School of Psychology

Human Development and Learning


How children develop and learn

The Human Development and Learning group uses a range of methods to approach the core question of how children develop and learn, and how atypical development differs.

They have particular expertise in autism and in development over the primary school years, and benefit from the annual Summer Scientist Week event, which enables intensive research studies of primary school age children. Most group members are based in Psychology, but the group collaborates with colleagues in the Division of Psychiatry, Education and Computer Science, including the Horizon project on digital futures.

Recent projects and publications 

Recently funded projects include the development of cognitive control (ESRC) and differences in how people with autism learn driving skills (Leverhulme Trust).



Harriet Allen
Associate Professor

I measure the neural processes of combining sensory information. My recent research has found differences in the relationship between perception and attention in obesity, autism, and ageing and has applied this to human factors, vehicle design, and the everyday environment.

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I received my BSc and Phd from the University of Nottingham. My PhD investigated low level motion perception. During my BSc I spent a year working for the DRA on Human Factors of simulators and jet fighters.

After my PhD worked in Montreal, at McGill University, again looking at low level vision but this time investigating texture perception and amblyopia (lazy eye). I became interested in how higher level processes such as attention influence low level vision.

I returned to the UK to spend several years at the University of Birmingham, including 5 as an RCUK fellow. I used behavioural measures and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to investigate the interaction of vision and attention through the adult life span.

I started at Nottingham in September 2011 and am investigating the interaction of attention with perception in multiple contexts including driving, low level and mid level vision and ignoring.

I'm particularly interested in how our brains represent things that we ignore. Do we process and then block these signals, or turn them down at source? Does it matter if we simply attend to something else or if we specifically choose to ignore an object. Do these processes get harder with age?

Emma Birkett
Assistant Professor

My research interests are in the area of developmental dyslexia with a particular focus on timing or temporal processing.

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Sarah Cassidy
Associate Professor

I am interested in understanding and preventing mental health problems in autism.

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My research aims to understand and prevent mental health problems such as depression, self-injury and suicidality in those diagnosed with autism. My ESRC funded research is developing new assessment tools for autistic adults, to help clinicians and researchers more effectively identify and explore depression and suicidality in autism. My NIHR and Autistica funded research is exploring why autistic people may be more likely to die by suicide than other clinical groups, in order to develop new ways to prevent suicide in autism. My research is designed in partnership with the autistic community, to ensure that our work is relevant and helpful.

Lucy Cragg
Associate Professor

My research addresses the development of cognitive control, the set of processes that underlie the ability to control our thought and actions (also termed executive functions).

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These include manipulating and selecting relevant information in working memory, ignoring distractions, suppressing inappropriate response tendencies, and flexibly shifting between different tasks. I am interested in how these processes develop in typical school-age children, how they contribute to academic achievement, and why they go awry in neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD and preterm birth. I also investigate the neural mechanisms that support the development of cognitive control processes using neuroimaging techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG).
Shiri Einav
Assistant Professor

My research focuses primarily on children's social cognitive development. In particular, I am interested in children's selective social learning.

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Much of children's and adults' knowledge about the world is acquired indirectly from other people, rather than from direct experience. Our ability to benefit from the knowledge of others confers obvious advantages, but carries the risk that we will believe false claims (e.g., mistakes, lies). In order to balance effectively the benefits and risks of receiving information from other people, we need to be able to evaluate the likely truth of that information. The overarching aim of my current research is to examine how children master this task so that they remain open to reliable new information while filtering out unreliable testimony, thus optimising the social learning process. I am keen to hear from prospective PhD candidates who are interested in conducting a PhD in this area.
Ruth Filik
Ruth Filik
Associate Professor

The primary aim of my research is to further our understanding of the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying language comprehension.

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Typically, I seek converging evidence from traditional methods in experimental psychology (such as eye-tracking, self-paced reading, and language production tasks); and cognitive neuroscience methods (for example, EEG).

My interests lie in how our knowledge of the world and of the context in which we encounter language enable us to understand what we are reading or listening to. Issues that I am currently investigating include; the comprehension of non-literal language (metaphor and irony), the processing of emotional information, reference resolution, quantification, and how readers resolve syntactic and semantic ambiguities more generally.

I also have a strong interest in how basic research in experimental psychology can inform more applied issues, such as the communication of information relating to healthcare (and how this impacts on patient safety), and language development.

Nicholas Holmes
Assistant Professor

I study how the brain controls the hands while you are reaching and grasping simple, everyday objects like a table-tennis ball.

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Some kinds of hand movements can be performed extremely quickly, almost without thought, and often when the target of our movement suddenly and unexpectedly changes - these are the kinds of movements I study. A second strand of my research examines how the brain processes information coming from the hands, in particular simple vibrations on the fingertips. By stimulating the brain and peripheral nerves with an electromagnet, we can work out exactly where and when the brain is processing the vibrations.

Past Research

My PhD examined how the brain processes lights and touches felt on or near the hands. The brain seems to treat objects close to the body (say, within 30cm of your skin) quite differently to objects that are further away. This idea of 'personal space' leads to many predictions about how the brain might process visual and tactile stimuli on and near the skin. My PhD used behavioural and neuroimaging methods to test these predictions.

Stephen Jackson
Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience

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Lauren Marsh
Lauren Marsh
Assistant Professor

I am currently interested in how we interpret the social world, using cognitive neuroscience techniques such as eye tracking and fMRI.

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 For instance, I would like to understand how we read nonverbal behaviour such as actions or gestures to give us insight into others' thoughts, feelings and intentions. I am also interested in finding out how individuals with autism interpret these signals differently, and why they might struggle during social encounters.


Peter Mitchell
Professor of Psychology

My areas of research include Gradual development in understanding the mind, visual cognition in autism, cognitive aspects of the development of communication abilitie, cognitive aspects of social functioning in autism.

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Peter Mitchell gained a BA (Hons) in Psychology and a PhD in Psychology at the University of Liverpool, UK. After that, he spent three years working as a postdoctoral scientist at Birmingham University. He served as a Professor and Director of Studies in Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Previously, he was Head of the School of Psychology in Nottingham UK. He has published around 100 scientific articles in leading international journals, has published six books and he is editor of the British Journal of Psychology. He has served as Chair of the Developmental Section of the British Psychological Society and as Chief Examiner for the Economic and Social Research Council UK PhD studentship competition. Before joining Nottingham University he worked at the University of Birmingham, University of Oxford, University of Wales and University of Warwick. He also served as visiting professor at McGill University in Canada.
Nicola Pitchford
Professor of Developmental Psychology

My research expertise lies in the field of developmental neuropsychology, more specifically how the cognitive processes that underpin scholastic progression develop over childhood.

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I am currently involved with several research studies. These include:

1) The effectiveness of mobile technology in supporting the development of scholastic skills in primary school children in developing countries, including Malawi, and in high-income countries such as the UK. Access the following links for more on this project:

2) Cognitive and motor development in vulnerable children (following preterm birth, brain tumour, and in children from areas of high social deprivation)

3) The effects of cerebellar tumour sustained in childhood on neurodevelopmental outcome and wellbeing

4) Orthographic processing in developing, skilled, and dyslexic readers

Danielle Ropar
Associate Professor

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Elizabeth Sheppard
Assistant Professor

I have a wide range of research interests relating to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and visual perception. I'm also interested in cognitive processes involved in driving, including perceptual, attentional and decision-making processes.

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Autism spectrum disorders

At the moment I am particularly interested in how people with ASD make inferences about other people's mental states and personality traits. Conversely, how do typical adults form impressions of those with ASD? What type of perceptual information do people rely on to make these judgments? I am also interested in the more general question of what kind of beliefs people in the population hold about ASD, and whether they differ across cultures?

Psychology of driving

I'm particularly interested in how these processes differ between individuals who have learned to drive in environments where driver behaviour, accident and fatality rates dramatically differ: for instance, we have carried out a number of studies comparing drivers from the UK with drivers from Malaysia. I'm also interested in how other individual differences may influence performance within the driving domain, including how having an Autism Spectrum Disorder affects aspects of driving skill.

Jonathan Stirk
Deputy Director of teaching

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Postdoctoral Scientists


PhD students

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School of Psychology

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