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Janet Werker Developmental psychologist

Janet Werker studies maturational and experiential factors that make it possible for children to begin learning language, particularly during the first two years of life. She seeks to identify the kinds of perceptual biases infants bring to speech perception, the role that specific linguistic input plays in modifying perceptual categories, how these changing categories help the child move on to acquiring language, and the advances in learning and cognition that contribute to this process.  She has identified a number of milestones in early infancy that reveal a child’s progress on this journey of discovery. Her work includes both studies of infants being raised in different language environments, as well as infants growing up in bilingual or multilingual homes.  Her work also includes infants who are “at risk” for developmental or specific language delays, to see if the milestones that have been documented in early infancy can be used to help identify children in need of intervention. Her experimental studies use both behavioural and neuroimaging tasks to address these questions. With inspiration and assistance from CIFAR, and in collaboration with others in CIFAR, she now also investigates emotional and pharmacological factors that can change the timing of speech perception development in infancy, and reawaken sensitivity in adulthood.


Pickering Award for Outstanding Contribution to Developmental Psychology in Canada, Pickering Centre for Research in Human Development, Carleton University, 2017.

University Killam Professor, University of British Columbia (UBC), Since 2016.

Gold Medal Impact Award, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), 2015.

Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2014.

Fellow, American Psychological Society, 2009.

Fellow, Association for Psychological Science, 2009.

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2006.

Canada Research Chair in Psychology, 2001, 2007, 2014.

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, 2001.

Relevant Publications

J.F. Werker and T.K. Hensch, "Critical Periods in Speech Perception: New Directions," Annu. Rev. Psych., vol. 66, pp. 173-196, 2015.

P. Kandhadai et al, "Culture as a binder for bilingual acquisition," Trends Neurosci. Educ., vol. 3, pp. 24-7, 2014.

J. Gervain and J.F. Werker, "Prosody cues word order in 7-month-old bilingual infants," Nature Commun., vol. 4, 2013.

W.M. Weikum et al, "Prenatal exposure to antidepressants and depressed maternal mood alter trajectory of infant speech perception," PNAS, vol. 109, no. 2, pp. 17221-7, Oct. 2012.



Senior Fellow Child & Brain Development

Advisory Committee Chair Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness


University of British ColumbiaInfant Studies Centre


BA (Psychology and Social Relations) Harvard University, Radcliffe College

PhD (Psychology) University of British Columbia



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