Katherine Norman

The impact of pretend play and drama practices on cognition at different stages of development


Katherine is a graduate student in the EdNeuro Lab in the Educational Psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to her academic research, Katherine is also a professional actor (EMC) and teaching artist. As an educator, some favorite experiences include her roles as the education director for Montana Shakes!, director of the Young Actor’s Workshop at Interlochen Center for the Arts, and teaching with Whoopensocker, the Children’s Theatre of Madison, the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project, the Maher Ashram, and the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam. Favorite performance credits include Door Shakespeare, Optimist Shakespeare in the Park, Double Edge Theatre, Adishakti Theatre/Dash Arts, and the Missoula Children’s Theatre. In her free time, Katherine enjoys bouldering, playing the button accordion, and exploring the beautiful nature around Madison.


  • BFA, Acting, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • MA, Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies- Theatre for Youth emphasis, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research Description

Growing out of her practical experiences as an actor and teaching artist, Katherine’s research revolves around both the cognitive mechanisms that underlie pretend play/drama, and the ways that pretending impacts learning and development. Specifically, she is interested in how childhood pretend play and drama practices might affect the interlocking systems of Executive Function and stress/cortisol levels for early elementary students. Her research maintains a particular focus on the potential protective mechanisms in make-believe for students who have experienced trauma and/or long-term stress. The bounded pretend space created by drama and make-believe serves as a fruitful research site for questions regarding how people learn and make meaning. Katherine applies a mixed methods approach to studying make-believe, and works primarily within the fields of cognitive neuroscience and embodied cognition.