Department of Psychology

Cognition Memory and Development Lab


At the Cognition, Memory, and Development Lab at William Paterson University we do research to better understand how young children think and learn so much in such a short time.

Amy E. Learmonth, Ph.D.
 Professor of Psychology and Director
(973) 720-2765

Dr. Learmonth

Amy E. Learmonth, Ph.D.
Lab Director, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Cognitive Science Honors Program

Dr. Learmonth is a developmental psychologist with a research focus on the development of memory, imitation and spatial ability.  Most of her research is with young children. She uses techniques to examine the changes in memory and spatial ability.  Her specific research is currently on imitation, spatial memory and navigation, and memory binding as a window into infantile amnesia.   Recent publications by Dr. Learmonth have appeared in Developmental Science, Psychological Science, Memory and Cognition, the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology and Developmental Psychobiology.

Lara Labue
Graduate Lab Assistant

Lara Labue received her B.A. From Mount Saint Mary College and is currently a doctoral student enrolled in the Clinical Psychology program at William Paterson University. She has experience working with both children and adults diagnosed with developmental disabilities and mental health disorders. Her clinical and research interests are focused on children with ASD and related disabilities. 


Irena Curanovic
Graduate Lab Assistant

Irena Curanovic is a first-year doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology PsyD program at William Paterson University. After graduating with a BA in Psychology, Irena became an ABA Therapist and worked with children on the Autism Spectrum for a few years before moving on to be a Mental Health Worker at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital. Irena’s research interests include: cognitive development, emotional processes within severe psychopathology, and investigating therapeutic techniques in order to deliver empirically supported treatments.


Christina Lagomarsino
Graduate Lab Assistant

Christina Lagomarsino received her B.A. and M.A. in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in children and adolescents from Montclair State University. She is currently a doctoral student enrolled in the Clinical Psychology program at William Paterson University. She has experience working with children diagnosed with developmental disabilities and with families. Christina’s clinical and research interests are focused on children with autism spectrum disorder and related disabilities.


Victoria Hanks
Undergraduate Lab Assistant

Victoria Hanks is Senior at William Paterson University double majoring in Communication Disorders and Psychology with a minor in Anthropology. She plans to work with both children and adults in the medical field as a Speech Language Pathologist or Audiologist.


Shazna Ali
Undergraduate Lab Assistant

Shazna Ali is a Senior at William Paterson University, majoring in Psychology and Minoring in Disability Studies.  She intends to go to graduate school for a Master's in Developmental Psychology.


Kirsten Fernandez
Undergraduate Lab Assistant

Kirsten Fernandez a Senior at William Paterson University, majoring in Psychology. She intends to be a Child Psychologist.  She wants to work in an elementary school and open her own practice. 

Studies with Adults 

Conflicting information

There has been significant research over the past few years using search tasks to examine what available spatial information (geometric information from the shape of the environment, and/or landmark information provided by items within the environment) human adults and children as well as many different animal species use when they reorient.  Reorientation is a useful tool because it allows a look at the navigation system as it resets itself, thus offering a relatively pure view of which information the system relies on most heavily.  Previous work with adults indicates that although they are highly sensitive to and most likely to use landmark information in their search behavior, their reliance on, and even their ability to use landmarks at all, can be disrupted with a distractor task. The current project was designed to follow up on a previous study in the lab investigating the possible independence of landmark and geometric information in adults by looking at their reaction times to a choice task in which the availability of landmarks and geometry will be varied.  Previous research indicates that geometric and landmark information are processed independently in rats, and this study will explore the possibility of that independence in humans.  The current study will be a training study where participants learn to respond relative to the location of a moving landmark on one trial type and the geometric properties of the figure on the other trial type.  Test trials will put the two pieces of information in conflict to see which one has a stronger pull on behavior.

Object search

Spatial navigation comprises a large number of abilities that are essential to survival.  The most complex of the spatial navigation systems is called place learning.  Place learning involves the use of multiple distant landmarks in the environment to uniquely specify a location.  It is a powerful system that allows an animal to find its way home from novel locations and find the platform hidden in a murky pool of water.  Directional learning is a less sophisticated system where the animal learns to move in a specific direction to find a desired object, but that location is more loosely specified.  This proposal is to look at solutions to a popular place learning task (Morris Water Maze) under conditions that require either directional learning or place learning to see if the developmental trajectory of these two navigational systems is different. The project involves a computer-based task with an aerial view of a room depicting a round circular arena housed within a large square room.  The circle represents the pool and the square room contains twelve pictures of animals that can be used for distal cues to navigate to the proper target location.  In the directional and place learning trials the circular arena will be arranged eight different but overlapping places in the larger rectangular space.  In the directional trials the target will move with the movements of the circular arena (thus maintaining its relative location within the pool) and for the place learning trials the absolute position of the target within the larger room will remain the same even as pool moves over trails (requiring true place learning).

Studies with Children 

Conflicting information

When searching for an object, humans utilize either the environment’s geometric information or landmark information to find the object. Previous research indicates that although adults are highly sensitive and reliant upon landmark information, this ability can be disrupted with a distractor task. This suggests that geometric information and landmark information can be processed independently in humans. This study is presented to children as a hide and seek game on a computer, where children must find where Mr.Smiley is hiding behind different geometric figures. Across several trials, children are taught that Mr.Smiley likes to hide relative to the location of a moving landmark, or relative to the geometric properties of the figure. At the end of the experiment, these two pieces of information will be put into conflict as to determine which information has a stronger pull on children's behavior.

Combining items in memory

Complex autobiographical memories are few and far between in early childhood. The mystery of why only a few memories survive could be related to how memories are stored in young children. This study aims to test young children's ability to effectively bind components of a memory by presenting cross-modal stimuli. Children will be presented with pictures of animals and their appropriate sounds, and will be retested with different pairing and new pairs throughout the course of this short experiment. How your child responds will let us detect which type of memory system dominates in children aged four and six, whether it is binding or unitization.

The Effects of Aquatic Skills Training on Social Behavior, Flexibility and Balance in Children with Autism

Research demonstrates that physical activity has relatively large impacts on several different areas of well being (Boat, Morris & Duncan, 2019).  There is evidence that children on the autism spectrum benefit from exercise in a number of different ways including balance (Sarabzadeh, BordbarAzari, Helalizadeh, 2019), health (Ye, Hu, Cai, Zhang, Xu, Qu & Gao, 2019), a reduction of sleep problems (Tse , Lee , Chan, Edgar, Wilkinson-Smith & Lai 2019) and general well -being (Rohani, Bow, Miller, Haylie & Mobley, 2019). This study is an assessment of the effects of an eight week physical fitness program on school aged children on the autism spectrum.  The exercise program is already in progress with cohorts of children coming to William Paterson University for eight weeks to learn water safety and have a period of activity in the university gym.



research and scholarship 2015 training

Research Assistant Positions Available

Students who are interested in going to graduate school need to gain some research experience. Research assistants get hands on experience with a functioning research lab and every part of the research process. Students in their second and third year are particularly encouraged to contact Dr. Learmonth about joining the lab.

Lab Volunteers

Students start out in the lab as volunteers. Volunteers participate in lab activities for 3-6 hours a week to get a feel for what happens in the lab. All students who get credit from the lab have some volunteer experience. The purpose of the volunteer experience is to allow the student to gain a practical idea of the lab and the research before they commit to the lab for a full semester. Lab volunteers must have PSY 2020 and PSY 2030 (PSY 2030 may be in progress).

Research Credits

  • Students must have completed PSY 2020 and 2030
  • Student must have at least 60 credits
  • A GPA of 3.0 or above
  • Must have volunteer experience
  • Must commit 3 hours a week per credit to the lab

What you get from the lab

  • Research experience for grad school
  • Close collaboration with other students and Dr. Learmonth
  • The possibility of authorship on a professional research presentation
  • The opportunity to go to a professional conference

Q: What will my child be doing?
A: Your child will be looking at a computer screen or video screen, and depending on the study, will be asked to complete a task. The researcher may ask your child to play a hide and seek game to find Mr. Smiley, or may ask your child to play a learning game and match certain animals to certain sounds. Our newest study, focusing on autism and the video deficit, will show children a demonstration on how to solve a four piece abstract puzzle, and then your child will complete the puzzle themselves. All of our research is presented to children as a fun task.

Q: How long will this take?
A: Depending on the study, between ten and twenty minutes.

Q: Will my child's confidentiality be protected?
A: We will not link your child's identity to their data. No one, including to researcher, will know how any individual child performed.

Q: What will you do to make my child feel more comfortable and safe?
A: If given permission by the administrators and teachers, we can read the class a book. We work hard to be friendly and most children are happy to play with us.

Q: Who will be working with my children?
A:College students working on research under the supervision of Amy Learmonth, Ph.D.

Q: What will my child receive in return?
A: All children are praised verbally for having done a good job, even if the child does not complete the study will still receive a sticker.

Q: Is this project for a class?
A: This is faculty research at William Paterson. The students will get credit for their part in the research and eventually the research will be published in a scientific journal devoted to developmental research.

Q: What if I sign the permission slip but my child does not want to participate?
A: Before we start we ask the children if they would like to play. It is not uncommon for a shy child to say no. If the child says no, we move on to the next child. It is also not uncommon for a child who says no when they are first asked to later want to play. If a child who says no at first asks if they can play at a later time the answer is always yes.

Q: Will the teacher be able to be in the room with my child during the experiment?
A: We do everything we can to make the children happy and comfortable. Most children are happy to come with us and play, but if a child wants the teacher to be there (and the teacher has time) we occasionally have a teacher in the room, but we ask her not to look at the computer screen.