Faculty profile

Martha Alibali

Martha Alibali

Dept. of Psychology
520 Psychology
(608) 262-0837
(608) 263-0757 (Lab)

679 Educational Sciences
(608) 263-1811


Research Keywords

developmental psychology, cognitive development, educational psychology, cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, gesture, math education


  • Department of Psychology, Professor
  • Department of Educational Psychology, affiliate
  • Researcher, Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Current Projects

  • Director, Cognitive Development & Communication Lab
  • Co-PI, Understanding and Cultivating the Transition from Arithmetic to Algebraic Reasoning
  • Co-PI, Does Visual Scaffolding Facilitate Students’ Mathematics Learning? Evidence From Early Algebra
  • Co-PI, The Role of Gesture in Thinking and Speaking

Research Collaborators

  • Mitchell Nathan, Educational Psychology
  • Eric Knuth, Curriculum & Instruction
  • Charles Kalish, Educational Psychology
  • Jenny Saffran, Psychology
  • Julia L. Evans, UCSD
  • Sotaro Kita, University of Birmingham
  • Breckie Church, Northeastern Illinois University

Representative Classes

  • Psych 733: Cognitive Development
  • Psych 960: Core Issues in Developmental Psychology

Research Statement

My research investigates children's mathematical reasoning and how it changes over time. I focus on the change processes that take place when children learn new concepts and problem-solving strategies, and when they express and communicate their knowledge in gestures and in speech. Current projects examine the transition from arithmetic to algebraic reasoning, the function of spontaneous gesture in thinking and speaking, and the nature of mathematical reasoning in children with language impairments. My overarching goal is to contribute to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of knowledge change in children's cognitive development. A second major goal is to elucidate the role of spontaneous gestures in thinking and knowledge change.

Selected Publications

  • Hostetter, A. B., Alibali, M. W. & Kita, S. (2007). I see it in my hands’ eye: Representational gestures reflect conceptual demands. Language & Cognitive Processes 22, 313-336.
  • McNeil, N. M. & Alibali, M. W. (2005). Why won’t you change your mind? Knowledge of operational patterns hinders learning and performance on equations. Child Development, 76, 883-899.
  • Knuth, E. J., Stephens, A. C., McNeil, N. M. & Alibali, M. W. (2006). Does understanding the equal sign matter? Evidence from solving equations. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 37, 297-312.
  • Alibali, M. W. (2005). Gesture in spatial cognition: Expressing, communicating and thinking about spatial information. Spatial Cognition & Computation, 5, 307-331.
  • Alibali, M. W. (2005). Mechanisms of change in the development of mathematical reasoning. In R. Kail (Ed.), Advances in Child Development & Behavior (Vol. 33, pp. 79-123). New York: Academic Press.
  • Siegler, R. S. & Alibali, M. W. (2005). Children’s thinking (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.