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Sandra R. Waxman

Sandra R. Waxman

  • Professor, Psychology

Swift Hall Room 211, 2029 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208

Academic Area

Learning Sciences

Research Interests

Language and conceptual development, early cognitive development, language and thought.


Sandra Waxman is a Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology and an Institute for Policy Research Fellow, with a joint appointment in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and taught at Harvard University until beginning her affiliation with NU in 1992. She is an APA Fellow and an APS Fellow, and is a recipient of both a Cattell Award through the American Psychological Society and a Guggenheim Fellowship. 

Professor Waxman’s research focuses on two areas of study: biological thought and culture, and early linguistic and conceptual development. Recent work in biological thought explores how notions of the natural world unfold -- across development, across cultures, and across languages, exploring fundamental questions, including, “What is the place of humans within the natural world?,” “What does it mean to be ‘alive’?,” and “How do children across cultures develop these concepts?” Professor Waxman’s research in Linguistic and Conceptual Development employs both developmental and cross-linguistic evidence. Both are essential in discovering the origin of infants' early expectations, identifying which might be universal, and specifying how these are shaped by experience with the native language under acquisition. This basic research may serve as a springboard for assessing young children being raised in bilingual environments and those with specific language impairments.


  • PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 1985
  • MA, Johns Hopkins University, 1981
  • BS, University of Pennsylvania, 1976

Awards and Honors

  • 2011 - Louis W. Menk Chair in Psychology - Endowed Chair, Northwestern University.
  • 2011 - American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow.
  • 2011 - American Academy of Arts and Sciences Member.
  • 2008 - Ann L. Brown Award for Excellence in Developmental Research, University of IL.
  • 2007 - Guggenheim Fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
  • 2007 - James McKeen Cattell Award. American Psychological Society.
  • 2005 - American Psychological Society Fellow

Selected Publications

Ferguson, B., Havy, M., & Waxman, S. R. (2015). The precision of 12-month-old infants' link between language and categorization predicts vocabulary size at 12 and 18 months. Frontiers in Psychology: 6:1319 .

Waxman, S. R. (2015). Abandoning the 'theoretical apartheid' between nature and nurture: human infants hold the key. Social Anthropology: 23(2), 213-215 .

Waxman, S., Herrmann, P., Woodring, J., Medin, D. (2014). Humans (really) are animals: Picture-book reading influences five-year-old urban children's construal of the relation between humans and non-human animals. Frontiers in Developmental Psychology: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00172 .

Ferguson, B., Graf, E., & Waxman, S. R. (2014). Infants use known verbs to learn novel nouns: Evidence from 15- and 19-month-olds. Cognition, 131(1): 139-146 .

Geraghty, K., Waxman, S.R., & Gelman, S. (2014). Learning words from pictures: 15- and 17-month-old infants appreciate the referential and symbolic links among words, pictures, and objects. Cognitive Development, 32: 1-11 .

Taverna, A. S., Waxman, S. R. Medin, D. L., Moscoloni, N. & Peralta, O. A (2014). Naming the living things: linguistic, experiential and cultural factors in Wich and Spanish speaking children. Journal of Culture and Cognition: 14, 213-233 .

Arunanchalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2014). Let's see a boy and a balloon: Argument labels and syntactic frame in verb learning. Language Acquisition: 22(2), 117-131 .

Syrett, K., Arunachalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2014). Slowly but surely: Adverbs support verb learning in 2-year-olds. Language Learning and Development: 10(3), 263-278 .

Vouloumanos, A., & Waxman, S. R. (2014). Listen up! Speech is for thinking during infancy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences: 18(12), 642-646 .