Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholars

Entry 2018 (Faculty studentships)

Xiaoyun Chen

For my PhD, I am studying the curiosity-driven learning mechanisms of infants. Curiosity as a basic component of cognition plays a role of creating motivation in our learning. People learn more when they are curious than when they are not. My research interests will focus on how curiosity enhances infants’ learning and what the behavioural and neural mechanisms behind this are. I will be using interdisciplinary methods to explore the answers to these questions. Before I completed my MSc in Developmental disorders at Lancaster University in 2017, I worked with autistic children for almost two years. After graduation from Lancaster University, I worked as a research assistant at a brain institute (BCBDI, Shenzhen). Now I am so grateful to have this opportunity to continue and explore my research interests here.

Kimberley Hudspeth

I am investigating the way in which young infants engage with tablet computers, and how this relates to their engagement in gesturing, joint and sustained attention, and their overall cognitive development. Tablets are being introduced to children at younger and younger ages, and the popularity of these devices has soared over recent years. The academic literature is somewhat lacking in how these interactions affect very young children and their development, so I hope to provide an original insight into how these devices can influence children under the age of three. I previously completed my BSc in Psychology here at Lancaster, as well as my MSc in the Psychology of Advertising, and am thrilled to be continuing my studies at Lancaster as a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar.

Charlotte Rothwell

I studied my Psychology (BSc) at Lancaster University, volunteering as a research assistant on numerous developmental psychology projects throughout, as well as undertaking an independent developmental research project for my undergraduate dissertation. My enjoyment of and enthusiasm for developmental research motivated my application for the Leverhulme Doctoral Trust Scholarship, and I embarked on a PhD investigating word learning in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 


Restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests are defining characteristics of ASD, which affect the ability of children with ASD to engage with their environment, and consequently learn language. My research aims to investigate the relationship between atypical attentional mechanisms in ASD, and linguistic deficits. This will be done using interactive touch screens, giving the opportunity to obtain data through behavioural methods such as reaction times and coding, as well as eye-tracking. Ultimately, this project will advance understanding of language deficits in ASD, and could inform educational interventions by combining preferential interests and linguistic tasks to enhance vocabulary development. 

Entry 2017

Rachael W Cheung

My research investigates the learning mechanisms of late-talking children. Late talkers generally improve to reach the same productive vocabulary range as their peers, but a small proportion develop more severe difficulties. Increasing evidence also suggests late talkers perform worse than their counterparts on reading and language tasks later on. However, it remains difficult to distinguish between those who will struggle and those who will not, making any early detection or intervention problematic. My research investigates how late talkers learn language, how this changes over time, and how this affects their understanding of non-verbal symbols and communication. I am from London and have a background in Medicine (University of Manchester). As a clinician, I often work with the late outcomes of pathology rather than with preventative factors. My clinical work motivated me to conduct research that improves how we understand early experiences and how we treat them. Before coming to Lancaster, I was a junior doctor in psychiatry, studied Developmental Neuroscience and Psychopathology (MSc, UCL) and spent a year at Yale University conducting developmental fMRI research.

Leigh Keating

For my PhD I am investigating the mechanisms underlying young children’s category formation and language learning, specifically how this processes might be disrupted or delayed in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). I am particularly interested in the ‘shape bias’: the preference for generalizing labels to new exemplars on the basis of shape over other perceptual features such as colour. I plan to use touch screen technology and computer modelling to investigate how differing task demands affect the shape bias in both typical development and ASD.I completed my MSc Psychological Research Methods here at Lancaster as a part-time student and am thrilled to be able to continue my research full-time now as a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar.  

Shirly Ma

After Having finished my MSc (Developmental Psychology) in Lancaster and gained working experiences in China, I am excited to come back for a PhD as a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar. I am interested in how emotions perceived by infants influence their ability of word learning under “Fast Mapping” paradigm, which is a strategy used to learn novel things in surrounding world. My PhD will investigate whether perceived emotions facilitate infants to map a novel label to its referent and the neuroscience underneath this process. In addition, I will also look into how infants process emotional expressions when they learning novel label-object mappings as well as to what extend they relate emotional information to the new learned things. The future study may also explore the culture differences of this specific field. The technology I will employ in my research is eye tracking, EEG and perhaps fNIRS.

I am from China and I studied Applied Psychology (BSc) in Dalian Medical University.

Samantha Russell

I have worked with young children for a number of years, in both education and health roles, before completing my master’s degree in Developmental Psychology at Lancaster University in 2017. I am now delighted to have this opportunity as a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar to explore the emergence of social, emotional, and cognitive capacities in infants and young children. Specifically, my PhD research aims to examine the development of perspective taking by young children, in response to oral narratives. The influences of simultaneous cognitive and social development and early experiences of narrative on perspective taking in young children has not been previously examined. As such, this work has the potential to provide critical evidence for modelling narrative comprehension in pre-readers and extend our understanding of literacy development.

Entry 2016

Marina Bazhydai

I am interested in using interdisciplinary methods to investigate the developmental precursors of social communication and knowledge transmission in preverbal infants. My current project looks at social engagement initiation by infants in presence of various social and non-social stimuli. I am also interested in infants’ active use of ostensive cues to provide information to ignorant others in situations of unequal distribution of knowledge. My interest in these topics has grown out of my graduate coursework in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and research experience at Harvard and Yale developmental psychology labs.

Jacky Chan

I am interested in the early development of children, in particular how they acquire language and what roles language plays in their cognition. My PhD will investigate word learning in bilingual children and how this can be supported in pre-school settings. More specifically, I will compare how bilingual and monolingual children utilise different strategies to learn words. My research will also look at how pre-school staff currently communicate with bilingual children, in particular those who use English as an additional language (EAL), and identify, devise, and evaluate strategies that pre-school staff can use to foster language development in bilingual children. I intend to use a combination of experimental, observational and intervention studies in my research. I am from Hong Kong, but I have already spent five years in Lancaster! I completed both my undergraduate (BSc Hons Psychology) and master’s (MSc Developmental Disorders) studies at Lancaster University.

Nina Harrison

Prior to my enrolment on this scholarship, my first experience of independent developmental research came a year earlier in the form of my undergraduate project at Lancaster University. This fortuitous experience ultimately motivated my application; a logical progression, allowing me to further my understanding of infant development and contribute some of my own ideas. Now, my primary research interests reside in investigating infants’ cross-modal correspondences, their developmental trajectories, and how culture-specific use of linguistic metaphor might selectively shape cross-modal sensitivity. The abundance of cross-cultural differences, such as metaphor prevalence and use within language, provide interesting opportunities to gain a better insight into the mechanisms driving cross-modal development and the ways in which they can differ as a function of language use.

Priya Silverstein

I have just begun my PhD at Lancaster University, studying how infants comprehend pointing gestures. The ability to refer to objects and events is one of the most important parts of human communication. Around 10-14 months, infants start to produce their first words, and by 11 months they produce their first pointing gestures. My PhD will be focused on the question of whether or not infants understand that pointing gestures are referential (i.e., that the gesturer intends to refer to something by using this gesture). I will be using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and electroencephalography (EEG) to answer this question. Before coming to Lancaster, I completed my undergraduate and master’s degrees at Aston University (studying psychology and then cognitive neuroscience). I also worked as a research assistant at the University of Warwick Communication Development Lab. This is what got me interested in infant research, and specifically how it can help us understand the development and evolution of communication.

Bethany Wainwright

My research aims to discover new methods of enhancing and facilitating referential understanding and label learning in both typically developing (TD) infants and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is currently known that enhancing visual iconicity to a transparent level (coloured photographs) enhances referential understanding in both TD and ASD populations more so than opaque images (line drawings). However, the extent to which iconicity can be increased is limited in traditional picture books. Therefore, my first study aims to enhance visual iconicity further than the 2D limits of printed images through the medium of the iPad, allowing 3D rotating animations to be presented and compared to 2D static images. It is hypothesised that 3D images will greater enhance referential understanding in both typically and atypically developing populations due to the increased visual context provided to participants. Overall, this research could have clinical implications regarding language interventions for children with ASD and also inform which contexts maximise learning and symbolic understanding in TD infants.

Anna Wieclawska

Having studied at Lancaster University as an undergraduate, I am now excited to embark on a PhD as a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar. In the literature, there is growing evidence that infants appreciate cross-modal correspondences. That is, they recognise interactions between different dimensions of sensory perception. So far we know that infants as young as 4 months associate auditory pitch with visual size, angularity and visuo-spatial height. Other research has demonstrated the semantic power of prosody in infant-direct speech, particularly how it can be used to facilitate word learning. My research project aims to bridge the gap between cross-modal correspondences and language development. Specifically, I will explore whether the cross-modal correspondence infants are sensitive to might be capitalised on to aid the acquisition of language. If infants naturally detect correspondences between auditory pitch and some visual properties of objects, it might then be possible to teach which object a new word refers to by manipulating the prosody in which it is spoken.

Entry 2015

Arthur Capelier-Mourguy

I’m interested in the interferences between categorization and word-referent learning in infants. During my PhD, I will start by identifying the mechanisms by which infants switch the scope at which they learn categories, and how adding a label on the to-be-categorized objects could help this changing of scope. For example, one child could first learn what a dog is (base-level category), and attempt to learn the wider category mammal or the narrower category beagle. In the former case, the child will have to focus on common features among all mammals, stopping considering they specific features of the particular category “dogs”. In the latter case, the child will have to enhance his attentional focus on particular features that will distinguish very similar dogs into particular subordinate categories. Labeling objects could be a sufficient clue to change the level of attention to be devoted to visual features for categorization.

Shirley Cheung

I am interested in how language background affects speech perception. Do infants who learn two languages perceive new languages differently than infants who are learning only one language? Some studies have argued that bilinguals’ linguistic perceptual systems are less committed than monolinguals given the greater variability in language input, allowing their neural networks to remain ‘open’ for a longer period of time.

My PhD examines whether bilinguals elicit greater neural plasticity than monolinguals during phonemic perception tasks. I use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to localise brain activity in infants and adults. fNIRS is a non-invasive neuroimaging technique that measures blood-oxygen levels at the surface of the cortex. Future work may involve finding new methods to ‘reopen’ perceptual systems that have once been closed and the effect of social interaction on language-learning.

Marina Loucaides

Infants from a very young age enhance their learning through play, which I find very interesting as this is the main pathway towards learning for them. My PhD focuses on the understanding of how infants use their eye gaze during playing and labelling events of novel toys and whether physical interaction with a novel toy could facilitate the learning of labels. For my study I am using a brand new eye-tracking technology. The head-mounted eye-trackers allow the infants to move naturally while the cameras capture the scene in front of them and where exactly they look. Therefore, this technology gives to the researchers the opportunity to study infant development in more naturalistic settings, which is fascinating. I am coming from Cyprus and I studied Psychology in Education (BSc) and Developmental Disorders (MSc) at Lancaster University.

Ellie Smith

My current research project seeks to further understand the relationship between auditory P50 sensory gating, gamma oscillations and individuals with Schizotypy. I aim to address whether the offspring of adults with Schizotypy also display sensory gating abnormalities previously observed in first-degree relatives. Additionally, a psychosocial element of my research aims to illustrate the relationship between adult attachment style and schizotypy, and the association between infantile attachment and P50 sensory gating abilities.