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Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology


Janice Keenan

Please note that Dr. Keenan is not accepting graduate applicants

Areas of expertise/research interests

  • reading and language comprehension
  • cognitive and genetic basis of individual differences in language and language deficits
  • assessment of language comprehension

Current research and projects

I am a cognitive scientist whose current research is focused on individual differences in reading and language skills, particularly comprehension. Our lab's work attempts to understand both the cognitive mechanisms of language processing as well as the genetic etiology of language deficits.

With support from the National Institutes of Health, we are conducting a twin study that allows us to assess how genes and poor learning environments contribute to language problems associated with learning disabilities, such as reading disability, comprehension disorders and attention deficit disorders. In the lab, we take a developmental perspective, examining children who are in the early stages of reading all the way up through college age. We examine a broad range of component language skills—from lexical priming to discourse processing.

By studying twins, we are in a unique position to determine how different language skills might be related to each other at a genetic level. For example, one question we have studied is the extent to which genes underlying the kinds of word-reading problems seen in dyslexia might also be involved in higher-order language deficits.

Our results have provided a biological basis for a separation between dyslexia and comprehension deficits (Keenan, et al., 2006). Our studies of language behavior have revealed some limitations in existing measures of language assessment. Thus, another focus of our work is to improve language assessments.

Ultimately, we hope that our work on the cognitive and genetic components of language will lead to improved understanding of how and why we differ in the ease with which we use and understand language so that it can lead to a better detection and remediation of language problems.


  • PhD, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • BA, St. Louis University

In the news

Interview, Synergy, 2008 (PDF)

Selected Publications 

  • Keenan, J. M., & Meenan, C. E. (2014). Test differences in diagnosing reading comprehension deficits. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 47, 125-135.
  • Keenan, J.M. (2014). Assessment of reading comprehension. In C. A. Stone, E. R. Silliman, B. J. Ehren, & G. P. Wallach (Eds.), Handbook of Language and Literacy: Development and Disorders (2nd Edition). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Olson, R. K., Keenan, J.M., Byrne, B., Samuelsson, S. (2014). Why do children differ in their development of reading and related skills? Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 38-54.
  • Keenan, J.M., Hua, A.N., Meenan, C.E., Olson, R.K., Pennington, B.F., & Willcutt, E.G. (2014). Issues in identifying poor comprehenders.  L’année Psychologique/Topics in Cognitive Psychology,114, 753-777.
  • Hua, A.N., & Keenan, J.M. (2014). The role of text memory in inferencing and in comprehension deficits.  Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 415-431. 
  • Keenan, J.M. (2015).  Psychology of inferences, 2nd  Edition.  In J. D. Wright (Ed.) International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, Oxford, UK: Elsevier.
  • Christopher, M.E., Hulslander, J., Byrne, B., Samuelsson, S., Keenan, J.M., Pennington, B.F., DeFries, J.C., Wadsworth, S.J., Willcutt, E.G., Olson, R.K. (in press). The genetic and environmental etiologies of the relations between pre-reading skills and reading.  Child Development
  • Miller, A.C., Keenan, J.M., Betjemann, R.S., Pennington, B.F. Willcutt, E., & Olson, R.K. (2013). Reading comprehension in children with ADHD: cognitive underpinnings of the centrality deficit. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 473-483.
  • Elwér, Å., Keenan, J.M., Olson, R.K., Byrne, B., Samuelsson, S. (2013). Longitudinal stability and predictors of poor oral comprehenders and poor decoders. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 115, 497–516.
  • Christopher, M.E., Miyake, A., Keenan, J.M., Pennington, B.F., DeFries, J.C., Wadsworth, S.J., Willcutt, E., & Olson, R.K. (2012). Predicting word reading and comprehension with executive function and speed measures across development: A latent variable analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141, 470-488.
  • Keenan, J. M., Betjemann, R. S., & Olson, R.K. (2008). "Reading comprehension tests vary in the skills they assess: Differential dependence on decoding and oral comprehension." Scientific Studies of Reading, 12, 281 – 300.
  • Keenan, J. M., & Betjemann, R. S. (2006). "Comprehending the Gray Oral Reading Test without reading it: Why comprehension tests should not include passage-independent items." Scientific Studies of Reading, 10, 363 – 380.
  • Keenan, J. M., Betjemann, R. S., Wadsworth, S. J., DeFries, J. C., & Olson, R.K. (2006). "Genetic and environmental influences on reading and listening comprehension." Journal of Research in Reading, 29, 79 – 91.