Janet F. Werker, University Killam Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Psychology at UBC is a developmental psychologist recognized for her work on infant speech perception and the foundations of language acquisition. She is known particularly for her work examining the effects of experience on speech perception, the multisensory nature of speech perception, and the relationship between speech perception development and word learning. Werker completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard University, with a major in psychology. After moving to Canada, she attended graduate school at the University of British Columbia (UBC), receiving her PhD in 1982. Her first academic position was in Psychology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and she returned to UBC as a faculty member in 1986. A fellow of AAAS, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada and a member of the National Academy of Science, she is a previous fellow and now advisor to the Canadian Institutes for Advanced Research, and a founder and co-director of the UBC Language Sciences Initiative. At UBC, she runs the Infant Studies Centre, where infants and their parents participate in research studies.

Research Interests

Werker studies speech and language processing in infancy, and the biological, cognitive, and social factors influencing its development. Using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques, she has documented the initial infant perceptual biases, when these change as a function of experience with one or more different languages, the learning mechanisms that enable change, and how changing speech perception sensitivities interact with word learning and syntactic processing. Her work shows that infants begin life with a preference for speech, that they can discriminate both native and non-native phonetic distinctions and represent both their visual and oral-motor correlates, and that they can divide words into broad syntactic categories on the basis of acoustic and phonological properties. Experience with one language vs another supports attunement to just those properties used in the native language, with strong evidence that experience operates most effectively during a critical period in early development. To address these questions, she and her lab members study monolingual and bilingual infants, infants born prematurely or exposed to different diets or drugs in early development, and infants with sensory impairments. They also study how perception interacts with conceptual biases in guiding word learning in infants growing up in different linguistic and/or cultural contexts.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences