Lab Members

Thalia R. Goldstein, Principal Investigator

Dr. Goldstein is an Associate Professor of Psychology at George Mason University, in the Applied Developmental Group, Department of Psychology.  Her research focuses on how children, adolescents and adults can learn social and emotional skills through engaging in pretend, imagined, and theatrical worlds, as well as individuals understand characters in such worlds.

She graduated Cum Laude (Psychology) and With Distinction (all subjects) from Cornell University and spent several years as a professional actress and dancer in New York City. She then earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from Boston College in Developmental Psychology under the advisement of Dr. Ellen Winner, completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Paul Bloom at Yale University and spent 4 years as an assistant professor of Psychology at Pace University.

Dr. Goldstein’s work has been supported by The National Endowment for the Arts (Research: ArtWorks and Arts Labs), The John Templeton Foundation, Arts Connection, a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, a dissertation grant from the Esther Katz Rosen Fellowship (APF), an NSF small grant for exploratory research (SGER #0841047), and a graduate fellowship from the Department of Homeland Security.  She has won awards from IGEL (Best Student Paper), SRCD (Student Travel Award) and APA (2009 Division 10 Frank X. Barron Outstanding Student Award; 2016 Daniel E. Berlyne Award for Outstanding Research by an Early Career Scholar). She is currently Co- Editor of the APA Division 10 Journal, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts and on the editorial boards of Empirical Studies in the Arts and Imagination, Cognition and Personality.


DaSean Young is a fourth-year doctoral student in Dr. Goldstein’s lab. He graduated from Pace University where he majored in Psychology and minored in Queer Studies. He previously conducted research for the Social Justice & Health Equity Psychology lab. There he studied intersectionality and stigma toward marginalized groups. His current interests are in how the arts and play impact social, emotional, and identity development in young kids and adolescents.

Megan Stutesman is a third year PhD student in Dr. Goldstein’s lab. She earned a BS in Psychology and a BA in Dance from the University of Washington in 2015. She then spent several years working as a professional dancer, teaching dance, and working with children on the Autism spectrum in Applied Behavior Analysis. In 2019 she earned a MSEd in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania where her master’s thesis explored affective theory of mind and empathy across age groups. At the UPenn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships she conducted program evaluation research on extracurricular programs for students in West Philadelphia. Her current research includes psychology of dance, embodied cognition, and art education’s impacts on social and cognitive development.

Darian Stapleton is a second-year PhD student in Dr. Goldstein’s lab. She graduated from Washington & Jefferson College where she majored in Psychology and Studio Art with a minor in Art History. She previously interned in the Cognition, Affect & Temperament Lab at Penn State University working on projects dealing with behavioral inhibition. Her current research interests include looking at video games and why/how children engage with them, as well as how this may compare to the development of pretend play and the different skills they may promote.

Lamin Fatty is a first year PhD student in Dr. Goldstein’s lab

Ny’Asia Reid is a second year MA Student in Dr. Goldstein’s Lab. 

Esther Mun

Esther Mun is a first year MA student in Dr. Goldstein Lab. Esther Mun is a first year Master’s student in the ADP program working in Dr. Goldstein’s lab. She earned her B.S. in Psychology with a dual concentration in Clinical and Developmental from George Mason University in 2020. Her current research interests include how child play impacts emotional development in immigrant children, children with incarcerated parents, and children in the foster care system.

Sumukhi Vaid Profile

Sumukhi Vaid is a first year MA student in Dr. Goldstein’s lab. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Commerce from University of Jammu in India, after which, she changed her course of study to the development sector, wherein, she completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Rural Management from IIHMR University, Jaipur, India. She then served in various positions in non-governmental organisations. Her core domains of work so far have been in adolescent education, child rights and child health and nutrition. This strengthened her interest in exploring the domain of education, and she went on to complete Master’s in Education from Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India. She wishes to strengthen and explore the domain of social and emotional learning amongst teachers, children and community. 


Brittany Thompson completed her Ph.D. with the lab in 2020.  She graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2012 with a B.A. in psychology with a minor in educational studies. Her current research interests include defining and measuring pretend play, and which specific components of pretend play benefit child development. More broadly, Brittany is interested in measurement and construct validity, as well as the value of consistent operational definitions in early childhood intervention. When she graduates in Spring 2020, she is interested in pursuing a job at an independent research organization focused on helping policymakers and practitioners apply research to best serve children’s needs and foster their development.

Kaylee Chulla graduated with her MA in ADP in 2020. She received her B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Religion from High Point University in North Carolina. Her previous research includes work on the production effect and study methods in elementary aged children. Her current research interests include appropriate classroom engagement and learning strategies for children with developmental disabilities.

Bailey Hill graduated with his MA in ADP in 2020. He completed his undergraduate education at Wheaton College (IL), earning a B.A. in psychology. During his undergraduate career he completed training as an ABA therapist, working specifically with individuals who have autism spectrum disorders. His interests include Applied Behavioral Analysis, the transition of individuals with developmental disabilities into independent living, and social development of those with ASDs.

Karlan Cruz completed his Master’s in Dr. Goldstein’s lab in 2021. He received his B.A. in Psychology with a minor in English from the University of Maine in 2013. He has worked in a childcare setting for a number of years, which has heavily influenced his decision to study developmental psychology. His interests include how activities like drama, role-playing, and gaming can be used to improve social skills and problem-solving skills.

Rachel Frietchen majored in Psychology and minored in Computational Data Science and Neuroscience. Upon graduation, Rachel now works as a post-baccalaureate research assistant to further solidify her research interests. Eventually, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a research focus in emotion regulation.