Sara Finley

Email: finleysr @
Office: Ramstad 106D
Lab: Ramstad 106F

I am an assistant professor of Psychology at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. I primarily teach Introduction to Psychology and upper level experimental classes, such as Neuropsychology and Learning. Teaching a wide range of courses allows me to expose students to the many ways in which we can understand human behavior, and try to solve the puzzle of how the mind works. I am fascinated by the human capacity for thought and language, and our extraordinary ability to learn.  I am dedicated to exposing undergraduates to research in psychology while spreading my passion for creativity  and discovery in psychological science.

My research focuses on how adults and children learn language. Specifically, I am interested in how regularities in language can be extracted from what we hear, even when what we hear may not contain all of the information that might be needed to learn the language. For example, the ending /-s/ in English often denotes plural ('cat' vs. 'cats'), even though many words end in /-s/ that are not plural ('fuss') and many plurals do not end in /-s/ ('oxen'). My experiments explore how language learners sort out these ambiguities by manipulating the structure of miniature, artificial languages. Experimentally controlling elements of language allows us to understand the human capacity for language learning, as well as understanding the similarities between languages that sound very different (e.g., English and Chinese). In addition, my research explores phonological representations, how sounds of a language are stored in the mind of the speaker. Using a combination of cross-linguistic research and artificial grammar learning in adults, we can better understand how language users store the sounds that make up the languages we speak, and the patters that govern the words that we say. For example, /bnipo/ is a horrible word in English, but perfectly fine in other languages, like Polish or Russian). 

If you are a student, and are interested in learning more about my research, or working with me on a Capstone project, please stop by my office in Ramstad, or shoot me an email.  I am always interested in working with smart, independent thinkers.


Downloadable Papers, Abstracts and Handouts

Research Statement

Language and Learning Lab