Janet Werker

Department of Psychology
Infant Studies Centre

Phone: 604 822-6408

Web pages:
Lab webpage


  • Radcliffe College, Harvard University, BA cum laude 1974
  • University of British Columbia, PhD 1982
  • University of British Columbia, MA 1979


  • Language acquisition
  • Speech perception in infancy
  • ERP
  • NIRS

Research Interests

My research focuses on understanding the roots of language acquisition, by studying speech perception in infancy, the mechanisms by which native speech sound categories are acquired, and how speech perception supports early word learning. In my lab we study infants from hours after birth up to toddler-hood using behavioral, electrophysiological (ERP), and non-invasive optical neural imaging using near-infrared-spectroscopy (NIRS). We study infants growing up in different language environments, infants growing up bilingual, and infants with, or at risk for, developmental disabilities. Adult studies focus on speech perception and lexical processing of both spoken language and visual speech, and involve behavioral and neuroimaging studies. More recently we have also begun exploring epigenetic processes that underly developmental change.

Selected Publications

Geffin, M. N., Gervain, J., Werker, J. F., & O Magnasco, M. (accepted) Auditory pecerption of self-similarity in water sounds. Fronteirs in Integrative Neuroscience.

Palmer, S. B, Fais, L., Golinkoff, R. M., & Werker, J.F. (accepted) Perceptual Narrowing of Linguistic Sign Occurs in the First Year of Life, Child Development.

Curtin, S., Byers-Heinlein, K., Werker, J.F. (2011) Bilingual beginnings as a lens for theory development: PRIMIR in focus, Journal of Phonetics, doi: 10.1016/j.wocn.2010.12.002

Gervain, J., Mehler, J., Werker, J.F., Nelson, C.A., Csibra, C., Lloyd-Fox, S., Shukla, M., & Aslin, R.N. (2011). Near-Infrared Spectroscopy: A Report from the McDonnell Infant Methodology Consortium.Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience,1,22-46.

Yoshida, K. A., Pons, F., Maye, J., & Werker, J. F. (2010). Distributional phonetic learning at 10 months of age.Infancy,15(4), 420-433.

Yoshida, K. A., Iversen, J. R., Patel, A. D., Mazuka, R., Nito, H., Gervain, J., & Werker, J. F. (2010). The development of perceptual grouping biases in infancy: A Japanese-English cross-linguistic study.Cognition,115(2), 356-361.

Narayan, C., Werker, J. F., & Beddor, P. (2010). The interaction between acoustic salience and language experience in developmental speech perception: Evidence from nasal place iscrimination.Developmental Science,13(3), 407-420.

Vouloumanos, A., Hauser, M. D., Werker, J. F., & Martin, A. (2010). The tuning of human neonates' preference for speech.Child Development,81(2), 517-527.

Fais, L., Kajikawa, S., Amano, S., & Werker, J. F. (2010). Now you hear it, now you don't: Vowel devoicing in Japanese infant-directed speech.Journal of Child Language,37(2), 319-340.

Byers-Heinlein, K., Burns, T. C., & Werker, J. F. (2010). The roots of bilingualism in newborns.Psychological Science,21(3), 343-348.

Vouloumanos, A., & Werker, J. F. (2009). Infants' learning of novel words in a stochastic environment.Developmental Psychology,45(6), 1611-1617.

Werker, J. F., Byers-Heinlein, K., & Fennell, C. (2009). Bilingual beginnings to learning words.Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,364(1536), 3649-3663.

Yeung, H. H., & Werker, J. F. (2009). Learning words' sounds before learning how words sound: 9-Month-olds use distinct objects as cues to categorize speech information.Cognition,113(2), 234-243.

Fais, L., Kajikawa, S., Amano, S., & Werker, J. F. (2009). Infant discrimination of a morphologically relevant word-final contrast.Infancy,14(4), 488-499.

Byers-Heinlein, K., & Werker, J. F. (2009). Monolingual, bilingual, trilingual: Infants' language experience influences the development of a word learning heuristic.Developmental Science,14(4), 488-499.

Yoshida, K. A., Fennell, C. T., Swingley, D., & Werker, J. F. (2009). Fourteen month-old infants learn similar sounding words.Developmental Science,12(3), 412-418.


Awards and Distinctions

UBC Alumni Prize for Research in the Social Sciences, 1990
Killam Leave Fellowship, 1990-1991
Killam Research Prize, 1991
Elected Fellow, Canadian Psychological Association, 1996
Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Max Planck Institute/Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen NL, 03/2001
Elected Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 06/2001
Chair (Tier 1), Canada Research Chair Program, 2001-2007; renewed, 2007-2013
Fellow, Canadian Institutes of Advanced Research, 07/2004-01/2007; renewed, 2007-2012
Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2006
Nominated by Psychology Department for UBC Killam Award for Graduate Mentoring, 2006
Jacob Biely Research Prize, Top Research Prize, UBC, 2007
Catholic University of Santiago, Chile, Distinguished Visitor, 12/2007
Delivered the 10th Annual Maryland-Blackwell Lectures, University of Maryland, 11/10-12/2008
Fellow, Association for Psychological Science, 05/2009 Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Iowa, Delta Center, 04/2010
Ann L. Brown Prize in Developmental Psychology, University of Illonois, 11/2010
Honourary Member, Delta Center, University of Iowa, 2010

Courses taught

Psychology 100 - UBC, 1985-1986, 1987-1988
209 - Introduction to Development, Dalhousie, 1983-1984
301/315 - Developmental Psychology, UBC, 1985-1991, 1996
309/302 - Infancy, Dalhousie, 1982-1983; UBC, 1992-1997, 1999, 2000, 2006-2007, 2009, 2011
319 - Psychology of Language, Dalhousie, 1982-1984
303 - Perception, Simon Fraser University, 1984-1985
336 - Psychology of Language, I., UBC, 2002
337 - Psychology of Language, II., UBC, 2000, 2004
414 - Research Methods in Developmental Psychology, 1993-1994
544 - Patterns of Child Rearing, UBC, 1986-1987, 1992
521 - Psychology of Language, UBC, 1988, 1989, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005
513 - Perceptual and Cognitive Development in Infancy, UBC, 1994, 1995
585 - Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, UBC, 2007, 2009