Academic staff

Professor Anna Theakston

Director of the Manchester Child Study Centre, and co-Director of the ESRC-funded LuCiD Centre.

My research focuses on children’s language and communicative development in the preschool and early school years, with an emphasis on the interaction between the child and their language environment. I am interested in early socio-cognitive development, the acquisition of grammatical constructions, inflectional morphology, and the interface between syntax and pragmatics in the development of complex language.

View Anna’s research profile.


Professor Ben Ambridge

My research focuses on how children learn the grammar of their language; in particular on how they avoid errors with syntax (e.g., “*He giggled me” rather than “He made me giggle”) and morphology (e.g., “*I sitted down” rather than “I sat down”). Recently, I’ve been branching out from English and studying these phenomena in Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, K’iche’ Mayan, Indonesian, Balinese, Mandarin, Finnish, Polish, Estonian, German, Spanish and Lithuanian. I’m also interested in Open Science (I set up the journal Language Development Research) and pop-psychology: I’ve written two books – Psy-Q and Are You Smarter Than a Chimpanzee – and teach “Psychology in the Real World” on the Psychology BSc programme.

View Ben’s research profile.


Professor Elena Lieven (Emerita)

Previous co-Director of LuCiD.

I have officially retired but continue to take part in research activities: writing papers, giving talks and working with colleagues. My principal areas of research include the emergence and construction of grammar; the relationship between input characteristics and the process of language development; and variation in children’s communicative environments.

View Elena’s research profile.

Dr. Leone Buckle

I am a lecturer in Language and Communicative Development. I teach on the Psychology BSc programme and I conduct research investigating the role of the environment on children’s linguistic development. Most of my work explores how children learn grammar through direct experiences of hearing adults use language across various contexts. However, I am also interested in how children might learn to produce and interpret sentences based on their experiences of real-life events involving animate (e.g. humans) and inanimate entities (e.g. toys).

Dr. Helen Chilton

Senior Lecturer in Deaf Education

I am a Senior Lecturer in Deaf Education.  My research has mainly focussed on Theory of Mind and deaf children.   This means I am interested in learning about how deaf children understand the thoughts and feelings of other people and themselves.  My research has enabled new understandings of how to support deaf children’s ToM through booksharing and in day to day interactions.  My recent published work has considered the connection between Theory of Mind skills, deafness and writing.

View Helen’s research profile.


Dr. Samantha Durrant

Lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy.

I work part-time as a lecturer on the Speech and Language Therapy course and part-time as a post-doctoral researcher in the Child Study Centre. My research is focussed on understanding why some children learn language more quickly than others. The project I am currently working on aims to explore how children’s own curiosity about objects in their environment affects their language development, in particular, learning new words.


Dr. Alissa Ferry

Lecturer in Language and Communication Development.

I am a lecturer in Language and Communicative Development. I am mostly interested in cognitive and language development. I study how infants and children break down speech into words and how they then figure out what these words mean. My work often involves trying to see how children learn new words or what they know about words in their own language.

View Alissa’s research profile.


Dr. Jenny Freed

I am a Lecturer in Language Disorders and am a psychologist by background. My key areas of interest are:

  • Assessment and development of reading and listening comprehension
  • Contribution of skills such as memory and attention to reading/listening comprehension
  • Assessment of higher level language skills
  • Assessment and development of emotional vocabulary

I work with typically developing children, children who have developmental language disorders and children with autism spectrum disorders.

View Jenny’s research profile

Dr. Keith Jensen

Senior Lecturer in Comparative and Developmental Psychology.

Humans are unusually social animals. My research investigates the evolution and development of sociality. Taking the jargon away, what this means is that I am curious about why people cooperate so well, what causes cooperation to break down, where moral behaviour comes from and why people share. I am also interested in the dark side of cooperation: when and why do people punish others, why we are so obsessed with fairness, and why we are sometimes spiteful. I go about answering these questions largely by looking at children, to see the early emergence of these social behaviours, and by comparing them to chimpanzees and other social animals to better understand how our sociality evolved.

View Keith’s research profile.


Dr. Bahar Koymen

Lecturer in Developmental Psychology.

My research focuses on the intersection between children’s communicative and socio-cognitive development. I investigate the ways in which young children’s social and cognitive abilities are manifested in interactive contexts, particularly in their peer interactions. The topics that I am interested in involve:

  • Children’s understanding of common ground or shared experiences with others
  • Children’s reasoning, cooperative argumentation in joint decision-making with peers
  • Children’s understanding of social norms, obligations, and commitments

View Bahar’s research profile.

Dr. Szilvia Linnert

I am a Lecturer in Psychology with an interest in understanding the brain bases of cognitive development. My main approach is to measures brain activity through sensors placed on the scalp (electroencephalography; EEG). I am particularly interested in two main research areas: (1) how visual experience and the development of the visual brain areas aid conceptual understanding and language development; and (2) the underlying brain mechanism of curiosity-driven learning.

Dr. Katherine Twomey

Lecturer in Language and Communication Development.

I’m a Lecturer in Language and Communicative Development and teach on the BSc Speech and Language Therapy programme. I’m interested in early cognitive and linguistic development, with a particular focus on the influence of the non-linguistic learning environment on language acquisition. My recent projects have focused on investigating the active role children play in their own learning, and how this curiosity-driven learning interacts with language development. I also collaborate with colleagues in computational modelling and robotics to explore the cognitive mechanisms underlying language development. 

View Katherine’s research profile.



Dr. Catherine Adams

Clinical Senior Lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy (Retired)

My interests lie mainly in developing and evaluating methods of clinical assessment and evaluation in the field of pragmatics in children who have Developmental Language Disorder and Autism. I have carried out NIHR funded work that created a new complex intervention for primary school-aged children with social communication disorder (SCIP: The Social Communication Intervention Programme) and novel outcome measures of pragmatics.

View Catherine’s research profile.


Dr. Laura Boundy

Lecturer in Psychology of Education (Division of Education)

I completed my PhD at the University of Manchester in 2018, which examined infant’s pre-verbal communication skills and early interactions with their caregivers, with a particular focus on gestures. Since then, I have worked part-time as a postdoctoral research assistant and have been involved in several projects exploring children’s social and cognitive development between the ages of 2 – 7. These have included investigating their understanding of moral norms and reasoning. From summer 2021, I will be working on a project assessing the efficacy of a parent-delivered language programme (PACT) for preschool children.

View Laura’s research profile.


Dr. Kelly Burgoyne

Lecturer in Psychology and Education (Manchester Institute of Education)

I am a psychologist with specialisms in reading and language development and disorders, and a particular interest in the development and evaluation of educational interventions. Key areas of interest are:

  • Randomised controlled trials, longitudinal studies, and short term training studies
  • Interventions for reading and language difficulties
  • Parent-delivered and school-based educational programmes
  • Typical development and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
  • Down syndrome

View Kelly’s research profile.


Postdoctoral Research Staff

Shijie Zhang

My PhD research focused on crucial factors that influence relative-clause processing such as discourse context, grammatical weight and information status, and how cross-linguistic influence differentiates bilinguals from monolingual peers. I am now working as a postdoctoral research associate with LuCiD on the project: Understanding the factors influencing the comprehension and production of complex sentences. The project will use a range of methods (e.g., corpus analysis, eye tracking, picture selection tasks, and picture description tasks) to understand how children learn to comprehend and produce complex sentences.

Dr. Chen Zhao

I am a post-doctoral research associate working on a LuCiD project exploring the effects of home and community language and literacy environment of children from low income families. I completed my PhD at the University of Manchester, which investigated the longitudinal developmental trajectory of infant voice and vocal emotion processing using functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). In this project, I also examined the influence of early maternal caregiving behaviour on infants’ neural sensitivity to emotional vocalisations. After achieving my PhD, I worked on the project exploring music and language comprehension and prediction in typically developing children and autistic children. My research interest focuses on children’s language and social emotional development using neuroscience and behavioural tools.

PhD students

Sarah Breen

Before starting my PhD, I completed a MSc in Education and a BA in Psychology and worked with children for a number of years. My research interests include cognitive and language development. The research I’m undertaking for my PhD focuses on how infants’ cognitive skills, such as perception, influence linguistic outcomes. This includes topics such as how the perception and processing of information from the environment may support word learning.

Senyu Chen

I am a PhD student who completed Bachelor of Science in Psychology and became fascinated about child psychology when working as a research assistant in a lab. I took a gap year afterwards and helped with projects related to parent-child interaction and group helping behaviours. I am interested in the emerging social gestures in infants and how those behaviours could facilitate parent-infant interaction, thus promoting word learning of babies.

Leigh Evans

PhD student.

I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester having previously completed a BSc in Psychology and an MA in Linguistics. My research focuses on children’s acquisition of counterfactual conditionals; these are complex sentences which appear relatively late and can continue to present a challenge even into adulthood.

Rebecca Hamilton

PhD student.

I recently completed my MSc in Biology studying cooperation and communication of wild bottlenose dolphins through the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the Cedar Key Dolphin Project. For my PhD in Experimental Psychology, I will be investigating the development of motivation to cooperate in human children. In other words, what factors are most important in making children want to cooperate with one another? I will also be comparing cooperation in humans with other species, mainly chimps and dolphins, to examine how cooperative interactions have evolved through time in other highly social species.


Phoebe Harding-Walker

After completing my MSc Clinical Linguistics and PGCert Psychology, I am now a PhD researcher at the University of Manchester. My interests broadly lie in using both linguistic and psychological theories to explain information processing. I am primarily interested in cognitive explanations of information processing in neurodiverse populations and have a particular interest in cognitive linguistic ability in Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC).

 My research looks at language processing abilities in children as a method to explore the cognitive mechanisms that underpin the symptomatic profile of ASC.


Kirstie Hartwell

PhD student.

I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester. Having completed an undergraduate degree in Speech and Language Therapy at the university in 2018, I developed a strong interest in developmental research, and was delighted to join the Child Study Centre to pursue this further. I am primarily interested in children’s socio-cognitive development – for example, how children think, make decisions, and communicate their thoughts to others. As part of my PhD, I am investigating how pre-school children’s reasoning skills develop as they grow.


Lindsey Jones

Lecturer in Deaf Education.

I am a lecturer in Deaf Education at UoM and undertaking research for my PhD. My research considers whether caregivers can be supported to build in the language of, and reasoning about, science into their interactions during daily routines with their deaf or hearing pre-school children. There are three parts to the research:

  • Whether caregiver involvement in a home-based science intervention impacts on parental attitudes and behaviours towards science
  • Supporting the Development of Scientific Enquiry and Conceptual Understanding in Science: The Effectiveness of a Home-based Intervention with Deaf and Hearing Pre-school Children
  • Science talk during daily routines between caregivers and children who are deaf and those that are hearing

View Lindsey’s research profile.


Nicola Lester

PhD student.

Having completed my MRes Psychology at the University of Manchester, I am now undertaking research for my PhD, studying ways in which cultural institutions can promote language learning opportunities in Ethnic Minority populations.  The impact that my research has on the society in which we live is always one of my biggest drivers and my work has specifically focussed on whether or not children from such populations acquire language more successfully when learning in a museum compared to their regular classroom setting, and whether or not the linguistic input from their teachers differs between contexts


Owen Waddington

PhD student.

My research broadly focuses on young children’s socio-moral development and moral reasoning. I investigate the ways children come to navigate their social worlds and express their understanding of impartial moral standards. My key areas of interest are:

  • Children’s use and understanding of guilt displays 
  • Children’s sensitivity to moral justifications 
  • Using novel research paradigms (e.g., posture change to infer children’s emotional responses).


Leoma Williams

I am a PhD researcher studying social behaviours in animals and humans. During my undergraduate and master’s degrees in Biology and Evolutionary Psychology I developed an interest in animal behaviour and cognition, especially relating to primates. My PhD aims to study group dynamics in social animals, and the cognition behind it. I am looking at how group-living animals cooperate, as well as the possible social enforcement mechanisms that keep groups together. This has included looking at post-conflict behaviour in groups of ravens, as well as cooperation and coordination in ravens, monkeys, and apes. 

Administrative Staff

Alyson Williams

Centre Co-ordinator.

I joined the Centre in 2020 as the Centre Co-ordinator with several years experience in undertaking research and lately research administration. I work part-time at the Centre as a first point of contact for enquiries and provide a range of administrative support to help with the smooth running of research activities taking place in our labs.