Cao’s research interests include developmental cognitive neuroscience, educational neuroscience, neural basis of language development and disorders, cross-language differences in reading development and disorders, and neural basis of second language learning in children and adults. She is studying how different interventions help improve the reading abilities of children with dyslexia.
Her work has been published in some of the top journals in the field and was the lead researcher for a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, titled "High Proficiency in a Second Language is Characterized by Greater Involvement of the First Language Network: Evidence from Chinese Learners of English." She also was the lead researcher on a study examining the hypothesis that learning to write Chinese characters influences the brain’s reading network for characters. That study, "Writing Affects the Brain Network of Reading in Chinese: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study," was published in Human Brain Mapping.
Cao received her Ph.D. from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University in 2009, and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in psychology from Beijing Normal University in Beijing, China. She did her post-doctoral training at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh.
Before coming to MSU, she was an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.