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 a developmental and disordered perspective, research focuses on:

  • 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


This strand is focussed on normal and disordered language processing, and combines detailed neuropsychological assessment with techniques such as brain stimulation (e.g., TMS, tDCS), neuroimaging (e.g., MRI) and psychophysics, a synthesis that is vital to understand complex brain systems.

Our research involves brain-damaged and neurologically-intact individuals, and contributes to our understanding of the patterns of impairment following brain injury, normal cognitive processes (e.g., healthy ageing), and how this knowledge can be used to translate evidence based research into clinical practice (i.e., optimal paths to rehabilitation).

There is a particular focus on acquired disorders of:

  • Spelling (dysgraphia)
  • Reading (alexia)
  • Visual recognition (e.g., agnosia, prosopagnosia)
  • Semantics (e.g., semantic dementia, HSVE)

Specifically, we are interested in how the nature of the deficits and anatomical underpinnings of these disorders can be explained in neuropsychological models. The impact of this research also extends to children and adults with delayed literacy acquisition (e.g., developmental dyslexia) and disorders such as congenital prosopagnosia (face blindness). Hence, our research also encompasses normal and disordered development of literacy. 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.

Recent projects:

  • Developing a test battery for bilingual aphasics
  • Improving neurosurgical intervention and clinical outcome for brain cancer patients


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.

Rhiannon MacKenzie-Phelan

Thesis title:
Silent cortex? Or are we just not listening correctly? Improving current neurosurgical intervention and clinical outcome in brain tumour and epilepsy patients.

Supervisory team:
Director of Studies: Dr Daniel Roberts, Co-supervisor: Professor Francis McGlone, External Supervisor: Dr Michael Jenkinson (Consultant neurosurgeon at Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery)

3-year fully funded LJMU Pro-Vice Chancellor studentship with an additional training award from the Doctoral Training Alliance (DTA) for Applied Biosciences and Health.

Summary of PhD:
This year 260,000 people will be diagnosed with brain cancer – the leading cause of death in cancer patients under the age of 40 and the biggest killer of children. A 2016 Parliamentary report highlighted that patients are failed at every stage - from diagnosis and treatment to research funding, with survivors experiencing distressing cognitive impairments. The report has resulted in a major UK priority to address the barriers to brain tumour research. The Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery houses a sophisticated intraoperative suite for awake craniotomy– the gold-standard surgical intervention for the removal of brain tumours. This procedure involves electrically stimulating the exposed brain to temporally supress key functional areas. If language dysfunction occurs (e.g., speech loss) it can be assumed that the particular brain area is involved in language functions and will be avoided during resection, if no deficit occurs the area will be deemed “silent cortex”. A critical issue is delineating the extent of tissue that can be safely resected – remove too little and one may not get the desired clinical result; remove too much and one risks impairing cognitive function. The prevalence of language deficits following resection of so-called “silent cortex” is relatively low (21%) if patients are screened with tasks used in the NHS; however, specifically developed neuropsychological tasks suggest the prevalence may actually be up to 91% (De Witte & Mariën, 2013). Current linguistic testing provisions are (1) insensitive to detect impairment; (2) lack a scientific basis; (3) not performed postoperatively; and (4) fail to specify guidelines for awake interventions.

This PhD project will develop a rigorous and theoretically motivated test battery for assessment of cognitive and language deficits in neurological populations to (1) maximise detection of deficits during intraoperative testing; (2) minimise postoperative deficits; and (3) maximise therapeutic efforts. This work will be of direct benefit to clinicians involved with cognitively impaired populations and provide a strong multidisciplinary impact in its application to a range of fields (i.e., cognitive neuroscience, language, neurology, and rehabilitation). The project is currently in the early stages and a systematic review of the literature is being conducted to establish which existing cognitive and language tests are predictive of better postoperative language function in brain tumour patients. This review will inform the subsequent development of a multimodal neuropsychological test-battery to be implemented pre, intra and postoperatively in awake craniotomy patients at the Walton Centre.

Future plans:
I would like to pursue an academic career studying disordered language, firstly securing a post-doctoral research position upon completing my PhD to gain further research experience and publications. In the long-term, I aim to secure a lectureship and aspire to one day become an expert in my chosen research area. I want to make a significant research contribution that not only advances our knowledge of the human mind and brain, but also helps to improve the lives of people with neurological disorders.


Search for a research paper

10 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

    Giofre 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

  • Raising the alarm: Individual differences in the perceptual awareness of masked facial expressions

    Damjanovic L and Meyer M and Sepulveda F

    Publish date:2017

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  1. Big congratulations to all @LJMU science postgrads today! Especially @kateslade94 and kat for paper and poster priz…

  2. Proud to see @RCBB_LJMU PhD students giving some excellent talks