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Sandra Waxman


  • Associate Fellow
  • Brain, Mind & Consciousness




Sandra Waxman seeks to shed light on how our earliest and most fundamental human capacities are shaped by the language, social and cultural communities in which we live.

Adopting a developmental, cross-linguistic and cross-cultural approach, she weaves together ideas from psychology, philosophy and developmental neuroscience. One major project aims to identify how – and how early – language and cognition come together in the infant mind. By tracing the unfolding of a language–cognition link, she has revealed a developmental cascade in infants’ first year and illustrated the conceptual advantages of this precocious language-cognition in infancy. A second project, also highlighting the joint contributions of innate knowledge and the shaping role of the experience, examines how children from diverse cultures and communities learn about the natural world, including how they understand “What does it mean to be alive?” and “What is the relation between humans and other living things (plants and animals)?”

Waxman is a founder of Northwestern University’s Institute for Innovations in Developmental Science, a recently established research and training program that brings together developmental scientists across all disciplines, including medicine, behavioral sciences, and neurosciences to address the mechanisms by which early development shapes a lifetime.


  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Guggenheim Fellow, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
  • Ann L. Brown Award for Excellence in Developmental Research
  • James McKeen Cattell Award, American Psychological Society

Relevant Publications

  • Perszyk, D.R., & Waxman, S.R. (2018). Linking Language and Cognition in Infancy. Annual Review of Psychology, 69, 231-250.
  • Ferguson, B., Franconeri, S., & Waxman, S. (2018). Very young infants learn abstract rules in the visual modality. PLoS ONE, 13(1), e019018.
  • Herrmann, P., Waxman, S.R., & Medin, D. L. (2010). Anthropocentrism is not the first step in children's reasoning about the natural world. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(22), 9979-9984.
  • Hall, D.G., & Waxman, S.R. (Eds.). (2004). From many strands: Weaving a lexicon. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Waxman, S.R., & Markow, D.B. (1995). Words as invitations to form categories: Evidence from 12-month-old infants. Cognitive Psychology, 29, 257-302.

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