College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

Stephanie Carlson

  • Distinguished McKnight University Professor

  • Institute of Child Development
    Carmen D. and James R. Campbell Hall
    Room 239 F
    51 E River Pkwy
    Minneapolis, MN 55455

  • 612-625-6127
Stephanie Carlson

Areas of interest

Cognitive development, executive function, play, parenting, culture, learning


PhD, 1997, University of Oregon


Cognitive development, executive function, play, parenting, culture, learning

The Carlson and Zelazo Lab


Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab


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.

Advising expectations and availability

If you are a prospective graduate student who is interested in working with Dr. Carlson, click here to review her advising expectations. The document outlines what you can expect from Dr. Carlson as an advisor/mentor and provides an overview of Dr. Carlson's expectations for students in the developmental psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota.

Please note that for the Fall 2024 admissions cycle, I am looking to take on new Ph.D. students as their primary advisor. Please reach out to me via email if you are interested in learning more.


Beck, D. M., Eales, L., & Carlson, S. M. (2020). Hot and cool executive function in overweight/obese preschool children.Cognitive Development, 54.

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.

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.

Zelazo, P. D., & Carlson, S. M. (2020). The neurodevelopment of executive function skills: Implications for academic achievement gaps. Psychology & Neuroscience, 13, 273-298.

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 |

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.     *Wiley’s Top Cited 

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.

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.

Baker, J. K., DeLiema, D., Hufnagle, A. S., Carlson, S. M., Sharratt, A., & Ridge, S. W. (2022). Impasses in the wild: Autonomy support in naturalistic, parent-child outdoor play. Frontiers in Education.

Ernst, J., Grenell, A., & Carlson, S. M. (2022). Associations between executive function and early math and literacy skills in preschool children. International Journal of Educational Research Open.

Zelazo, P. D., & Carlson, S. M. (2023). Reconciling the context-dependency and domain-generality of executive function skills from a developmental systems perspective. Journal of Cognition and Development, 24, 161-171.

Lasch, C., Carlson, S. M., & Elison, J. T. (2023). Responding to joint attention as a developmental catalyst: Longitudinal associations with language and social responsiveness. Infancy, 28(2), 339-366.

Carlson, S. M. (2023). Let me choose: The role of choice in the development of executive function skills. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 32(3), 220-227. 

Prager, E. O., Ernst, J., Mazzocco, M. M., & Carlson, S. M. (2023). Executive function and mathematics in preschool children: Training and transfer effects. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Castelo, R. J., Kim, S., & Carlson, S. M. (2023). More is more: Toddlers do not show choice overload. Frontiers in Developmental Psychology.

Distefano, R., Palmer, A. R., Kalstabakken, A. W., Hillyer, C. K., Seiwert, M. J., Zelazo, P. D., Carlson, S. M., & Masten, A. S. (2023). Predictive validity of NIH Toolbox Executive Function measures with Developmental Extensions: Pre-Kindergarten screening to third grade benchmark tests of achievement. Developmental Neuropsychology.


Carlson, S. M. (2023, November). Executive function and reading. Invited keynote presentation, National Hsing Hua University, Taiwan.

Carlson, S. M. (2023, November). Measurement of executive function skills. Invited keynote presentation, National Hsing Hua University, Taiwan.

Carlson, S. M. (2023, September). Executive function skills in school readiness and learning. Invited presentation, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA.

Carlson, S. M., & Zelazo, P. D. (2023, February). Reflection, executive function, and the developing brain. Invited presentation at Teaching Behaved Brains: Strategies for Challenging, Disruptive Behaviors, Autism, ADHD, and Executive Function. Learning & the Brain. San Francisco, CA.

Carlson, S. M. (2022, November). Roots of success: Shaping executive function skills in early childhood. Invited speaker, Glenbard Parent Series, Glen Ellyn, IL. [Virtual]

Carlson, S. M. (2022, February). Leading education with executive function. Invited webinar presented to ExQ, Atlanta, GA. [Virtual]

Carlson, S. M. (2021, August). Think again! Preparing young minds for the future. Invited workshop presented to Noggin employees. [Virtual]

Carlson, S. M. (2021, March). Executive function skills and the “work” of play. Invited speaker, Playworks National HQ, Oakland, CA. [Virtual due to COVID-19]

Carlson, S. M. (2020, December). Think again: Reflection and executive function in young children and their caregivers. Invited workshop presented to United Way of Tucson, AZ. [Virtual due to COVID-19]

Carlson, S. M. (2020, October). Roots of Success: Supporting the Development of Executive Function Skills. TEDx Minneapolis.

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]

Carlson, S. M. (2020, February). Executive function: Foundation for success. Invited presentation to Child-Parent Centers (Head Start) and United Way of Tucson, AZ.

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.

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.