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Personal profile

Research interests

My research interests are based in cognitive developmental psychology. Understanding people’s behaviour and thinking is difficult because it is rarely rational or transparent, even to the person themselves. Much of what we do and think is governed by unconscious biases and attitudes. One way to examine these biases in adults is to use techniques such as brain imaging and biological arousal to monitor unconscious processes. Another way is to explore how these biases arise, often in early childhood, and what purpose they serve.

My research uses both these techniques with a focus on exploring the causes and consequences of cognitive biases and how they can be disrupted. I have a special interest in our relationship with objects and how we negotiate magical thinking and science learning as children and adults. As a consequence of my research interests, I also do a lot of public engagement with children, schools, adults and special communities. I speak regularly on radio and TV and co-host the psychology blog Head Quarters on the Guardian science blog network. I offer staff training for child-based exhibitions and performance and am a frequent consultant for children’s TV programming.

I completed my undergraduate training at Edinburgh University which led to a research position with the Scottish Executive, informing policy decisions on childcare. This was followed by a research position with the Transport Research Institute, looking at pedestrian interaction in urban spaces to inform infrastructure design. I gained my PhD from Bristol University, examining developmental change in the way that pre-schoolers weigh up and integrate visual cues to decide what to believe. This led to several successful research grants with the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre exploring the developmental roots and neural correlates of magical thinking. Before starting at the University of Bath, I was a lecturer at Bristol University and the Open University. I am currently the Convenor for the 1st Year core unit ‘Representations of Childhood and Youth’ and the 2nd Year core unit ‘Developmental Psychology.’ I am the Chair of the Ethics Committee for the Department of Psychology and sit on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Ethics Committee and the University Ethics Committee.  

Research interests

  • Social robotics and Child-Computer Interaction
  • Anthropomorphism, mind attribution and dehumanization
  • Extension of self to objects/Hoarding
  • Mind-body dualism and its relationship with religious belief
  • Essentialist reasoning and cross-cultural comparisons
  • Causes and consequences of consumer biases (especially authenticity)
  • Fantasy-reality distinctions and children’s programming
  • Visual cognition and metacognition
  • Science communication and its impact

Current projects

  • The Immortality Project: Relationship between Mind-Body Dualism & Belief in the After-Life (funded by the Templeton Foundation funded)
  • Museums of Learning Everywhere (funded by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement)
  • Anthroposapiensis (EPSRC bid) 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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