Developmental science

This programme provides a first class training in the mechanisms of human learning and development

Our researchers examine how nature and nurture interact across the lifespan, from before birth through infancy and childhood, on to adulthood and old age. Our diverse research group houses expertise in cognitive, linguistic and social development, individual differences and genetics, cognitive neuroscience techniques and computational modelling.

Students can take advantage of our excellent facilities for developmental work. Testing rooms in our Developmental Lab include multiple eye trackers for use with both infants and older children. The department's fNIRS, EEG/ERP facilities, and its motion-tracking device are suitable for use with infants and children of all ages. Our differential work uses massive twin study datasets, and computational modelling is facilitated by Edinburgh's superb computing cluster.

Students can take advantage of our strong links to the departments of Linguistics and Philosophy, as well as the Schools of Informatics and Medicine. Professional development as a researcher is complemented by regular lab meetings, seminars, and reading groups.

Current research topics of interest

Bonnie Auyeung What is the role of prenatal factors on later child development?; What are the risk/protective mechanisms associated with early developmental difficulties?
Timothy Bates Attainment and competence: intelligence (and motivation), conscientiousness (and management), models of goals and motivation, skill acquisition, mindsets, education interventions, genetics, SAT, Scottish or other educational performance indicators and their causes; explaining differences in social policy such as support for redistribution by adaptations of mutualism/cooperation, studies in fair divisions, as well as utilitarian and instrumental harm motives, Baumard’s notion of mutualism (using our new scale to measure this).
Neil Bramley Active and/or causal learning; computational accounts of creativity or thinking.
Nicolas Chevalier Cognitive control in children; neurocognitive development.
Wendy Johnson Individual differences: structure of intelligence and personality, life-span development of intelligence and personality, health and aging, genetic and environmental transactions and their influence on behaviour, intelligence, and personality.
Michelle Luciano Reading and language skills / dyslexia; behaviour genetics.
Rene Mottus The measurement, development and utility of narrow personality traits (personality facets and nuances); personalised personality measurement (experience sampling).
Hugh Rabagliati Development of early language production skills; links between early language and later reading.
Hilary Richardson Neural correlates of theory of mind development (longitudinal study;  existing fMRI dataset + potential for new data collection); impacts of early experience (e.g., social relationships, linguistic experience) on social development.
Holly Branigan* Language production, dialogue, language development, bilingualism.
Leonidas Doumas* Analogy, relational reasoning, mental representation, cognitive development, computational modelling, neural networks.
Aja Murray Developmental aspects of mental health phenotypes and their comorbidity: in particular, ADHD, autism, and conduct problems; quantitative methodology.
Anne Templeton* My over-arching research interest is applying the social identity approach to intra and intergroup processes. My research primarily focusses on crowd psychology and using principles of group identity to improve crowd safety in emergencies and at mass events.
Matti Wilks The moral circle (moral expansiveness); barriers to moral and prosocial behaviour; unusually altruistic groups; naturalness bias and attitudes toward food technology/cultured meat.

* Staff member is not accepting new PhD students for 2022 entry.

Possible topics

  • The relationship between creativity and executive function.

  • Computational modelling of conceptual development.

  • Developmental cognitive neuroscience of language.

  • The development of cultural and communicative convention systems.

  • The development of language production skills.

  • Life-span development of cognitive and non-cognitive abilities.

  • Sex differences during infancy.

  • Theory of mind and early social skills development.

  • Development of attention and working memory.



For queries about general admissions, please contact the Postgraduate Office.

To discuss academic matters, contact the Programme Director, Rene Mottus.

Find out more

Fees, funding, and how to apply