Tessa Jordan

Associate Professor - Developmental Psychology

  • B.A, Ph.D., University of New Mexico

Office: 2127 Au Sable Hall

Phone: (616) 331-9236

Email: [email protected]



Developmental Psychology

Courses Taught

PSY 301 Child Development

PSY 305 Infant and Early Childhood Development

PSY 364 Life Span Development

PSY 493 Psych Friends Practicum I

PSY 494 Psych Friends Practicum II


Research Interests

My research interests are in developmental psychology, particularly cognitive development with a specific focus on conceptual development in early childhood. My primary line of research examines the nature of developmental change in preschool aged children’s understanding of living things (plants and animals) and nonliving things (tools and toys). To advance my primary line of research, I will focus on implementing an extended longitudinal study of living kinds conceptualization to more fully describe and explain the nature of both change and stability in children’s living kinds concept over the course of childhood. In addition, I plan to expand my investigation to include other domains of psychological functioning that are potentially relevant to developmental change in a child’s conceptualization of living kinds, such as language development, parent-child interactions and communication, and what role specific experiential contexts (e.g., more or less access to animals, pets and plants) and cultural contexts (e.g., collective, individualistic, rural, urban, etc.) play in the development of a child’s living kinds concept. In addition, my research examines the development of children’s Mental Timeline. Research has suggested the abstract concept of time is represented spatially along a mental timeline. Literate English speakers think about time as moving from left to right – placing things that happened first on the left and things that happened last on the right. However, literate Hebrew and Arabic speakers think about time moving from right to left. The reason there is this difference between how people order time is thought to be that English is read from left to right and Hebrew and Arabic are read right to left. We examined how English speaking preliterate and early readers think about time to examine the role learning to read has on how young children think about time. In addition to the above-mentioned projects, I am working with undergraduate research assistants on implementing a research project focused on young preschoolers’ understanding of identity. Folk understanding of identity entails a naïve belief in some internal, underlying property or quality—an essence—that makes an object what it is, both as a unique individual and as a member of a kind. The literature on preschoolers’ understanding of identity reveals fairly consistent evidence that a burgeoning essentialist stance is in place by 4 to 5 years. However, there is inconsistent evidence for such a stance earlier in development, establishing the potential for a developmental transition occurring in young preschoolers’ understanding of identity between 2 and 4 years of age. Potentially, young preschoolers embody their understanding of identity in terms of what organisms do such that an activity-based understanding of identity developmentally precedes an essentialist understanding of identity.


Autry, K.S., Jordan, T., Girgis, H., & Falcon, R. (2020). The development of young children’s mental timeline in relation to emergent literacy skills. Journal of Cognition and Development, 21, 1-22.

Margett-Jordan, T., Falcon, R. G. & Witherington, D. C. (2017). The development of preschoolers’ living kinds concept: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 88, 1350-1367.

Gaspelin, N., Margett-Jordan, T., & Ruthruff, E. (2014). Susceptible to distraction: Children lack top-down control over spatial attention capture. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22, 461-468.

Margett, T. E. & Witherington, D. C. (2011) The nature of preschoolers’ concept of living and artificial objects. Child Development, 82, 2067-2082.

Witherington, D. C. & Margett, T. E. (2011). How conceptually unified is the dynamic systems approach to the study of psychological development? Child Development Perspectives, 5, 286-290.

Witherington, D. C., Campos, J. J., Harriger, J. A., Bryan, C., & Margett, T. E. (2010). Emotion and its development in infancy. In G. Bremner and T. D. Wachs (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of infant development, Vol. 1, Basic Research, 2nd Edition (pp. 568-591). Cambridge: Blackwell.

Page last modified July 20, 2023