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Yuko Munakata


  • PhD Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University
  • BA Psychology, Stanford University
  • BS Symbolic Systems, Stanford University


Yuko Munakata is a faculty member in the UC Davis Department of Psychology and the Center for Mind and Brain. She is also the director of the Cognition in Context Lab. Her research uses behavioral, electrophysiological, computational, and cross-cultural approaches to study the mechanisms supporting executive functions and variations in thinking observed across development. Professor Munakata co-edited two books on brain and cognitive development, and co-authored two editions of a textbook on computational cognitive neuroscience.  She gave a TEDx talk on The science behind how parents affect child development. She previously served as Associate Editor for Psychological Review. Her research is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Research Focus

Professor Munakata investigates the remarkable variations in thinking that people show across contexts. Thinking can change based on our goals, motivations, and propensities, as they develop across infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and in relation to our physical, social, and cultural environments. How can we understand these variations in thinking? How can we build on this understanding to support adaptive thinking and development? To address these questions, Professor Munakata investigates the cognitive, neural, and computational processes that support thinking and variations in thinking across diverse contexts. Many projects in her lab focus on executive functions, given the role that executive functions play in shaping thoughts and behaviors, the dramatic changes observed across development, and the links between executive functioning and important life outcomes.​

Selected Publications

Michaelson, L. & Munakata, Y. (in press). Same dataset, different conclusions: Preschool delay of gratification predicts later behavioral outcomes in a preregistered study. Psychological Science.

Niebaum, J.C., Chevalier, N., Guild, R. M. & Munakata, Y. (2018). Adaptive control and the avoidance of cognitive control demands across development. Neuropsychologia. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.04.029.

Doebel, S. & Munakata, Y. (2018). Group influences on engaging self-control: Children delay gratification and value it more when their in-group delays and their out-group doesn’t. Psychological Science, 29(5): 738-748.

Michaelson, L. E. & Munakata, Y. (2016). Trust matters: Seeing how an adult treats another person influences preschoolers’ willingness to delay gratification. Developmental Science, 19, 1011-1019.

Barker, J. E. & Munakata, Y. (2015). Time isn’t of the essence: Activating goals rather than imposing delays improves inhibitory control in children. Psychological Science, 26: 1898-1908.

Chevalier, N., Martis, S., Curran, T., & Munakata, Y. (2015). Meta-cognitive processes in the development of executive control: The case of reactive and proactive control. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(6), 1125-1136.

Chevalier, N., Chatham, C. H., & Munakata, Y. (2014). The practice of going helps children to stop: The importance of context monitoring in inhibitory control. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Barker, J. E., Semenov, A. D., Michaelson, L., Provan, L. S., Snyder, H. R., and Munakata, Y. (2014). Unstructured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(593), 1-16.

Munakata, Y., Snyder, H. R., & Chatham, C.H. (2012). Developing cognitive control: Three key transitions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21: 71-77.

Munakata, Y., Herd, S. A., Chatham, C. H., Depue, B.E., Banich, M. T., & O’Reilly, R. C. (2011). A unified framework for inhibitory control. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15, 453-459. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2011.07.011.


Professor Munakata has received awards in recognition of her research, teaching, and mentoring, including the American Psychological Association's Boyd McCandless Early Career Award for distinguished contributions to developmental psychology, Outstanding Mentor Award from the University of Colorado Boulder Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, and Faculty Research Award and Faculty Teaching Award from the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Her work on child development has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1998, and has been featured in the popular press, including The Atlantic, Parents Magazine, and even The Onion. She is an elected fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association.