Young child writing

Cognition, Education and Language Research Group

Strong collaborative links, both nationally and internationally

A multiperspective research group working to advance our understanding of the factors, processes and mechanisms involved in language and education.

Our research focusses on three interacting thematic strands:

Our expertise


This strand focusses on the role of working memory and executive functions across normal development and in everyday decision-making and complex activities.

From an applied perspective, research focuses on:

  • Attentional control over threatening information in police officers
  • The role of top-down visual search strategies on the detection of emotionally relevant stimuli
  • Executive functions in children and adolescents with ADHD and a range of comorbid developmental disorders especially dyslexia
  • Theoretical understanding of the processes underlying visual cognition (e.g., face and object recognition) and how these may become impaired in developmental and acquired neurological disorders
  • The relationship between working memory and intelligence in children
  • How magnitude is represented and processed, and the extent that fundamental magnitude processing skills support the development of formal mathematics

Recent projects:

  • Investigating working memory involvement in multitasking among a set of errands within a virtual environment
  • Longitudinal project examining the impact of the approximate number system (ANS) on the development of early number skills
  • Autonomic nervous system activity underlying listening effort
  • The relationship between the achievement motive and effort mobilization
  • The link between exaggerated cardiovascular responses and effort mobilization in active coping tasks


This strand investigates the role of individual differences in both cognitive and social factors that may impact on students’ educational attainment.

Ongoing research focuses on the role of personality variables, test anxiety, self-efficacy and emotional intelligence on academic performance. These constructs have been found to support learning, complement ability and enhance achievement. In terms of the role of cognition in academic ability, we investigate the extent that working memory and other cognitive processes support the development of academic skills.

Recent projects:

  • How working memory supports the development of different mathematical skills and to what extent such cognitive skills may underpin gender differences in writing
  • Whether media-multitasking behaviour or multitasking preference may be related to academic performance
  • Developing and validating a measure of Assessment Self-efficacy for university students (curriculum enhancement project)
  • Mentoring scheme for Level 4 students to support transition (curriculum enhancement project)
  • Factors influencing the development of early numeracy (funded by the Nuffield Foundation) – view the project webpage
  • Cognitive and non-cognitive predictors of academic achievement
  • Cognitive restructuring in second language learners in a higher education context


This strand is focussed on both normal and disordered language processing. Our research also encompasses normal and disordered development of literacy, with a particular focus on disorders of spelling (dysgraphia) and reading (dyslexia). This involves the study of how children learn to read and spell (e.g., using phonics) and what happens when things go wrong or develop more slowly. It has both an educational and a cognitive developmental focus.

We are also interested in the relationship between language, thought and culture. We study bilingual cognition in typical populations by investigating how speaking another language can impact on our perception of colour, facial expressions and memories for visual events. In some of our experiments, we temporarily ‘block’ how memories are formed by asking our participants to engage in a verbal interference task. More recently, we have explored the role of British Sign Language in communicating human emotions expressed through music.

Recent projects:

  • The role of second language proficiency on the perception of colour
  • How the perception of happy facial expressions varies with language and culture
  • How language and testing context influences our memory for visual events


We have strong collaborative links, both nationally and internationally, with other universities, charities and industrial partners.

  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Bangor University
  • University of Arizona
  • MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit             
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University
  • Liverpool Hope University
  • University of Milano-Bicocca
  • University of La Sapienza
  • University of Northumbria
  • University of Urbino
  • University of West London
  • University of Alberta
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Padova
  • Swansea University
  • The University of Manchester
  • Edge Hill University
  • University of Geneva
  • Leiden University
  • Jagiellonian University


Meet the researchers within this group:

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PhD students

Alexandra Seddon

Thesis title:
Media-multitasking and Executive Functioning in young adults

Supervisory team:
Dr Anna Law, Dr Anne-Marie Adams and Dr Fiona Simmons

LJMU PhD scholarship

Summary of PhD:
Media-multitasking is the concurrent consumption of media through multiple streams. It is a behaviour that is most widespread amongst young adults and has been associated with biases in cognitive processes known as executive functions. The initial aim of the project was to determine the relationship between self-reported frequency of media-multitasking and executive functions. This first study has been completed and the following results were found. There were no relationships between self-report media-multitasking and individuals executive function ability. However, individuals’ trait anxiety was associated with frequency of self-reported media-multitasking, with increased frequency associated with higher levels of anxiety. The second aim of the project will examine which executive functions are the best predictors of media-multitasking performance measured in the lab. The second aim of the project is currently ongoing. Finally, the latter stage of the project aims to test (using an experimental approach) whether prolonged media-multitasking fatigues executive functions (relative to serial engagement with different media). The overall findings from this project will elucidate the cognitive processes involved in media-multitasking, furthering our theoretical understanding.

Future plans:
I plan to continue my career in academia with aspirations to eventually become a university lecturer in cognitive psychology. Therefore after completing my PhD I plan to take up a post-doctoral research position.

Vanessa Caba Machado

Thesis title:
Technology use: implications for subjective well-being, mental health and academic performance.

Supervisory team:
Dr David McIlroy, Dr Rebecca Murphy, Dr Susan Palmer-Conn

Summary of PhD:
Stephen Hawking said that advances in science and technology could lead to the end of the world. In the words of the famous physicist, this progress is not going to be stopped or reversed, so recognising the dangers and controlling them is key in this age of rapid technology development. Nowadays, technology is becoming an important part of the life of all ages worldwide. People feel attached to their smartphones (Lepp, Li, Barkley, & Salehi-Esfahani, 2015). For instance, data from the Pew Research Center shows that 46% of smartphone owners asserted that they could not live without their smartphones (Smith, 2015). As students are the most active and enthusiastic users of technology, its effects on different aspects of their lives becomes an increasingly important research question (Wentworth & Middleton, 2014). Therefore, this project aims to understand widely the relationships between technology use, academic performance, anxiety and well-being in university students, as those are important life domains for this population. In addition, a measurement tool of digital technology usage will be constructed to: (1) operationalise technology use, considered within a wide range of functions and electronic devices; (2) capture students’ perceptions towards technology use in relation to the studied constructs; and, (3) highlight factors that mediate the relationships between technology use, academic performance, anxiety and well-being. The goal is to provide a clear and comprehensive tool that could cross culture and time. Thus, a cross-cultural study will be carried out in university students across three countries (United Kingdom, Turkey and Spain). Furthermore, a longitudinal study will be done in order to clarify the directionality of the association between technology use and the studied constructs. The overall findings from this project aim to contribute to the development of theoretical models and targeted interventions strategies to encourage adaptive technology use to enhance the life, well-being and mental health of our society instead of damaging them.

Future plans:
Upon completing the PhD my plan is to find a post-doctoral position to gain further research experience. My aspirations are to be an effective researcher and make meaningful contributions in my research field with the aim of improving the psychological well-being, mental health and quality of life of individuals.

Kate Slade

Thesis title:
The physiological correlates of listening effort

Supervisory team:
Dr Michael Richter, Professor Stephen Fairclough, Professor Sophia Kramer (University of Amsterdam)

LJMU funded

Summary of PhD:
Individuals with hearing impairment report suffering with increased mental fatigue, leading to issues including stress and absenteeism, due to the need to invest excessive mental effort in everyday listening situations.

My research will utilise psychophysiological theories to examine systematically whether measures of autonomic effort-driven cardiac responses (systolic blood pressure, pre-ejection period and heart rate variability) are useful indicators of listening effort and mental fatigue, which might help audiologist to enhance the quality of audiometric assessments and hearing aid fitting. To this objective, guided by the framework of motivational intensity theory, I will conduct studies to test the impact of both listening demand and the importance of understanding speech on effort-driven cardiac responses and examine whether observed changes in physiological reactivity can predict listening-related fatigue.

In an initial study, we examined sympathetic and parasympathetic driven cardiovascular responses associated with mental effort including pre-ejection period (PEP), systolic blood pressure, heart rate (SBP) and high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV). It was predicted that listening effort (operationalised as cardiovascular response) would increase as a function of the difficulty to understand speech (listening demand). Additionally, we expected that observed changes in cardiovascular responses would be associated with increases in subjective effort and fatigue. Randomly assigned, eighty-four adults with normal hearing completed one of three conditions of a speech recognition task (listening demand: low vs. moderate vs. high) following a habituation period.

Although no effects of listening demand were initially found for the specific indicators of parasympathetic (HF-HRV) and sympathetic (PEP) reactivity, planned contrasts revealed that systolic blood pressure (SBP) increased proportionately in response to increased listening demand. A secondary analysis however, did reveal a reduction in parasympathetic activity, reflected in decreased HF-HRV, in the high demand condition, compared with combined data from the two less demanding conditions. These findings are congruent with previous research that also demonstrates that SBP and HF-HRV respond sensitively to task demand. Additionally, the data provides evidence that effort-driven cardiac responses increase in response to listening demand, supporting the research hypothesis and the predictions of motivational intensity theory.

Future studies will continue to examine the effects of various listening demand conditions and the importance of speech recognition on effort-driven cardiac responses using more ecologically valid stimuli. In order to fully explore and quantify listening effort and listening fatigue using a systematic theory-driven approach.


Search for a research paper

15 papers found

  • Are the WISC-IV Italian norms similar to the UK norms? A comparison between the two standardizations

    Giofrè D and Toffalini E and Provazza S

    Publish date:2017

  • Differences in verbal and visuospatial forward and backward order recall: A review of the literature

    Donolato E and Giofrè D and Mammarella IC

    Publish date:2017

  • How semantic organisation influences primary school children’s working memory

    Giofrè D and Carretti B and Belacchi C

    Publish date:2017

  • Intelligence measures as diagnostic tools for children with specific learning disabilities

    Giofrè D, Toffalini E and Altoè G and Cornoldi C

    Publish date:2017

  • Interpretation of Physiological Indicators of Motivation: Caveats and Recommendations

    Richter M and Slade K

    Publish date:2017

  • Pros and Cons of Using Intelligence Batteries for the Study of Clinical Populations: A Response to Beaujean (2017)

    Toffalini E and Giofrè D and Cornoldi C

    Publish date:2017