Merel Wolf


About my project

I am a doctoral researcher at the at the Psychology of Language and Language Development departments. Having studied developmental psychology and language acquisition, I am intrigued by how many different words humans generally know the meaning of in their native language and how all these words are learned with such relative ease.

The average vocabulary of a native English speaking adult consists of around 17000 words. Infants, however, are obviously not born with this vast mental dictionary, but progressively learn new words and their meanings as they develop.

Novel words can be learned in two distinct ways (or modalities). People can be exposed to new words and deduce their meanings by listening to other people’s speech, for example during conversations, but also by watching TV or listening to the radio. Once an individual has learnt to read, they can also encounter new words while reading novels, comics or even food labels.

It is currently unclear how the modality in which a new word is experienced (i.e. spoken or written) affects word learning in adults, with even less data describing effects of modality on word learning in children, whose reading ability develop rapidly in a matter of a few years.

My project aims to establish the direction of the modality effect on novel word learning in adults, find explanations for this effect and investigate how this may change over reading development in children.


Work Experience

2017-2021 - PhD student at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

  • Dissertation title: Modality effects in Vocabulary Acquisition
  • Psychology of Language and Language Development Department
  • Promotors: Antje Meyer and Caroline Rowland
  • Daily supervisor: Alastair Smith (2017-2019) and Florian Hintz (2019-2021)


2016-2017 - Student assistant organizing longitudinal data “Supporting Starting Teachers” University of Amsterdam with Debora Roorda.

2015-2016 - Student assistant longitudinal diary study “Supporting Starting Teachers”  University of Amsterdam with Debora Roorda.



2015-2017 - Research Master Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam.

  • Thesis 1: The Contribution of Foundational Skills to Listening Comprehension
  • Thesis 2: Differential Eye Movements in Oral and Silent Reading


2012-2015 - Bachelor Psychology, Utrecht University.

  • Child- and Youth Psychology
  • Academic minor in Learning Disorders
  • Multidisciplinary Honours Programme Descartes College

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