Dr. Stephanie Carlson is our Co-Founder and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development.


I investigate basic developmental processes in executive function (brain basis of self-control) in children from infancy through adolescence, with a focus on the preschool period. I have contributed to measurement starting at 24 months of age with the Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFS, provided by Reflection Sciences, Inc.). I am particularly interested in how EF skills can be cultivated through play, parenting, and education, and in turn, how EF skills prepare children for learning, especially in STEM fields.

Selected publications

  1. Grenell, A., Prager, E. O., Schaefer, C., White, R., Kross, E., Duckworth, A. L., & Carlson, S. M. (2019). Individual differences in the effectiveness of self-distancing for young children’s emotion regulation. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 37, 84-100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjdp.12259 
  2. Meuwissen, A. S., & Carlson, S. M. (2019). An experimental study of the effects of autonomy support on preschoolers’ self-regulation. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 60, 11-23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2018.10.001
  3. Grenell, A., Prager, E. O., Schaefer, C., White, R., Kross, E., Duckworth, A. L., & Carlson, S. M. (2019). Experimental paradigm for measuring the effects of self-distancing in young children. Journal of Visual Experiments (JoVE), 145, e59056.  http://dx.doi.org/10.3791/59056 
  4. Beck, D. M., Eales, L., & Carlson, S. M. (2020). Hot and cool executive function in overweight/obese preschool children. Cognitive Development, 54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2020.100883
  5. Clark, D. A., Donnellan, M. B., Durbin, C. E., Brooker, R. J., Neppl, T. K., Gunnar, M., Carlson, S. M., Le Mare, L., Kochanska, G., Fisher, P. A., Leve, L. D., Rothbart, M. K., & Putnam, S. P. (2020). Using Item Response Theory to evaluate the Children’s Behavior Questionnaire: Considerations of general functioning and assessment length. Psychological Assessment. https://doi.org/10.1037/pas0000883
  6. Distefano, R., Schubert, E. C., Finsaas, M. C., Desjardins, C. D., Helseth, C. K., Lister, M., Carlson, S. M., Zelazo, P. D., & Masten, A. M. (2020). Ready Set Go! A promising school readiness program to boost executive function skills in preschoolers experiencing homelessness and high mobility. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17405629.2020.1813103
  7. Zelazo, P. D., & Carlson, S. M. (2020). The neurodevelopment of executive function skills: Implications for academic achievement gaps. Psychology & Neuroscience, 13, 273-298. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pne0000208
  8. Pesch, A., Semenov, A., & Carlson, S. M. (2020). The path to fully representational theory of mind: Conceptual, executive, and pragmatic challenges. Frontiers in Psychology. November 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.581117
  9. Rockhold, M., Kruger, A., de Water, E., Lindgren, C., Sandness, K., Eckerle, J., Schumacher, M., Fink. B., Boys, C., Carlson, S. M., Fuglestad, A., Mattson, S., Jones, K., Riley, E., & Wozniak, J. (2020). Social functioning across development in children and adolescents with prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Online DOI: 10.1111/acer.14538
  10. Grenell, A., & Carlson, S. M. (2021). Individual differences in executive function and learning: The role of knowledge type and conflict with prior knowledge. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2020.105079
  11. Distefano, R., Fiat, A. E., Merrick, J. S., Slotkin, J., Zelazo, P. D., Carlson, S. M., & Masten, A. S. (2021). NIH Toolbox Executive Function measures with Developmental Extensions: Reliability and validity with preschoolers in emergency housing. Child Neuropsychology. https://doi.org/10.1080/09297049.2021.1888905
  12. White, R. E., & Carlson, S. M. (2021). Pretending with realistic and fantastical stories facilitates executive function in 3-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2021.105090
  13. Distefano, R., Grenell, A., Palmer, A. R., Houlihan, K., Masten, A. S., & Carlson, S. M. (2021). Self-regulation as promotive for academic achievement in low- and high-risk children. Cognitive Development, 58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2021.101050
  14. Kalstabakken, A. W., Desjardins, C. D., Anderson, J. E., Berghuis, K. J., Hillyer, C. K., Seiwert, M. J., Carlson, S. M., Zelazo, P. D., & Masten, A. S. (2021). Executive function measures in early childhood screening: Concurrent and predictive validity. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 57, 144-155. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2021.05.009 
  15. Eales, L., Ferguson, G. M., Gillespie, S., Smoyer, S., & Carlson, S. M. (2021). Family resilience and psychological distress in the COVID-19 pandemic: A mixed methods study. Developmental Psychology, 57, 1563-1581. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0001221
  16. Eales, L., Gillespie, S., Alstat, R.A., Ferguson, G. M., & Carlson, S. M. (2021). Children’s screen media use in the United States before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Child Development. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13652
  17. Vaisarova, J. & Carlson, S. M. (2021). When a spoon is not a spoon: Divergent thinking and executive function in young children. Trends in Neuroscience & Education, 25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2021.100161
  18. Castelo, R. J., Meuwissen, A. S., Distefano, R., McClelland, M. M., Galinsky, E., Zelazo, P. D., & Carlson, S. M. (2022). Parent provision of choice is a key component of autonomy support in predicting child executive function skills. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.773492

Selected presentations

  1. Carlson, S. M. (2021, August). Think again! Preparing young minds for the future. Workshop presented to Noggin employees. [Virtual]
  2. Carlson, S. M. (2020, October). Roots of Success: Supporting the Development of Executive Function Skills. TEDx Minneapolis
  3. Carlson, S. M. (2020, October). Executive function and school readiness. Invited presentation in the 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. [Virtual due to COVID-19]
  4. Carlson, S. M. (2020, February). Executive function: Foundation for success. Invited presentation to Child-Parent Centers (Head Start) and United Way of Tucson, AZ.
  5. Carlson, S. M. (2020, February). Play and learning: The role of executive function. Invited ADVANCE NSF Women in Science Lecture, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.
  6. Carlson, S. M. (2020, January). Executive function skills: Foundation for school readiness. Invited presentation to the Alabama Department of Education Office of Early Childhood. Montgomery, AL.
  7. Carlson, S. M. (2019, December). Executive function skills: Promoting healthy EF in educators and teens. Invited workshop to Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Summit Schools. Pasadena, TX.
  8. Carlson, S. M. (2019, September). Parenting hacks from behavioural science. Invited workshop in Behaviour Exchange 2019. London, England.
  9. Carlson, S. M., & Johnson, J. (2019, June). Executive function: Foundation for success. Invited pre-conference workshop presented at BUILD: QRIS National Meeting. New Orleans, LA.
  10. Carlson, S. M. (2018, October). Lessons from the Marshmallow Test. Invited speaker at the Innovation in Early Childhood Development and K-12 Education conference. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, MN.
  11. Carlson, S. M. (2018, June). Role play: Significance for cognitive and social development. Invited speaker at the workshop, Pretend Play and Imagination, by the Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University, Denmark.
  12. Carlson, S. M. (2018, March). Executive function in childhood. Invited speaker for Grand Rounds, Columbia University Medical Center. New York, NY.
  13. Carlson, S. M. (2018, February). Executive function: Development and relevance for education. Invited inaugural speaker in the Colloquium Series in Educational Neuroscience. Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN.
  14. Carlson, S. M. (2018, February). Learning science-based education: New tools bringing cognitive research into practice. Invited panel speaker, LearnLaunch “Across Boundaries” Conference. Boston, MA.
  15. Carlson, S. M. (2017, October). Executive function in early childhood: Development and intervention. Invited speaker for the Goldman Colloquium Series in Developmental Psychology, University of Florida. Gainesville, FL.
  16. Carlson, S. M. (2017, October). The Batman effect. Invited plenary symposium, biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society. Portland, OR.
  17. Carlson, S. M. (2017, February). Shaping Executive Function Skills: What Can Caregivers Do? Invited speaker at the Simms/Mann Institute Think Tank. Beverly Hills, CA.
  18. Carlson, S. M. (2016, October). Connecting the dots between play and learning: The role of executive function. Invited keynote speaker at the Early Learning Community Lecture Series, Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy, University of Denver, CO.
  19. Carlson, S. M. (2016, September). Executive function: A key differentiator for student success. Invited keynote presentation at the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools. Morristown, NJ.