The Developmental Area, often ranked among a handful of top PhD programs in Developmental Psychology, has research strengths in social and cognitive development from infancy through adulthood. Joe Allen studies adolescent social development including healthy teaching relationships. John Bonvillian studies early language with an emphasis on special populations; his most recent endeavor is the development of a canonical sign system for children with autism and others. Vikram Jaswal focuses on how children learn from testimony, language, and imitation. He has also begun researching development of gratitude. Angeline Lillard studies early social cognition including pretend play and theory of mind, the impact of media on executive function, and Montessori education. Charlotte Patterson focuses on sexual orientation including development and relationships in lesbian and gay families. Two new faculty members will be joining us in August, 2014. Tobias Grossman studies social cognitive developmental neuroscience, and Amrisha Vaish focuses on early moral development. Two recent retirees, Judy Deloache (symbol development) and Rachel Keen (perception and action in infancy), are still active in the area; Bob Pianta in the Curry School of Education and Steve Suomi at the NIH Primate Research Center are also affiliated faculty.

The developmental area has active collaborations with most other areas of the department (quantitative, social, clinical, cognitive, community) as well as with the Curry School of Education and the School of Medicine. Students and faculty are also connected with Linguistics and the Sexuality, Women, and Gender program. The department’s biopsychology area is also strongly developmental in focus. Graduate students are encouraged to work across laboratories, both within developmental and the department. Interested graduate students can also apply to join the Virginia Education Sciences Training program, an Institute for Education Sciences-sponsored track in involving collaborations with Economics, Education, and Sociology; and LIFE, an international lifespan-oriented training program with the University of Michigan and several European institutions. The developmental area meets weekly for a brown bag lunch to hear researchers from within and outside of UVa, complimenting the department’s active colloquium program.

Local resources include Babypool, an actively maintained large database of families in the area willing to bring their children to UVa to participate in research, Virginia Institute of Autism and Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, and the Fontaine imaging center at UVa—a Beta test site for Siemens MRI scanners. Our quantitative psychology program is an especially strong feature of our department.

The typical trajectory in our program is to begin research upon landing, leading to the Master’s at the end of the second year (the “pre-diss”). Coursework insuring basic developmental and statistical knowledge as well as ethics and more specialized seminars is completed in the first 2-3 years. Students work on their Comprehensive Exam during their third year, composed of a major paper or grant proposal, a complete course syllabus, and a journal article review, before embarking on the dissertation project for years 4+ (most students finish in 5-6 years). We have an active teaching-to-teach program in the department helped by an excellent university-wide Teaching Resource Center; students begin with grading and running review sessions, then move to teaching discussion sections, and finally have the opportunity to apply to teach their advanced own undergraduate seminar. The amount of teaching depends on availability of research funding—some students obtain their own funding from the National Science Foundation or are funded on their advisors’ grants, in which case they might teach less.

Another feature of developmental at the UVa is regular parties and celebrations including our holiday White Elephant party. We are small enough that students and faculty all get to know each other, while also enjoying the advantages of thriving connections with others with strong developmental interests in the department and university.

Recent alumni now have faculty positions at the University of Toronto, University of California (Davis and Riverside campuses), Washington and Lee, Georgia Tech, and Providence College; as post-doctoral scholars at Yale Child Study Center and the University of Michigan; others are employed in children’s television and national child development research organizations.

Tobias Grossmann, Vikram Jaswal, Angeline Lillard, Charlotte Patterson, and Amrisha Vaish hope to admit graduate students to the Developmental area this year.


Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology
Associate Professor - Emeritus
Kenan Professor of Psychology Emeritus
Professor, Director of Center for Children, Families and the Law
Associate Professor
Associate Professor
Professor Emeritus
Professor, Director of Graduate Admissions
Professor - Emeritus
Assistant Professor
Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and Psychology
Research Scientist
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