Developmental Psychology

How do we develop an understanding of the world around us? We look at cognitive, social, emotional and language development from before birth through to adolescence.

A researcher conducting an experiment with a baby in an EEG cap


Enhancing wonder and curiosity through educational travel programmes
01/10/2023 → 30/09/2024

Investigating the origins of the ‘achievement gap’: the effects of adversity
01/08/2023 → 31/03/2025

The Future of Human Reproduction: new agendas and methods for the Humanities and Social Sciences
22/04/2022 → 22/07/2025

Studying how communicative touch between an infant and her carer enhances multisensory perception: evidence from behavioural and physiological measures
15/03/2022 → 30/12/2022

Validation study of Wonder Chart and Wonder-full Education Questionnaire in British school children
01/03/2021 → 31/03/2025

Early Career Fellowship: Mapping the Origins of Early Social Processing
01/01/2018 → 31/03/2022

AFFECTIVA - Personalize Technologies for Mental Health
01/10/2016 → 30/09/2020

Auditory-Visual Congruence and Young Infants' Perception of Object Persistence
01/04/2015 → 31/12/2019

Infants facial muscular responses to static emotional expressions
01/04/2015 → 30/08/2016

fEC Code: LUCID: The ESRC Centre for Language and Communicative Development
01/10/2014 → …

LUCID: Centre for Language and Communicative Development
01/09/2014 → 31/05/2020

Effects of Types of Service Provision and Consultation Interactions on Carer Adaptation to Childhood Epilepsy
01/04/2014 → 01/07/2018

In the world of social sounds: infant processing of human action sounds
01/04/2014 → 31/03/2015

Investigating Cross Cultural Differences
01/12/2013 → 30/11/2015

Understanding Reading Difficulties in Children with Rolandic Epilepsy
01/10/2013 → 31/12/2014

Understanding light in the late term human fetus: Proof of conception for social research
01/09/2013 → 31/08/2015

Young Infants' Awareness of Object Identity and Number: Evaluating Arithmetic Reasoning, Object File and Object Tracking Accounts
01/05/2013 → 31/07/2017

North West Doctoral Training Centre (ESRC)
01/01/2013 → …

Opportunities for bilingualism in preschool and school age children with developmental disabilities
01/09/2012 → 29/03/2015

Use of iPads for communication by children with special needs
01/02/2012 → …

Do young Children Understand the flexibility of visual Symbols?
30/06/2008 → 01/07/2009

Research Activity

Our research group has wide-ranging expertise in issues of human development. We investigate cognitive, language, social and emotional development from before birth through to adolescence. In particular, within the various labs of the group, our research focuses on the development of perceptual, social, and cognitive abilities, how information is learnt and transmitted, typical and atypical language development (especially word and grammar learning, and discourse-level comprehension), typical and atypical literacy development, hearing and listening impairments, and childhood mental health.

We are fortunate to have one of the largest Babylabs in the world, comprising the entire ground floor of a dedicated research building, with child- and parent-friendly facilities and dedicated parking. Our facilities include multiple observational laboratories with cutting-edge equipment to enable sensitive recording of young infants’, toddlers’ and older children’s abilities, including eye-tracking technology, electroencephalography (EEG), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRs), electromyography (EMG), 4D Ultrasound foetal scanning, heart rate detection, galvanic skin response, and infrared motion capture.

Our research attracts funding from public bodies, such as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), including the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); Horizon 2020 and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH; US); and also charities, such as The Leverhulme Trust, The British Academy, Nuffield Foundation, and The Waterloo Foundation. We work with many UK and international Universities and publish in leading journals such as: Psychological Review, NeuroImage: Clinical, Developmental Science, Child Development, Journal of Educational Psychology, Educational Research Review, Scientific Reports, Cognition and Current Biology.

In addition to the academic impact of our work, we are highly engaged with public audiences, for example National Deaf Children’s Society, Birth Companions, Amplify Reading, AIM Academy (US), Wandle Learning Partnership, Autistica, and WordWorks. We are also active within the local community, giving talks to local schools, educators, clinicians and practitioners; providing research expertise on programme evaluation; participating in events such as Light Up Lancaster, Campus in the City; and meeting local families through parenting groups and our own on-campus events.


Foetal and Newborn Learning Laboratory

Dr K Dunn in collaboration with Professor Vincent Reid, Waikato University, NZ

Our team investigates understanding of the visual and auditory world in utero. Extensive work has been conducted into postnatal cognitive development from birth but very little is known about how perception and cognition might develop before this point. For example, newborn infants have a visual preference for face-like stimuli, can discriminate between small sets of numbers and can match mouth movements to simple speech sounds. Our work examines whether infants develop these preferences and capacities before birth, whether the prenatal environment influences development, or if babies learn these quickly once exposed to the postnatal environment.

We use low levels of light to present images to the late-term fetus and use the latest 4D scanning technology to measure detailed facial behaviour in response to visual and auditory stimuli. We then compare responses to the same shapes and sounds after birth. This will help us to understand more about how learning takes place and how infants understand other people during very early development.

This work is currently funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund, and the Nuffield Foundation.

Foetal Learning Laboratory

Language and Communicative Development

Professor Padraic Monaghan

We explore how children learn language from what they see and hear around them; and integrate evidence from behavioural studies, measures of brain activity and computational models to understand how children learn a language in their first five years of life. We also investigate how language delay may occur in young children and explore whether differences between children and differences in their environments affect how they learn to talk. An additional strand of research investigates how sleep affects learning, in children and adults, and how sleep disorders might impact on language acquisition. Our research is funded by an ESRC Research Centre, in collaboration with researchers at Liverpool and Manchester Universities.

Language and Communicative Development

Developmental Cognitive Science Lab

Professor Gert Westermann

In the Developmental Cognitive Science lab we study how infants and young children acquire knowledge of the world and the factors that shape individual learning trajectories. We do research on infants’ learning about objects, categories and social partners in their environment, and on how beginning language abilities contribute to and shape this learning. A focus in our work is on curiosity-based learning: how do infants and toddlers explore their environment actively, and how does such active exploration differ in learning outcomes from passive exposure to information? We investigate how curiosity can be measured in infants, older children, and adults, what kinds of information elicits curiosity, if expression and manifestation of curiosity varies across cultures, and how we can characterize individual differences in curiosity-based learning. Insights into these questions will enable us to support children by providing environments that foster curiosity and active learning in pre-school and school settings.

In our work, we use eye tracking (including measures of pupil dilation), EEG, computational modelling, behavioural studies and surveys. Our research is funded by the ESRC LuCiD Centre in collaboration with researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Liverpool.

A mother and a baby playing together

Autism Lab

Dr Calum Hartley

Our research investigates how autistic children learn and seeks to identify environmental conditions that facilitate their learning. Many of our studies relate to three important aspects of development: 1. Word learning, 2. Symbolic understanding of pictures, and 3. Understanding of ownership. Our studies of word learning systematically investigate how autistic children identify, retain, and generalise the meanings of new vocabulary, and how these processes are influenced by presenting auditory and visual information in different ways. This research has implications for educational practitioners, such as speech and language therapists. Our studies of symbolic understanding investigate how minimally verbal autistic children’s comprehension of relationships between words, pictures and objects is influenced by various picture qualities (e.g. colour, detail, referential intent). This research can inform practitioners’ decisions concerning the types of symbols used when delivering picture-based interventions, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). Our studies of ownership understanding investigate differences between autistic and neurotypical children across many property-related phenomena, including the mere ownership effect, sensitivity to authentic ownership history, identification of ownership via possessive pronouns, motivation to defend ownership rights, and resource sharing behaviours. This research highlights that differences in ownership understanding may contribute to the difficulties faced by autistic children in social settings involving property.

Autism Lab

Active Learning Lab

Dr Marina Bazhydai

Research at the Active Learning Lab (ALL) broadly concerns development of knowledge acquisition, transformation and transmission in active social learning. We study active information-seeking and information-giving, curiosity, play and creativity across development. These distinct but connected lines of research allow us to better understand how, from very early on, infants effectively learn about the world through both active inquiry skills and reliance on information supplied by others. Equipped with these competing strategies, not only do children seek new information, but they are also able to creatively modify and transform it, as well as teach others about what they learned or created. We are thus interested in understanding the relations between curiosity, creativity and social knowledge exchange. We use behavioural, eye-tracking and physiological experimental methods, as well as naturalistic observation and surveys, and study a range of age groups, from infants in their first year of life to children in formal school settings. With these lines of research, we also aspire to contribute to transforming educational practices through developing evidence-based pedagogical recommendations.

Active Learning Lab

Paediatric Listening, Cognition and Neuroscience Laboratory (PELICAN Lab)

Dr Hannah Stewart

At the PELICAN Lab we study everyday hearing and listening in children. We work alongside the Lancaster University Babylab and have a dedicated paediatric auditory laboratory. We are currently working with primary school-aged children with normal hearing, hearing impairment and/or developmental disorders. To understand the underlying mechanisms of speech and non-speech listening we use behavioural and neuroimaging techniques alongside VR. We are especially interested in how children’s brains adapt to noisy environments and to using auditory technology, such as hearing aids.

Pelican Lab logo

Sounds for Reading

Dr Margriet Groen

We investigate how children build representations of the sound structure of their native language that optimally support reading development. Speech sounds are the fundamental building blocks of language. Within the first year of life, infants initially learn to tune their perception to be sensitive to speech sounds relevant in their native language and a little later start producing them. This type of ‘phonetic perception’ promotes the detection of patterns in sequences of speech sounds occurring in the ambient language, which advances word segmentation, and eventually word learning. Later on, an explicit ability to recognise, isolate and manipulate the sounds in a word (e.g., “cat” and “car” start with the same sound, or taking away the first sound in “clock” gives “lock”; referred to as ‘phonological awareness’) is an important predictor of success in learning to read. Indeed the ‘phonological deficit hypothesis’ is the most widely supported theory on the cause of reading difficulties, but the nature and cause of this deficit is still unknown.

Current lines of research investigate how children use visual speech information and how speech perception interacts with speech production in the development of speech sound representations. We are particularly interested in how these things differ in children who struggle with learning to read (including children with developmental dyslexia or developmental language disorder).

We use an interdisciplinary combination of methods drawing from the fields of cognitive science, neuroscience, psycholinguistics and educational science. We combine well-controlled experimental studies with developmental designs focussing on individual differences.

A child reading a book

Lancaster University Language and Literacy Unit (LULLU)

Professor Kate Cain

LULLU is a team of research scientists working to understand how language and literacy skills develop across childhood. A special focus of our work is reading and listening comprehension: how children understand what they are reading or listening to, and the language and memory skills that support comprehension and its development. Current projects include: the implementation and assessment of preschool language interventions, adolescent literacy, language learning from digital media, and the use of big data to understand reader engagement and development.

Our work is currently funded by: National Institute of Health – National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; British Academy – Global Challenges Research Fund; Economic and Social Research Council; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; and Horizon 2020 - Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network. We work with a range of partners including: AIM Academy, Amplify Reading, Wandle Learning Partnership, and WordWorks.

A child sat reading a book