MSc Developmental Cognitive Science

Seeks to enhance your understanding of key theoretical and practical issues about typical and atypical development in children and young people


How do children learn to reason in increasingly abstract ways? How do they learn language with such remarkable speed and fluidity? How do they use those reasoning and language skills to help them explain and understand people’s behaviour and emotions? These are examples of the types of questions that you will explore in this programme in Developmental Cognitive Science, an interdisciplinary field that brings together such disciplines as Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Computational Science, Neuroscience and Linguistics.

This unique programme draws on the University of Edinburgh’s long tradition of research expertise in developmental psychology and cognitive science and seeks to enhance your understanding of key theoretical and practical issues about typical and atypical development in children and young people. Using research techniques from different disciplines, you will gain the skills required to conduct independent scientific research that addresses key issues in developmental cognitive science.

Programme content and structure

This programme comprises 9 core courses, 2 optional courses and a dissertation.  Students have the opportunity to customise the programme to fit with their prior experience, intended dissertation topic and career goals.

Core courses (100 Credits)

  • Psychological Research Skills
  • Current Topics in Psychological Research
  • Introduction to Developmental Cognitive Science
  • Research methods for Developmental Cognitive Science
  • Seminar in Developmental Cognitive Science
  • Current Topics in Developmental Cognitive Science
  • Research internship in Developmental Cognitive Science
  • Univariate Statistics and Methodology using R
  • Multivariate Statistics and Methodology using R

Optional Courses (20 credits)

Students will choose from a wide range of relevant courses from within the school of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, as well as from schools across the University, such as Informatics and Health in Social Science.

Dissertation in Developmental Cognitive Science (60 Credits)

For the dissertation, you will conduct an independent research project supervised by a member of staff with similar interests. You will build up skills relevant to your project through the courses you take earlier in the programme and in particular by undertaking a research internship under the supervision of a member of staff.

Why study Developmental Cognitive Science at Edinburgh?

  • The programme is unique in focussing on a developmental cognitive science approach to typical and atypical development in children and young people
  • The University of Edinburgh has a long tradition of expertise in developmental psychology and in cognitive science, and is ideally placed to bring these two disciplines together in one programme. The university has expert academics specialising in this area not only in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences but in other schools across the University (e.g. Informatics)
  • Students will be taught by academics who have research expertise in two or more areas of the interdisciplinary area of developmental cognitive science
  • The programme team has excellent links with cognitive science researchers both within the school and beyond it
  • The programme team also has close associations with colleagues in the Centre for Research in Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, which conducts world-leading interdisciplinary research on aging and life-span development
  • The programme provides advanced training in research skills and offers access to excellent research facilities
  • The programme offers a research internship element for one semester, where students work in close collaboration with their prospective dissertation supervisor on a range of research training activities relevant to their dissertation project

Learning outcomes and careers

On successful completion of this programme, you will have gained:

  • An in-depth understanding of key theoretical and practical issues about typical and atypical development in children and young people, from a cognitive science perspective
  • Knowledge of how questions about developmental changes in children’s cognitive abilities can be addressed using scientific methods drawn from a range of fields, including developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, computational modelling, neuroscience and linguistics
  • The skills to conduct high quality original research in developmental cognitive science
  • Critical thinking skills
  • The ability to evaluate published research studies in developmental cognitive science
  • The ability to make well-informed contributions to discussions about the interplay between developmental research and real-world applications/implications

The programme provides preparation suitable for those who wish to progress to a PhD (in Developmental Cognitive Science or a related field) or to a professional doctorate (e.g. in Educational or Clinical Psychology). It is also relevant to careers that involve developing and evaluating practices and policies relating to children/young people, such as teaching, speech & language therapy, and policy development in education, health or social care.

Who is this programme for?

This programme is intended for those who have studied psychology or other cognitive science related subjects to honours level, and want to advance their understanding of how questions about developmental changes in children’s cognitive abilities can be addressed using scientific methods drawn from a range of fields.

Students require a UK degree 2:1 or above, or its NARIC equivalent, either in psychology or in a cognitive science related discipline (e.g. Linguistics, Neuroscience, Informatics, Computational Science).


On average, full-time students will spend about 6 hours per week in lectures/seminars, about 3 hours in tutorials and about 3 hours in laboratory classes. The number of contact hours and teaching format will depend to some extent on the option courses chosen. The remainder of students’ time will be spent on independent study. After classes finish in April, students will spend all their time working independently on coursework and exam revision and on their dissertations.

Teaching and assessment

This programme comprises two semesters of taught compulsory and optional courses followed by a dissertation. Most courses are taught by a combination of lectures, seminars/tutorials and laboratory sessions. The content of seminars and tutorials varies, but often consists of presentations and discussions based on readings. Lab sessions typically involve learning research skills. Many of the core courses are underpinned by an apprenticeship model, in which students will build up the skills needed to conduct an independent research project for their dissertation. Students are taught by experts who are experienced researchers in these specific areas, and who are also engaged in knowledge exchange activities with professionals working with children in education and health care settings. When students carry out their supervised dissertation research, they will receive guidance from their supervisor through one-to-one meetings, comments on written work and email communication.

Facilities and resources

Students have access to a wide range of facilities including:

  • Over 30 libraries, including the recently refurbished main library and a dedicated Psychology and Philosophy Library within the Psychology building itself. All postgraduate students also have access to the extensive holdings of the National Library of Scotland and the National Archives of Scotland, all within walking distance of the central campus
  • Extensive, state-of-the-art computing facilities, both within the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, and across the campus. There are additional computing labs across the University at the main library, the halls of residence and laptop users will find wireless networking coverage throughout the University
  • Computers within the school of PPLS are configured with specific software to support the school’s needs, including packages for experimental design and execution. We also have audio and video recording equipment and software, extensive facilities for data collection and experimentation, and technical support.
  • Excellent research facilities including testing rooms in our recently-built Developmental Lab including multiple eye trackers, EEG/ERP facilities with motion tracking devices, all of which are suitable for use with infants and older children. Our differential work uses massive twin study datasets, and computational modelling is facilitated by Edinburgh’s superb computing cluster.
  • Great links to local schools and nurseries, as well as a growing database of local families who volunteer to participate in developmental research studies

Student support

In addition to the student support offered to all students in the school of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, your Programme Director or Supervisor will be able to provide you with academic advice and guidance specific to your programme of study.

Staff profiles

    Research interests
Morag Donaldson

Dr Morag Donaldson

Programme director

Morag is Programme Director for the MSc in Developmental Cognitive Science.  Her main research interests are in language development and language impairment in children.  In particular, her research focuses on children’s explanations. This is fertile ground for investigating relationships between language and causal reasoning, between language comprehension and production, between spoken and written language and between typical and atypical language development. As well as addressing key theoretical issues, her research has important practical implications (e.g. for education and speech & language therapy).
Bonnie Auyeung

Dr Bonnie Auyeung

Bonnie’s work is focused around two central themes: 1) the role of prenatal factors on psychological and neural postnatal development and 2) interventions to alleviate the symptoms of developmental difficulties. Her research interests are in early social and cognitive development, developmental disorders, autism, ADHD, epilepsy, neural development, sex differences, early deprivation, prenatal development and adolescent development. Prior to her current role, Bonnie worked at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge where she remains Director of Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Holly Branigan
Professor Holly Branigan Holly is interested in children's language development and language use, in both typically and atypically developing children. Her work uses experimental methods to investigate how pre-school- and school-aged children's language, in particular their choice of words and grammar, is shaped by their experiences, and how children learn to communicate effectively.  She is currently working on an ESRC-funded research project to investigate conversational alignment in children with an autistic spectrum condition and their typically developing peers.
Nicolas Chevalier
Dr Nicolas Chevalier Nicolas is especially interested in how children develop cognitive control, i.e. the ability to control their thoughts, actions and emotions in order to stay on task and get things done.  Emerging cognitive control during childhood is one of the best predictors of academic achievement and later life outcomes such as health, income, or criminal records. His work uses behavioural indices, eye-tracking, event-related brain potentials (ERPs), and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to address how pre-schoolers and school-age children develop increasingly efficient cognitive control. He is currently working (with Bonnie Auyeung and Candice Morey) on an ESRC-funded research project to investigate the effectiveness of cognitive training in supporting the academic development of children from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Leonidas Doumas
Dr (Alex) Leonidas Doumas Alex’s research is focused on answering the questions: What do human mental representations look like, and how do we learn them? He is interested in how children and adults learn to think about, represent, and use relational concepts (like 'above', 'next-to', or 'likes') for solving problems. His research has explored how children develop the ability to reason by analogy, and how children and adults learn to recognize melody. His current work is exploring how children and adults learn to reason about mathematical operations like addition and multiplication, and is developing training regimens to teach college age students fractions and how to reason from deductive syllogisms. Alex uses empirical methods with children and adults, computational models, and techniques from neuroscience (e.g., EEG) to understand how we think and learn.
Candice Morey
Dr Candice Morey Candice’s research interests lie in working memory, attention, and their development across the lifespan. Her work combines theoretical approaches and research techniques from developmental and cognitive psychology. She has conducted research on how verbal and visual information becomes associated in memory, and has undertaken training in neuroscience methods. Recently, she has investigated how children’s memory strategies develop by recording their eye movements during a spatial memory task. The evidence she has obtained from young children’s gaze patterns suggests that they are making active attempts to remember even before they learn to use verbal rehearsal strategies.
Hugh Rabagliati
Dr Hugh Rabagliati Language provides a code for learning and teaching new and complex ideas. Hugh studies the mental representations and mechanisms that we use to translate from concepts and ideas to words and sentences. His focus is on how these abilities develop, how they operate in typical adults and children, and how they break down in neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly schizophrenia and autism. Hugh’s current research projects include an ESRC-funded study on how children learn to use words in flexible and creative ways, and on how this may impact on other aspects of their cognitive development.

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Fees, funding and how to apply