Barbara Landau

Johns Hopkins University

Primary Section: 52, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
Membership Type: Member (elected 2018)


Barbara Landau is a cognitive scientist recognized for her theoretical and experimental work on language learning and spatial cognition. The overarching theoretical goal of her work has been to determine how experiential and genetic variation interacts with developmental process in promoting and/or limiting development in these two domains of knowledge. She has produced groundbreaking findings showing that spatial concepts and the language expressing them can develop normally even with several early visual deprivation. She has also proposed an important theory for how spatial representation and language may develop atypically, involving different maturation rates of different information-processing streams in the brain. Landau was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Princeton, New Jersey.  She received a BA in sociology and a PhD in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and held faculty positions at Columbia University, University of California-Irvine, and University of Delaware before moving to Johns Hopkins University in 2001. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Cognitive Science Society and was named a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in 2009. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Barbara Landau's laboratory carries out research on language and spatial cognition—the nature and development of these systems of knowledge and the relationships between them throughout life. Specific questions concern the nature of cognitive structures and principles that are in place during early development, supporting our capacity to recognize and name objects, move through space in a directed fashion, and talk about our spatial experience.  The lab's research draws on a variety of approaches, including traditional psychological experimentation and linguistic methods adapted for young children. Although much of the lab's work concerns mechanisms of knowledge acquisition in typically developing children, Landau and her colleagues have systematically examined cases of atypical cognition, including studies of congenitally blind children, individuals with relatively rare genetic syndromes that lead to unusual dissociations between different cognitive systems, and individuals who have sustained brain damage either in adulthood or early in infancy. These unusual cases of development have afforded Landau and her colleagues the opportunity to understand both typical and atypical development in ways that have led to the development of unifying theories about the relationships among genes, experience, the developing brain, and human cognition.

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