The Markman Lab

Principal Investigator

Ellen M. Markman

phone: 650-725-2427

Building 420, Room 282

Ellen M. Markman is the Lewis M. Terman Professor at Stanford. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. She is a recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Division 7 Outstanding Mentoring Award and the American Psychological Society’s William James Lifetime Achievement Award for Basic Research.

Ellen’s research interests include the relationship between language and thought; early word learning; categorization and induction; theory of mind and pragmatics; implicit theories and conceptual change.

Ellen is especially interested in working with new students on how theory-based explanations can be effective interventions in health domains. Please see the Gripshover and Markman paper as an example of this approach.

selected publications

Graduate Students

Cai Guo

Building 420, Room 290

Categorization is one of our indispensable cognitive tools for making sense of the world. However, the biases, such as psychological essentialism, that exist in the processes of categorization can lead to unwanted consequences, especially in the social domain. For example, we often make assumptions about a familiar category that might not apply to the category’s “atypical” members whom we might judge negatively simply because they do not neatly fit our preconceptions about that category. How can we “outsmart” these cognitive biases we are so prone to in conducting categorization? How should we reason about category boundaries and fuzziness? Is it possible to revolutionize the system of concepts, which are mental representations of categories? And what role does language play in the cognitive processes of categorization? These are the questions I am deeply interested in. Recently, I’ve been contemplating upon the relationships between generic language and category normativity, the connections between categories and their properties, and the alternatives to the dichotomous view of certain categories. In the long run, I hope to apply my research to helping the LGBTQ community, especially in regard to people’s attitudes toward gender non-conformity.

Before coming to Stanford, I earned my BA in Psychology from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA in 2016. During my undergraduate study, I worked as a summer research assistant under Susan Carey in the Harvard Lab for Developmental Studies and under Yarrow Dunham in the Yale Social Cognitive Development Lab.

Marianna Zhang

Building 420, Room 290

I'm a second-year graduate student interested in how we form representations of categories, and the role that language plays in that process over the course of development. Given the infinite ways we could theoretically categorize the world, how do we develop the representations we do? How does the language we hear shape the development of those representations? And how variable and flexible are these category representations across different contexts and forms of experience?

Previously, I studied psychology and philosophy at the University of Chicago, where I worked with Daniel Casasanto in the Experience & Cognition Lab on the role of bodily experience in understanding language. During various summers, I also worked with Susan Carey at the Harvard Laboratory for Developmental Studies on language and the development of category representations, and with Frank Keil at the Yale Cognition and Development Lab on biases in causal reasoning and decision-making.

Kayla Good

Building 420, Room 294

I'm a first-year graduate student co-advised by Ellen Markman and Carol Dweck. Broadly, I'm interested in how subtle cues in the environment (particularly those embedded in language) influence our representations of ourselves and others. For instance, how and why do particular phrasings of feedback (e.g., whether we're told "You're a hard worker!" vs. "You work hard!") influence the messages we extract from it? And how do these messages, in turn, influence the ways in which we act on the world (and interact with others)? I'm also interested in investigating how various framings of preventative health messages lend themselves to different pragmatic inferences and how this influences people's health-related decision-making.

Prior to starting my graduate studies at Stanford, I worked as a lab manager for the Developmental Investigations of Behavior and Strategy (DIBS) Lab at the University of Chicago, where I worked with Alex Shaw on studies exploring children's developing understanding of reputational and intrinsic motives. In ongoing work, we are investigating whether children use others' decision time to make inferences about their preferences. I earned a BA in Psychology from Reed College, where I worked with Jennifer Corpus on research examining how subtle linguistic cues embedded in praise influence third parties' reactions to others' success and failure. During my undergraduate studies, I spent a summer as a research assistant in the Yale Cognition and Development Lab under the supervision of Richard Ahl and Frank Keil.

Undergraduate Students

Aarthi Popat

Senior honors thesis student

I’m an undergraduate research assistant particularly interested in the role of language in children’s categorization of individuals and formation of stereotypes about social categories, specifically gender and race. I am currently working under Marianna Zhang on the Storybook Project, a study that seeks to determine whether certain linguistic structures within storybooks designed to motivate young girls to pursue certain career fields actually have a demotivating effect. This project inspired me to pursue my senior honors thesis, in which I want to further examine the effects of one of these linguistic structures: directional comparisons. I am curious if directional comparisons made between individuals will lead children to draw conclusions about the groups those individuals are part of.

I am so grateful to everyone in the Markman Lab for the guidance and support they have shown and continue to show me in my time as a research assistant. I will graduate from Stanford in the spring of 2021 with a B.A. in psychology and hope to continue my education by pursuing graduate studies in psychology as well.

Melissa Santos

Senior honors thesis student

As an undergraduate research assistant and aspiring teacher, I am interested in children's motivation as it relates to their understanding of social categories, like gender and race. I'm currently working under Marianna Zhang on a study examining how language in storybooks affects young girls' motivation to pursue certain careers, especially those in which women have been historically underrepresented. I am also pursuing an honors thesis building off of the storybook study, specifically examining how children's behavior might be affected by the language in these storybooks.

I am in my last year at Stanford and will receive a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in sociology in spring 2021. After graduation, I plan to teach preschool for a few years before pursuing graduate studies in education and/or psychology.

Mercedes Muñoz

CSLI Summer Intern

I’m a senior at Boston University, pursuing a B.A. in Psychology with a research background specializing in social cognitive development. I am excited to spend summer 2020 working remotely with Marianna Zhang in the Markman Lab from my hometown of El Paso, Texas. My research interests focus on questions surrounding bias and how language affects social category development as well as perceived characteristics of individual social group members. I am also interested in racial/ethnic identity development and investigating whether concrete social learning strategies can be used to support and uplift children in underfunded, predominantly BIPOC schools. I hope to continue my career in research by pursuing a graduate degree in Developmental Psychology or a related field after I graduate in May 2021.

At Boston University I work with Dr. Kathleen Corriveau in the Social Learning Lab, where I am conducting my honors thesis focusing on how language may impact the individualization of group characteristics. Additionally, I spent last summer working with Dr. Paul Bloom at the Yale University Mind and Development Lab studying moral development as it pertains to children’s retributive actions, the ability to differentiate between a fact or opinion, and moral hierarchies.

Jessica Waltmon

CSLI Summer Intern

From San Francisco, California, I am a senior in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. As a first-generation college student and former foster youth, I am dedicated to pursuing a PhD in research, after I graduate in June of 2021. I feel beyond grateful to be working under the guidance of Kayla Good in The Markman Lab this summer. Broadly, my interests stem from mindset theory and placebo effects. More specifically, I hope to further investigate the role of individuals' mindsets in academia, health, and societal/cultural contexts. Within this, I would like to explore the role of placebo effects in shaping mindsets. I strive to use my future work in aiding life changing policies to help disadvantaged/underrepresented populations.

I am fortunate to be a research assistant in two distinct research focused labs at UC Davis. The first being, Dr. Camelia E. Hostinar in the Social Environment and Stress Lab, and Dr. Yuko Munakata in the Cognition in Context Lab, where I am conducting my honors thesis examining the use of interventions in inducing a growth mindset, and the mechanisms behind how growth interventions work.

Recent lab alumni

Kara Weisman, Graduate Student

now Postdoctoral Scholar with Tanya Luhrmann, Anthropology, Stanford University

I am interested in children's developing "philosophy of mind" - specifically, how children (and adults) reason about sentience, consciousness, and personhood. How do we know when we’re in the presence of a sentient creature? What is the nature and structure of the lay concept of “mind”? Answers to these questions are likely to vary across development, culture, and history, with consequences in the cognitive, social, and moral domains. Most of my work examines social reasoning through behavioral studies with US children (ages 3-10 years) and adults, but I am also interested in how cultural forces shape social-cognitive development. I also collaborate with Ellen Markman and Derek Powell on projects related to using theory-based explanations to effect behavior change by way of conceptual change, especially in the health domain.

Before coming to Stanford, I worked as a research/editorial assistant for Elizabeth Spelke at Harvard University; as a research assistant in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia; and as the lab manager of Kristin Shutts' Social Kids Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I received a B.A. in Cognitive Science from Yale University in 2009.

Derek Powell, Post-doctoral Scholar

now User Experience Scientist, Facebook

I’m interested in how people form and think about abstract ideas. This has led me to study a variety of higher-order cognitive processes, from causal learning to moral reasoning. Currently, my interests are focused on how systems of beliefs are formed, how beliefs interact with one another, and how beliefs might be revised in light of new evidence. In a recent study, my collaborators and I found that pro-vaccine messages were more effective if they focused on the dangers of failing to vaccinate rather than the safety of vaccines. We speculate that assurances of safety may fail because they conflict with wider skeptical beliefs about medicine, but that warnings of danger succeed because they are consistent with wider beliefs about the dangers of disease.

Ellen and I are currently investigating how coherent belief systems can be supported by explanation and deeper understanding. We hope to develop educational interventions that change beliefs and support motivation for positive health behaviors like eating well and managing diseases like diabetes.

Before coming to Stanford, I received my PhD in cognitive psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. My advisor was Keith Holyoak.

Lin Bian, Post-doctoral Scholar

now Assistant Professor, Cornell University

lb592 at

I am interested in studying children's early cognition about social groups. In this vein, I have pursued two major lines of research: One line of work focuses on the cognitive mechanism, the developmental trajectory and the consequences of stereotypes about social groups. The other line of work focuses on infants’ and toddlers’ expectations of people’s obligations within and across social groups. At Stanford, Ellen and I are developing theory-based interventions to facilitate positive behaviors by changing adults’ and children’s beliefs.

Before joining Stanford, I obtained my B.S. at Zhejiang University in 2011, and my Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017, where I worked with Drs. Andrei Cimpian and Renée Baillargeon.

Recent research assistant alumni