Academic Staff


The following members of academic staff are currently accepting PhD students for supervision in infancy and early developmental research. Interested candidates must contact a potential supervisor to develop a research proposal. Some staff members suggest specific projects, but candidates are free to develop their own research proposal together with their planned supervisor.

Gert Westermann (PI, Psychology)

In my group we use a variety of methods – remote and head-mounted eye tracking, pupil dilation, EEG, fast mapping, computational modelling – to study infants’ cognitive, emotional and language development. I welcome enquiries from students with an MSc (or exceptionally, undergraduate) degree in Psychology, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, Computer Science, Philosophy and related subjects.

I am particularly interested in infants’ curiosity (intrinsic motivation) in learning about the world: Children (and adults) often explore their environment for its own sake, and not in order to reach a particular goal. We are interested in understanding this creative free exploration and the learning that comes from it (see The Curiosity Project). There are several possible projects here, for example, exploring how infants choose information in a controlled environment (using eye trackers that allow them to move relatively freely), seeing how visual and auditory object features combine to create novelty, studying neural markers of different degrees of novelty, and developing computational (or even robotic) models of curiosity-based learning. Obviously this work will have implications for understanding how we can provide an environment for infants and children in which they flourish through self-motivated learning and exploration.

See also my lab webpage for other interests.

Relevant publications:

Twomey, K., & Westermann, G. (2019). Building the foundations of language: mechanisms of curiosity-driven learning.  In: Horst, J., & Torkildsen, J. (eds.), International Handbook of Language Acquisition, pp. 102-114. Oxford, New York: Routledge

Twomey, K., & Westermann, G. (2018). Curiosity-based learning in infants: A neurocomputational approach. Developmental Science, e12629. doi: 10.1111/desc.12629

Chen, Y. and Westermann, G. (2018) Different novelties revealed by infants’ pupillary responses. Scientific Reports, 8,9533.doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-27736-z

Twomey, K. E. & Westermann.G. (2017)Learned labels shape pre-speech infants’ objectrepresentations. Infancy doi:10.1111/infa.12201

Westermann, G.,(2016). Experience-dependent brain development as a key to understanding the language system. Topics in Cognitive Science, 8, 446–458. DOI: 10.1111/tops.12194

Westermann, G., & Mareschal, D. (2014). From perceptual to language-mediated categorization. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 369(1634), [20120391].

Kirsty Dunn (Psychology)

My research focusses on two key streams and I would welcome proposals that focus on either of the following: 

1. Relationships between perceptual and social development: Making use of multiple methodologies to refine our understanding about infant perceptual and cognitive development. Controversy in the developmental psychology literature surrounding infant developmental trajectories is often the result of different measures suggesting different conclusions. Looking measures often result in the attribution of cognitive understanding earlier in development than reaching measures. For example, in an eye-tracking version of the Piagetian A not B search task, infants of 9 months of age appear to show understanding of object permanence with longer looking when an object is retrieved from an incorrect location (Ahmed & Ruffman, 1998). In contrast, when the demands of the task require more than looking to an event, specifically, making the decision to reach to one of these places, 9-month-olds’ knowledge of object permanence appears limited. Though they search correctly when an object is hidden in one location (A), they often perseverate towards the first location when the object is subsequently hidden at a second (B) location (Piaget, 1954). There thus appears to be a disparity between what looking and reaching measures tell us about infants’ expectations regarding hidden objects with looking measures interpreted as evidence for strong, and reaching measures interpreted for fragile, understanding of objects. This research strand makes innovative use of existing technology by imbedding an eye-tracker within an object selection frame so that reaching and looking data can be synchronised and the relationship between the two can be analysed over the course of a given trial. I’d welcome projects that focus on how methodologies such as these can investigate infant object understanding such as the example given here. 

2. Prenatal Development: adapting methodologies commonly used in postnatal developmental psychology for use with prenatal samples in order to bridge the gap between what we know about pre- and postnatal human development.These projects explore how the human fetus and neonate engage with the sensory, social and cognitive world. Many have interpreted the demonstration of sensitivity to social and cognitive stimuli in neonates as support for innate origins of understanding. Thus, at a time of rapid development, innate interpretations of neonatal capacities discount any effects of prenatal experience on development. This research strand makes use of fetal heart rate (FHR) and 4D ultrasound imaging to measure fetal physiological and behavioural response to various sounds and shapes that are presented to the fetus through maternal abdomen using light.

Relevant Papers

Dunn, K.& Bremner, J.G. (2017). Investigating looking and social looking measures as an index of infant violation of expectation. Developmental Science, 20, 6.

Reid, V., Dunn, K., Young, R., Amu, J., Donovan, T. & Reissland, N. (2017). The human fetus preferentially engages with face-like visual stimuli. Current Biology, 27, 12, pp. 1825-1828.e3

Michelle To (Psychology)

Research interests: Emotional processing, Visual aesthetics and preferences, Natural scene perception

I am interested in how infants and children process groups of emotional faces in complex natural scenes. Being able to recognise the expression of several individuals: For example, if a group of people appear friendly overall, we may want to approach them, but if they seem mostly angry, we should avoid them instead. My research on adult participants has shown that we can process the expressions of several individuals simultaneously, and that the ability to do so is modulated by where the faces are presented in the visual field. I would be happy to supervise a project on how infants and children encode the emotional expressions of sets of faces in central or peripheral vision.

To, M. P. S., Carvey, K. M., Carvey, R. J., & Liu, C. H. (2019). Averaging sets of expressive faces is modulated by eccentricity. Journal of Vision, 19(11):2, 1–14,

I am also interested in studying the development of visual aesthetics and preference. There are several theories on aesthetic judgement; Fechner (1876) proposed that aesthetic judgment is a bottom-up process that is derived from basic perceptual features, such as colour and shape. However, more recent models, such as Reber et al.’s (2004) processing fluency theory, recognise that higher-level elements, such as content, also contribute to aesthetic appreciation. Reber, Schwartz, and Winkielman (2004) suggested preference judgements are correlated with how easily objects are processed and recognised. Interestingly, Reber, Stark and Squire (1998) have also demonstrated that preferred prototypical stimuli trigger less neuronal activity, showing that processing fluency extends to reduced cortical activation. Using a computational model that simulates the activity of neurons processing low-level features of the pieces up to the primary visual cortex (To et al., 2010, 2019), I found that adults’ preference for images were positively and negatively correlated to the presence spatial frequencies and colour, but not orientation (in prep). In collaboration with Prof Gert Westermann, I would be happy to supervise a project that examines visual preference in infants and children (e.g.  comparing visual preference between adults and infants or consider the role of low-level features in the development of preferences).

To, M. P., Lovell, P. G., Troscianko, T., & Tolhurst, D. J. (2010). Perception of suprathreshold naturalistic changes in colored natural images. Journal of Vision, 10(4), 12-12.

To, M. P., & Tolhurst, D. J. (2019). V1-based modeling of discrimination between natural scenes within the luminance and isoluminant color planes. Journal of Vision, 19(1), 9-9.

To, M. P., & Tolhurst, D. J. (In prep). The relationship between aesthetic appeal and predicted neural processing.

Calum Hartley (Psychology)

I am broadly interested in communication and social-cognition in both typical and atypical development. I would be very happy to discuss any project ideas that fall within these areas. Alternatively, I am particularly keen to supervise projects investigating the following specific topics:

1. Symbolic understanding.

The ability to acquire symbol systems is absolutely vital to human cognition. In order to become an effective communicator, infants must acquire understanding of multiple symbol systems that vary in their complexity (e.g. gestures, words, pictures, models, maps etc). One possibility would be to plot how infants’ ability to comprehend and communicate via different systems emerges and inter-relates over time. It would be especially interesting to examine how this developmental pathway might differ for infants who are diagnosed, or at risk of being diagnosed, with a developmental disorder (e.g. Down Syndrome and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder).

2. Word learning

Word learning is crucial for children’s social and educational development. To learn and use a word, one must establish a lasting relation between a phonological pattern and a semantic category. Once a spoken word has been identified, the process of mapping to meaning can be separated into multiple stages, including: (1) referent selection; identification of a word’s intended meaning, (2) retention; storage of the word-referent pairing in long-term memory enabling later retrieval, and (c) generalisation; appropriate extension of the word to new category members. One possible project would involve examining how these processes differ in infants who are diagnosed, or at risk of being diagnosed, with a developmental disorder that is characterised by atypical language acquisition. Another option would be to investigate the emergence of the ‘shape bias’ in typical development. By 24 months, typically developing children infer the general rule that noun-referent relations are constrained by shape, and will generalise labels based on this feature rather than other perceptual properties (e.g. colour, size, texture; Landau, Smith & Jones, 1988). It would be very interesting to document how shape pulls away from other perceptual cues to become the key basis for extending labels to novel objects.

Relevant publications:

Hartley, C., & Allen, M. (2015). Is children’s naming and drawing of pictures mediated by representational status? Evidence from typical development and autism. Cognitive Development, 36, 52 – 67. doi:

Hartley, C., & Allen, M. (2015). Iconicity influences how effectively minimally verbal children with autism and ability-matched typically developing children use pictures as symbols in a search task. Autism, 19, 570–579doi:10.1177/1362361314536634

Allen, M., Hartley, C., & Cain, K. (2015). Do iPads promote symbolic understanding and word learning in children with autism? Frontiers in Psychology, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00138.

Hartley, C., & Allen, M. (2015). Symbolic understanding of pictures in low-functioning children with autism: The effects of iconicity and naming. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 15–30. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-2007-4.

Hartley, C., & Allen, M. (2014). Intentions vs. resemblance: Understanding pictures in typical development and autism. Cognition, 131, 44–59doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.12.009.

Hartley, C., & Allen, M. (2014). Generalisation of word-picture relations in children with autism and typically developing children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 2064–2071doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2074-1.

Eugenio Parise (Psychology)

My research focuses on social cognition in preverbal infants up to 12-months-old. I am interested in the cognitive basis of communication, investigating the cognitive and neural underpinnings of infants as recipients of communicative signals directed to them. My working hypothesis is that these communicative signals, also known as ostensive signals, allow infants to understand they are on the receptive end of communication and enable fast and efficient social learning of generic information such as categorical understanding and cultural transmission. I study the effect of ostensive communication on a variety of topics, such as object processing, word learning and referential understanding, categorisation processes, using a variety of neuroscience methods, such as EEG, ERP, Time-Frequency analysis, fNIRS, as well as behavioural methods such as preferential looking, habituation.

Applications from PG students with a master degree in philosophy and a strong interest in the theoretical aspects of cognitive development are strongly encouraged. This is a great opportunity to gain a invaluable experience in empirical science, by combining their theoretical knowledge to the most modern neuroscience methods in order to answer cutting edges questions on infants cognitive development.

Relevant publications:

Forgács, B., Parise, E., Csibra, G., Gergely, G., Jacquey, L., & Gervain, J. (in press). Fourteen-month-old infants track the language comprehension of communicative partners. Developmental Science.

Linnert, S., Tóth, B., Nagy, M., Parise, E., & Király, I. (2017). Neural signatures of recognition memory in 10- to 12-month-old infants. Neuropsychologia.

Kampis, D., Parise, E., Csibra, G., & Kovács, A. M. (2015). Neural signatures for sustaining object representations attributed to others in preverbal human infants. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 282(1819).

Parise, E., & Csibra, G. (2013). Neural Responses to Multimodal Ostensive Signals in 5-Month-Old Infants. PLoS ONE, 8(8), e72360 EP –. doi:doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072360

Parise, E., & Csibra, G. (2012). Electrophysiological Evidence for the Understanding of Maternal Speech by 9-Month-Old Infants. Psychological Science : a Journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 23(7), 728–733. doi:10.1177/0956797612438734

Katie Alcock (Psychology)

My research is in two areas: the influence of health and culture on infant development, especially in international settings, and early communicative development, especially individual differences and the use of parent report. I’d be interested in supervising projects that touch on one or possibly both of these areas.

The impact of health and culture on infant development: Here I have previously collaborated on large scale projects looking at the effects of ill health and health interventions, as well as parental education and parenting styles, across cultures. I’d be very interested in supervising projects in such areas again, as well as smaller more directly cross-cultural projects, such as an ongoing EU funded study looking at parenting influences on early executive function development in three cultures.

Early vocabulary and gesture development, and parent report: I’m the PI on the UK-CDI project which has one of the largest normative datasets ever collected using Communicative Development Inventories (CDIs), with data from over 1600 UK infants. Using these data we anticipate following up to investigate further UK regional and socio-economic differences in early communicative development, as well as to examine what seems to be a very intriguing difference in the composition of early spoken words depending on the age they are learned at – is this reflected for example in word learning mechanisms at these ages? We would also like to take further novel methods in parent report, such as the use of apps including those with video prompts for hard-to-describe behaviours.

My European and East African CDI work has extended into Southern Africa and tougher with a team at the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University I have created CDIs for five (and counting) Southern African languages, and we are moving into looking at infant directed speech and the features of it that boost toddlers’ language in developing country settings.

Relevant publications:

Prado, E. L., Alcock, K. J., Muadz, H., Ullman, M. T., & Shankar, A. H. (2012). Maternal Multiple Micronutrient Supplements and Child Cognition: A Randomized Trial in Indonesia. Pediatrics, 130(3), e536-e546.

Nampijja, M., Apule, B., Lule, S., Akurut, H., Muhangi, L., Webb, E. L., . . . Alcock, K. J. (2012). Effects of maternal worm infections and anthelminthic treatment during pregnancy on infant motor and neurocognitive functioning. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 18(06), 1019-1030.

Alcock, K., Rimba, K., Holding, P., Kitsao-Wekulo, P., Abubakar, A., & Newton, C. (2014). Developmental inventories using illiterate parents as informants: Communicative Development Inventory (CDI) adaptation for two Kenyan languages. Journal of Child Language, 1-23.

Baker, M., Schafer, G., Alcock, K. J., & Bartlett, S. (2013). A parentally administered cognitive development assessment for children from 10 to 24 months. Infant Behavior and Development, 36(2), 279-287.

Margriet Groen (Psychology)

My main research interest is in the association between children’s language and literacy development. I focus on how children build representations of the sound structure of their native language that optimally support language and literacy development. An important early predictor of reading skill is the child’s knowledge of the individual speech sounds in their language. Although speech perception skills have been thought to underlie the development of rich (i.e., “robust”, “well-specified”, “stable”) speech sound representations, speech motor skills have received far less attention. Recent work suggests, however, that the interactionbetween perception and production is crucial in developing speech sound representations. So far this has been investigated in children of 4 years of age and older.

I’d welcome proposals for projects that focus on the role of speech production skills and their interaction with speech perception in the development of speech sound representations in younger children (< 4 years). Investigating associations with individual differences in early word learning and early literacy skills would be of great interest. 

 Relevant papers:

Van den Bunt, M. R., Groen, M. A., Ito, T., Francisco, A. A., Gracco, V. L., Pugh, K. R., & Verhoeven, L. (2017). Increased response to altered auditory feedback in dyslexia: A weaker sensorimotor magnet implied in the phonological deficit. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60 (3), 654–667.

Van den Bunt, M. R., Groen, M. A., Frost, S., Lau, A., Preston, J. L., Gracco, V. L., Pugh, K. R., & Verhoeven, L. T. W. (2018) Sensorimotor Control of Speech and Children’s Reading Ability, Scientific Studies of Reading, 22 (6), 503-516.

 Franken, M. K., Acheson, D. J., McQueen, J. M., Eisner, F., & Hagoort, P. (2017). Individual variability as a window on production-perception interactions in speech motor control. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 142 (4), 2007–2018.

Preston, J. L., Hull, M., & Edwards, M. L. (2013). Preschool speech error patterns predict articulation and phonological awareness outcomes in children with histories of speech sound disorders. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 22 (2),173–184.

Kate Cain (Psychology)

Research interests: language and literacy development, from preschool to adolescence

Possible project: Perspective taking during narrative comprehension

Narratives are accounts of fictional or autobiographical events that are linked in an organised and structured way (Petersen, Gillam, & Gillam, 2008). Children are surrounded by narratives from an early age, through the sharing of storybooks and autobiographical memories.

Adults keep track of and also simulate the events and actions described in narrative: for example, they track the physical location of characters and respond to story information as though they themselves are in the physical location. Further, linguistic cues (such as pronouns) influence whether they adopt, and therefore encode, a story character’s perspective or that of an onlooker. There is contradictory evidence about when such skills emerge in children and the drivers of narrative comprehension. Whilst some research indicates emergent perspective taking between 2 to 3 years, other work indicates that competence emerging between 4 to 5 years or even later. However, there is emerging evidence that language and memory skills in 2 to 3 year olds predict narrative abilities up to 10 years of age.

Proposals for projects that focus on the identification of the early language and cognitive skills that predict and drive narrative performance are welcomed. In particular, the use of implicit measures such as eye tracking paradigms to study emergent perspective taking and narrative comprehension could we used to identify emerging competence in this area.

Examples of some of papers on the narrative comprehension of preschool children are:

Language and Reading Research Consortium. (2015). The dimensionality of language ability in young children. Child Development, 86, 1948-1965.

Silva, M. T., & Cain, K. (2015). The relations between lower- and higher-level oral language skills and their role in prediction of early reading comprehension Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 321-331.

Silva, M., Straesser, K., & Cain, K. (2014). Early narrative skills in Chilean preschool: Questions scaffold the production of coherent narratives. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29, 205-213.

Possible project: Keeping track of time: how children encode temporal information in situation models

When we process language for meaning, we construct a coherent mental representation of the state of affairs described, rather than the specific words and syntactic structures. When encoding the temporal sequence of events, our mental representation corresponds to the chronological order in which the events occur in the real world: the first occurring event is followed by the second, and so forth. However, speakers do not always describe events in their actual order: Temporal connectives allow us to describe the events in both a chronological order, such as ‘She played in the park, before she drank the juice’, or in a reverse-chronological order ‘Before she drank the juice, she played in the park.’ This has implications for the processing of language: compared with sentences in which events are described chronologically, children are less accurate at comprehending sentences in which events are described in reverse-chronological order and adults expend more cognitive effort when processing such sentences for meaning.

Our work to date has identified that both memory and language influence understanding of temporal connectives to describe event order between 3 to 7 years of age. Projects to investigate the factors that explain the development of younger children’s temporal comprehension are welcomed. A variety of research methods can be used including corpus analysis in conjunction with colleagues in linguistics (, to determine how the early language environment fosters temporal comprehension, and ERPs to obtain implicit measures of emerging competence.

Examples of some of papers on children’s understanding of temporal connectives are:

Blything, L., Davies, R., & Cain, K. (2015). Young children’s comprehension of temporal relations in complex sentences: the influence of memory on performance. Child Development, 86, 1922-1934.

Cain, K., & Nash, H. (2011). The influence of connectives on young readers’ processing and comprehension of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 429-441.

Jessica Wang (Psychology)

I’m interested in the ways in which young children become able to understand other people’s minds (including perspectives, knowledge, beliefs, etc.). The mastery of this skill allows children to become successful navigators of the social world. It is thought that children as young as 2 years of age are sensitive to what others see and know (O’Neill et al., 1992). By the time children pass their 4th birthday, they are able to explicitly talk about others’ “false belief” (Wimmer & Perner, 1983). This suggests that between 2 and 4 years of age, children undergo a vast amount of developmental changes in preparation for adult-like social interactions.

I would be very happy to supervise PhD projects examining the critical changes in children’s social cognitive abilities between 2 and 4 years of age. It is expected that a combination of eye-tracking techniques and behavioural paradigms will be employed during the PhD.

Possible projects include (but not limited to):

  • Implicit and explicit Theory of Mind understanding (with Silke Brandt from Linguistics)

There has been much debate in the theory of mind literature about whether we have a single system underlying all levels of mindreading or that there are two distinct systems responsible for the simpler but faster versus the complex and slower types of mindreading. A developmental approach can offer unique insight into this debate, as we can observe the emergence and interaction of mindreading abilities based on two possible systems.

  • Early sensitivity to others’ perspectives and knowledge

How do children become attuned to others’ perspectives? Do children behave differently towards those who have a different perspective to themselves compared to those who share their perspectives? In which contexts are children likely to attend to others’ perspectives?

  • Using others’ perspectives in communication

What happens after children have acquired a conceptual understanding that others may have different perspectives to themselves? What are the developmental steps needed for children to be able to use others’ perspective in communication?

Relevant publications:

Meert, G., Wang, J., & Samson, D. (2017). Efficient belief tracking in adults: The role of task instruction, low-level associative processes and dispositional social functioning. Cognition, 168, 91-98.

Wang, J.J., Ali, M., Frisson, S., & Apperly, I. A. (2016). Language complexity modulates 8- and 10-year-olds’ success at using their theory of mind abilities in a communication task. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 149, 62-71.

Charlie Lewis (Psychology)

I am interested in the development of social understanding in infants, toddlers and the early preschool period. My research examines patterns of developmental change in the acquisition of social cognitive skills. I have a longstanding interest in preschoolers’ grasp of a range of mental states including commonly studied topics like beliefs, desires and pre tense, but also less commonly researched topics like irony. Over the coming year I will be analysing data and writing up to projects: the first an analysis of infant ‘false belief’ studies and, the second, longitudinal research on two year olds’ grasp of mental states. This has led me to rethink the possible so-called ‘dark ages’ of children’s understanding of the mind in the toddler years.

I am very interested in working with PhD students on developing these ideas about social understanding in the second and third years of life. This could materialise in two key ways. First, it could involve exploring whether the skills demonstrated in our infancy studies relate to those which emerge in the third year. As this would involve longitudinal research designs, there is scope for developing statistical techniques for teasing apart such longitudinal patterns. We have been working with item response theory analyses to model performance of preschoolers and this work could be extended down into the toddler period. Secondly, I am interested in reopening research on the roles of pretence, co-operation and deception in toddlers’ grasp of mental states. This would involve the design of new experimental methods, and possibly training or microgenetic designs, for studying toddlers’ abilities.

John Towse (Psychology)

Relevant research interests include a focus on understanding behavioural control, working memory, and the development of numerical and mathematical skills prior to and alongside formal instruction (ie schooling)

Possible projects:

The development of knowledge and goal focus (with Charlie Lewis, Psychology): There is widespread recognition that “executive functioning” plays a major role in the emergence of skilful performance and behavioural regulation in children. Moreover, we know that “executive functioning” is not a single or unidimensional construct, but an amalgam of a complex web of attributes that can serve to direct action and thoughts towards targeted intentions and plans.

In this project, we seek to explore how a focus on goals, and the their maintenance in performance, contributes to behavioural control. Early work has established that a loss of goal focus – also known as goal neglect – is linked to performance on some seminal tasks amongst preschool children (Towse, Lewis and Knowles, 2007). The current project will seek to understand the developmental trajectory of goal focus using multiple and convergent methodologies.

Understanding early number skills. This project focuses on the numerical principles that provide a foundation for the successful teaching on number in schools. Project work will focus on the cognitive architecture that supports numerical computations (eg working memory capacities) and conceptual underpinnings (eg number scaling, number representations, multi-digit number values, the use of the approximate number system, etc) for number work. The work will attempt to identify the emergence in children of numerical concepts that support numerical cognition before and alongside school teaching.

Tamara Rakić (Psychology)

In today’s world, with increased mobility and heterogeneous societies, understanding how we form impressions of individuals is crucial for preventing discrimination. Thinking of the NHS with around 25% of international staff, it is important to understand how these employees are actually perceived by potential (mostly British) patients. It is also especially critical to understand how these processes might change over the life span of different individuals. Previous research has looked separately (or in a pair) at different aspects of person perception, such as labels, accents, appearance, or stereotypes. Indeed, it has been shown that preschool children show a very clear bias for native over foreign accents, especially when it comes to perceived trust and choice of friends. The aim of the proposed project is to systematically investigate how different occupations (i.e., doctor vs. nurse vs. receptionist) are perceived in terms of their competence and warmth based on gender, appearance-ethnicity (White, Black, east Asian, Indian), accent (different UK regional accents as well as the main foreign accents present in UK), and whether they are British or not. The novelty of this project is in combining all of these aspects (labels, appearances, accents, and stereotypes) together in a unique way. For example, hearing a male doctor speaking with a Lancashire accent can be perceived differently if they were previously introduced as non British (i.e., as stereotype-incongruent), and this might further be altered if their appearance indicates different ethnicity (e.g., Indian appearance). Are children likely to perceive this doctor as equally competent and trustworthy as a female white British doctor with a Lancashire accent? The current set of proposed studies aims at significantly advancing our understanding of person perception by providing a comprehensive investigation of how preschool children evaluate unknown individuals based on complex combinations of categories, including gender, occupation, appearance, ethnicity, accent, and nationality. This will allow a better understanding of how these processes develop over time as well as how they might be influenced by a social context (multicultural or not). Additionally, with help of eye tracking measures we will test which of these different combinations are perceived as stereotype-consistent or inconsistent (i.e., expected or unexpected, respectively).


Hansen, K., Rakić, T., & Steffens, M. C., (in press). Competent and warm? How mismatching appearance and accent influence first impressions. Experimental Psychology.

Kinzler, K. D., Corriveau, K. H., & Harris, P. L. (2011). Children’s selective trust in native-accented speakers. Developmental Science, 14(1), 106-111.

Kinzler, K. D., Shutts, K., Dejesus, J., & Spelke, E. S. (2009). Accent trumps race in guiding children’s social preferences. Social Cognition, 27(4), 623-634.

Rakić, T., Steffens, M. C., & Mummendey, A. (2011). Blinded by the accent! The minor role of looks in ethnic categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(1), 16-29.

Rakić, T., Steffens, M.C., & Mummendey, A. (2011). When it matters how you pronounce it: The influence of regional accents on job interview outcome. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 868-883.

Dina Lew (Psychology)

Research interests: Development of parallel spatial memory systems in human infants

Possible project: All mobile animals need to solve problems of navigation. There has been a long-standing division in spatial navigation research between cognitive mapping systems, where locations are coded with respect to their relations to environmental landmarks, and spatial memory based on habitual sequences of behaviour, such as making particular turns at choice points along a route. While there have been demonstrations of the operation of these parallel memory systems in human adults (e.g. Doeller et al., 2008, PNAS: 105; 5915), it has been harder to gauge the developmental trajectory of the systems, (Bullens et al., 2009, Dev Sci: 13; 170). This project would involve an adaptation of a classic paradigm in order to investigate the developmental trajectory of the parallel spatial memory systems in 2-4-year-old children. The project can also include a connectionist modeling component, as a way of trying to understand the processes underlying developmental change.

Supervisors: Dr Dina Lew (with focus on the experimental component) and Prof. Gert Westermann (computational component).

Relevant publications:

Lew, A. R., Usherwood, B., Fragkioudaki, F., Koukoumi, V., Smith, S. P., Austen, J. M. & McGregor, A. (2014). Transfer of spatial search between environments in human adults and young children (Homo sapiens): implications for representation of local geometry by spatial systems. Developmental Psychobiology, 56, 421-434.

Lew, A. R. (2011). Looking Beyond the Boundaries: Time to Put Landmarks Back on the Cognitive Map? Psychological Bulletin, 137, 484-507.

Lew, A. R., Gibbon, B., Murphy, C. & Bremner, J. G. (2010). Use of geometry for spatial reorientation in children only applies to symmetrical spaces. Developmental Science, 13, 490-498.