Our Research

We are an active team of developmental researchers working to find out more about children’s cognitive skills, language development, social behaviour, and how to support children in their learning.

Our research is designed to help and inform practitioners such as teachers or those developing policies and curriculums.

Smiling child in psychology experiment

Online participation

We would be delighted if you or your child could participate in our research. Find out more using the links below, which take you to external pages (such as Qualtrics):

Girl using computer in psychology experiment

In-person research

These projects require a researcher to visit children in a community setting and/or participants coming into our Lab at Abertay.

Recent research projects

Gender stereotypes and subject choices

In this research Children in Scotland aged 9-15 were asked which gender would be better at different subjects and occupations.

The research measured gender stereotype knowledge (what do 'most people' think) and their personal agreement (what do they think). 13-15 year-old girls disagreed with known stereotypes far more than 13-15 year old boys and younger children.

13-15 year olds were also asked about their option subjects.

On average, girls were choosing both stereotypically male and female subjects (around 50:50) whereas boys were picking mostly male subjects (around 75:25). With boys there was a relationship between agreeing with stereotypes and how many stereotypically male subjects they choose. That is, boys who agreed with more gender stereotypes picked more stereotypically male school subjects. There was no such relationship with the girls.

This is important research showing that teenage boys are more likely to agree with stereotypes and this may be guide their subject choices at school. There may be a need to challenge gender stereotypes to uncover why boys may place gender stereotypical limitations on themselves in terms of subject choice.

For more information Read more about this research in the British Journal of Social Psychology. Contact Dr Lara Wood lara.wood@abertay.ac.uk or Prof Sheila Cunningham s.cunningham@abertay.ac.uk.

Applying self-referencing in children’s learning and processing

This programme of research explores the impact of self-cues such as own names or personal pronouns on children’s performance in educational tasks.

Self-cues attract attention, supporting task engagement and reducing working memory load, and are preferentially stored in long term memory, supporting learning.

We have published research evidencing the educational benefits of applying self-cues in tasks such as spelling practice. Read the paper published in 'Learning and Instruction', and the paper published in the Journal of 'Applied Research in Memory and Cognition'.

Our recent work on the facilitative effects of including self-cues in numerical problem-solving tasks shows that problems that include the word 'you' are solved more quickly and accurately by children. (Currently under review for publication.) 

Read an overview of the educational benefits of self-referencing, which includes activity sheets for teachers and parents.

For more information, contact Prof Sheila Cunningham s.cunningham@abertay.co.uk or Dr Janet McLean j.mclean@abertay.ac.uk.

Using technology to help with investigative interviewing techniques

Using novel technology to help investigative interviewing with children and young people

Physical and sexual abuse of children poses a great threat to young people in the UK and the rest of the world. Using appropriate investigative interviewing techniques is key to obtain complete and accurate accounts from witnesses and victims.

This programme of research explores how virtual characters like avatars and related novel technologies like immersive virtual reality can help to gather sensitive information from young witnesses and victim.

A recent survey study presented at the International Investigative Interviewing Research Group conference (Conway et al., 2022) revealed that children and young people preferred to disclose forensic information to an adult of the same gender as the discloser. In practice, gender-matched interviewers might not always be available. Virtual characters can easily take on different gender identities and other unique characteristics that might help the police and social work during the elicitation of traumatic and forensically relevant information.

A series of future studies will explore how avatars impact disclosure, episodic memory performance, and suggestibility in children and young people during investigative interview settings.

For more information, contact Dr Julie Gawrylowicz j.gawrylowicz@abertay.ac.uk.

The Role of Children in Language Evolution and Change

A number of recent and current projects uses iterated language learning to find out what role, if any, children with their specific learning abilities, may play in how languages evolve and change.

For example, we are studying whether younger and older individuals differ in how they ascribe meaning to emojis or whether children add structure to novel signalling systems. Read about how children and adults differ in transmitting random dot patterns in the journal Cognition and how they create new signalling systems in the Journal of Language Evolution.  

The Role of Dialect Exposure in Literacy Learning

In this Leverhulme Trust-funded project we asked how exposure to a regional dialect affects learning to read and spell.

One way of studying the process of literacy learning is to use artificial languages with artificial scripts. They allow us to control what participants already know, and to manipulate what they get to learn from scratch in our experiments.

In collaboration with Dr Glenn Williams from Northumbria University and PhD-student Nikolay Panayotov, we created a small made-up language with its own made-up script to see how variation in how some words sound impacts the learning process. In a nutshell, our learners incurred a small local cost in learning just those words that have other variants, but having these words not slow down the overall literacy learning process. 

The results have been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

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