Dr Sheila Cunningham

Senior Lecturer

School School of Social and Health Sciences

Department Division of Psychology

Contact info

+44 (0)1382 30 8592


I’m a Senior Lecturer in the Psychology Division, with research focusing on social cognition in both adults and children. Before joining Abertay in 2011, I was a Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen where I completed both my undergraduate psychology degree and my PhD in person perception. My work on social cognition explores the mechanisms and biases through which we process information about ourselves and other people, with a particular focus on memory formation in children and adults.

My research is currently funded by the Leverhulme Trust, ESRC and the Carnegie Trust, as well as internal studentships. For more details, please see my lab webpage.

I teach on the following modules:

  • PSY201: Social psychology with Research methods (Module leader)
  • PSY408: Advanced social and cognitive psychology (Module leader)
  • PSY507: Social and Developmental Psychology (MSc)

Cunningham, S. J., Scott, L., Hutchison, J., Ross, J., & Martin, D. (2018). Applying self-processing biases in education: Improving learning through ownership. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2018.04.004

Cunningham, S. J. (2018). The thoughtful self. In Hauke & Kritikos (Eds.) Embodiment in Psychology – A Practitioner’s Guide. Springer.

Gillespie-Smith, K, Ballantyne, C, Branigan, H, Turk, D. J., & Cunningham, S. J. (2018). The I in Autism: Severity and social functioning in Autism is related to self-processing. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 36, 127-141. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12219

Hutchison, J., Martin, D., Slessor, G., Urquhart, J., Smith, K., & Cunningham, S. J. (2017). Shared cognitive biases influence the cumulative cultural evolution of stereotypes, Cognitive Science, 1-27. doi: 10.1111/COGS.12560

Martin, D., Cunningham, S. J., Hutchison, J., Slessor, G. & Smith, K. (2017). How societal stereotypes might form and evolve via cumulative cultural evolution? Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11, 1-13. doi: 10.1111/SPC3.12338

Allan, K., Morson, S., Dixon, S., Martin, D. & Cunningham, S. J. (2017). Simulation-based mentalizing generates a ‘proxy’ self-reference effect in memory. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70, 1074-1084. doi: 0.1080/17470218.2016.1209532

Cunningham, S. J. & Turk, S. J. (2017). A review of self-processing biases in cognition. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70, 987-995. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1276609

Cunningham, S. J. (2016). The function of the self-attention network. Cognitive Neuroscience, 7, 21-22http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17588928.2015.1075485

Ross, J., Martin, D.. & Cunningham, S. J. (2016). How do children develop a sense of self? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/how-do-children-develop-a-sense-of-self-56118

Sparks, S., Cunningham, S. J., & Kritikos, A. (2016). Culture modulates implicit ownership-induced self-bias in memory. Cognition, 153, 89-98. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027716301184

Martin, D., Swainson, R., Slessor, G., Hutchison, J., Marosi, D., & Cunningham, S.J. (2015). The simultaneous extraction of multiple social categories from unfamiliar faces. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 60, 51-58. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103115000311

Turk, D. J., Gillespie-Smith, K., McGowan, L., Havard, C., Conway, M. A., Krigolson, & Cunningham, S. J. (2015). Selfish learning: The impact of self-referential encoding on children’s literacy attainment. Learning & Instruction, 40, 54-60. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959475215300220

Cunningham, S. J. (2014). Person perception. In D. S. Dunn (Ed.) Oxford bibliographies in psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199828340/obo-9780199828340-0136.xml?rskey=lA6gdH&result=1&q=person+perception#firstMatch

Cunningham, S. J., Brebner, J. L., Quinn, F., & Turk, D. J. (2014). The self-reference effect on memory in early childhood. Child Development, 85, 808-823. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.12144/full

Martin, D., Hutchison, J., Slessor, G., Urquhart, J., Cunningham, S.J., & Smith, K. (2014). The spontaneous formation of stereotypes via cumulative cultural evolution. Psychological Science, 25, 1777-1786. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/9/1777.short

Cunningham, S. J., Vergunst, F., Macrae, C.N., & Turk, D. J. (2013). Exploring early self-referential memory effects through ownership. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31, 289-301. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjdp.12005/full 

Cunningham, S. J., Brady-Van den Bos, M., Gill, L., & Turk, D. J. (2013). Survival of the selfish: Contrasting self-referential encoding and survival processing. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 237-244. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810012002395

Turk, D. J. Brady-Van den Bos, M., Collard, P., Gillespie-Smith, K., Conway, M. A., & Cunningham, S. J., (2013). Divided attention selectively impairs memory for self-relevant information. Memory and Cognition, 41, 503-510. http://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13421-012-0279-0

Cunningham, S. J. & Macrae, C. N. (2011). The colour of gender stereotyping. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 598-614. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02023.x/full

Cunningham, S. J., Van den Bos, M., & Turk, D. J. (2011). Exploring the effects of ownership and choice on self-memory biases. Memory, 19, 449-461. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09658211.2011.584388

Smallwood, J., Schooler, J. W., Turk, D. J., Cunningham, S. J., Burns, P., & Macrae, C.N. (2011). Self-reflection and the temporal focus of the wandering mind. Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 1120-1126. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S105381001000276X

Van den Bos, M., Cunningham, S. J., & Turk, D. J. (2010). Mine to remember: The impact of ownership on recollective experience. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63, 1065-1071. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17470211003770938

Cunningham, S. J. Turk, D. J., Macdonald, L. M. & Macrae, C. N. (2008). Yours or mine? Ownership and memory. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 312-318. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S105381000700030X

Turk, D. J., Cunningham, S. J. & Macrae, C. N. (2008). Self-memory biases in explicit and incidental encoding of trait adjectives. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 1040-1045. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810008000299

Cunningham, S. J. & Macrae, C. N. (2007). Priming. In R. Baumeister & K. Vohs (Eds) Encyclopedia of social psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/encyclopedia-of-social-psychology/book227442

Cunningham, S. J. & Milne, A. B. & Crawford, J. R. (2007). The effects of acute alcohol intoxication on person memory: The stereotypic drunk. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37, 187-199. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0021-9029.2007.00155.x/full

Cunningham, S. J. & Russell, P. (2004). The influence of gender roles on evolved partner preferences. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 6, 131-150.http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14616660412331332909

More Information


Research grants include:

2018: CI on £8,500 grant awarded by the Carnegie Trust

2018-2021: CI on £75,000 PhD studentship awarded by Abertay University's R-Lincs program

2017-2020: CI on £363,321 grant awarded by the ESRC

2017-2018: CI on £7,490 grant awarded by the Carnegie Trust

2015-2018: PI on £106,396 grant awarded by the Leverhulme Trust

2014-2015: PI on £3,500 workshop grant awarded by the Experimental Psychology Society

2009-2012: Named RF on 791,549€ awarded by the European Research Council


I peer review manuscripts for international journals including Consciousness and Cognition, Developmental Science, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, and Memory. I am currently editing a special issue on self-processing biases for the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

I am a member of the following academic societies:

  • Experimental Psychology Society
  • Association for Psychological Science
  • European Association of Social Psychology
  • Self & Identity




I have been involved in a number of scientific public engagement sessions, including the British Science Festival and Dundee Science Festival ("I heard it on the Grapevine: The social evolution of information") and Cafe Science Dundee ("Pink for girls and blue for boys? The colour of gender stereotypes").



I work in school outreach programmes, delivering talks to children in primary and secondary schools on psychology topics such as stereotyping and brain development.

We are currently developing our programme of CPD workshops for teachers, aimed at increasing awareness of the application of self-processing biases in the classroom (see www.selflab.co.uk).


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