate degree in general studies from Arkansas State University and relocated to Texas in 2011. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from The University of Texas at Dallas in 2013. She graduated with a master’s degree in psychological sciences in 2019 after several years in the psychological sciences doctoral program. Mariah is now earning Montessori credentials to serve as a guide within the elementary setting. She plans to teach and continue her education to provide developmental testing to populations within Montessori schools. Mariah’s professional interests include early childhood through adolescent private education, curriculum development, and identifying learning differences within elementary populations.


David Hughes

David Hughes

David Hughes graduated from UTD with a BS in speech-language pathology and audiology. He is currently attending graduate school in order to obtain an audiology doctorate at Rush University in Chicago. Beyond working in the lab, David enjoys musicals, traveling, and volunteering with family and child-oriented organizations.


Priscilla Jacob

Priscilla Jacob

Priscilla graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a BS in psychology, and child learning and development, and an MS in psychological sciences. During her time at the lab, Priscilla completed an honors thesis titled, “Infants’ Eye-Tracking of Static and Dynamic Facial Expressions,” worked with multiple research projects, and was instrumental in the progress and success of the lab. Priscilla is now pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology at Texas A&M University where she will continue research in infant development and begin clinical work with children diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders.


Hannah Pourchot Neale

Hannah Pourchot Neale, PhD

Hannah earned a bachelor of science degree in communication sciences and disorders at the University of Oklahoma and a master’s of science in speech-language pathology at The University of Texas at Dallas. She recently completed her dissertation in the communication disorders PhD program. Hannah is interested in the speech and language development of pediatric cochlear implant recipients. She has also worked clinically as a speech-language pathologist with children of varying disorders.


Alexandra Neenan

Alexandra Neenan

Alexandra recently earned her BS in psychology from The University of Texas at Dallas. She will continue on to the clinical psychology PhD program at Eastern Michigan University to continue her work in psychological research. Her research and clinical focus will be on helping families whose children are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.


Claire Noonan

Claire Noonan

Claire graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Columbia University in 2009. Her work as an ABA therapist for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) inspired her to earn her master of science degree in psychological sciences with a concentration in developmental psychology at The University of Texas at Dallas. Her research interests include developmental psychopathology — especially the early identification of developmental disabilities such as ASD — as well as infant cognition. Claire graduated from the master’s program in May of 2014 and has moved to Louisiana to pursue her doctoral degree in the field at Tulane University in order to both work clinically with children as well as carry out psychological research.


Sarah Rouhani

Sarah Rouhani

Sarah graduated magna cum laude from The University of Texas at Dallas in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and audiology, and a minor in child learning and development. Sarah is continuing her education at The University of Texas at Dallas in the communication disorders graduate program. Her areas of interest include preschool language development and bilingual therapy practices. After graduating in 2017, Sarah plans to obtain her licensure and work as a speech-language pathologist.


Kate Shepard

Kate Shepard, PhD

Kate earned her PhD in psychological sciences from The University of Texas at Dallas. She graduated from Colorado State University with a BS in human development and family studies and a minor in French. She received her MS degree in communication disorders from The University of Texas at Dallas. She is a speech-language pathologist with experience working with infants and toddlers in early intervention. Kate’s research focuses on infants’ early communicative behaviors, with a specific interest in how infants perceive infant-directed faces or the exaggerated facial expressions we make when interacting with and talking to babies. Current projects are investigating how infants look at our faces when we are talking to them by using an eye-tracking system to track babies’ eye movements. Future work will investigate the role of the face in infants’ language development.


Emily Touchstone

Emily Touchstone, PhD

Emily received her MS and PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas. Currently, Emily is practicing as a speech-language pathologist and collaborating with research in the Infant Learning Project. She also was recently awarded the Aage Moller Teaching Award for her contributions to The University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Her research is based on infants’ perception of emotional expressions. She investigates 6- and 10-month-old infants’ abilities to categorize expressions on dynamic faces. Her research catalogs differences in infants’ categorization abilities based on the age of the infant and design of the experiment.