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Rachel Thibodeau-Nielsen, PhD

Assistant Professor

003C Gwynn Hall, Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-1276
Curriculum Vitae


  • PhD, The University of Alabama, 2017
  • MA, The University of Alabama, 2015
  • BS, Southwestern University, 2013

Research Interests

  • School readiness
  • Executive functions
  • Cognitive development
  • Fantasy/pretend-play
  • Biological substrates of child development
  • Socio-emotional development

Rachel Thibodeau Nielson, MU College of Education & Human Development

Research Bio

Due to recent declines in academic performance across the United States, there has been a surge of research aimed at identifying factors related to development in early childhood. This accumulation of research shows the importance of early developmental interventions for everyday functioning, academic achievement, job performance, and overall well-being. Inspired by these trends, I have developed a comprehensive research program that generally focuses on improving preschoolers’ readiness for school. Using both behavioral and biological approaches, my research specifically aims to identify mechanisms and develop interventions to improve cognitive and socio-emotional skills among typically developing and at-risk children (ages 2-5). One area that I’m particularly interested in is examining how pretend-play can serve as a mechanism for development in early childhood. Engaging in pretend-play, which typically involves cooperation, shared affect, skill development, and support among peers and adults, naturally creates a positive environment that serves to inherently scaffold the cognitive and social skills necessary for a child’s school readiness.

Research Areas