Marjorie McShane

Professor, Cognitive Science

Marge McShane develops cognitive models of intelligent agents that can collaborate with people in task-oriented, dialog applications. While at heart a linguist, she is particularly interested in the integration of functionalities that are often treated in isolation, such as physiological simulation, emotion modeling, and the many aspects of cognition. 

One aspect of cognition to which she has devoted particular attention is natural language processing, approached from a cross-linguistic perspective and with the goal of producing machine-tractable descriptions that can support sophisticated conversational agents. She has also worked extensively on cognitive modeling in the medical domain, to support the configuration of intelligent agents playing the roles of virtual patients and tutors in training applications such as the Maryland Virtual Patient system.

Guided by the functional needs of such agents, McShane has been working on modeling “mindreading” (otherwise known as mental model ascription), defined as inferring features of another human or artificial agent that cannot be directly observed, such as that agent's beliefs, plans, goals, intentions, personality traits, mental and emotional states, and knowledge about the world. This capability is essential if intelligent agents are to engage in sophisticated collaborations with people.

McShane has authored two books, A Theory of Ellipsis (Oxford University Press, 2005) and An Innovative, Practical Approach to Polish Inflection (Lincom Europa, 2003), and recently co-authored a third, Linguistics for the Age of AI (with Sergei Nirenburg; MIT Press, 2021). Beyond books, she has published extensively on linguistics, natural language processing, cognitive modeling, and knowledge representation.


PhD, Slavic Languages and Literatures, Princeton University

Research Focus
  • linguistics
  • cognitive modeling
  • natural language processing