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How young children remember and learn from collaborative activities

   School of Psychology and Sport Science

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  Dr R Ford, Dr Sarah Kuppen  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Ruth Ford

Sarah Kuppen


Development and Lifespan

Summary of the research project

Outside of formal learning contexts, young children gain much of their knowledge through interactions with other people. Many such interactions involve collaborative behaviour in pursuit of a shared goal, for example, a child helping their sibling or parent to create a collage, complete a jigsaw puzzle or bake a cake. Because the child watches their partner during the activity, they can potentially learn how to carry it out independently. Importantly, research has shown that children learn more when they actively participate then when they are merely a passive observer throughout. Moreover, when children are asked later to recall who did what, they are prone to take credit for many of their partner’s actions. This phenomenon, known as the appropriation bias, occurs only following joint activities and is exaggerated among children who show higher levels of knowledge acquisition (e.g., Sommerville & Hammond, 2007). One explanation of these findings is that children’s learning is benefited during joint activities if they simulate and internalise their partner’s point of view.

While the appropriation bias is well documented, relatively little is known about individual differences variables that govern its magnitude. This PhD project will address this gap in the literature by exploring developmental effects and social-cognitive processes that either drive or oppose the bias. The research will be conducted in schools and will involve testing young children on a one-to-one basis using a variety of memory and cognitive tests presented as games. A further goal of the project will be to devise new tasks for demonstrating the appropriation bias.

Key reference: Ford, R. M., Lobao, S. N., Macaulay, C. & Herdman, L. M., 2011. Empathy, theory of mind, and individual differences in the appropriation bias among 4-and 5-year-oldsJournal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110, pp.626-646.

Where you'll study



This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

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