Abertay Self Lab

Led by Dr Sheila Cunningham

We are a research group focused on understanding self-processing biases in children and adults.

We have ongoing projects looking at the early development of self-biases, the impact of clinical disorders, and their potential for educational applications (details below). For information, to participate in research, or to apply for postgratuate opportunities within the research team, please contact s.cunningham@abertay.ac.uk.

Research team

Kirsty Macmillan (Research Assistant)

Zahra Ahmed (PhD student)

Ailsa Gow (Undergraduate student)

Darci Tait (Undergraduate student)

In collaboration with:

Dr Josephine Ross (Dundee University)

Dr Jacqui Hutchison (University of Aberdeen)

Current projects

Me in Memory

We are exploring the development of self-processing biases in memory in children aged three to ten years, and their relationship with other aspects of development. This 'Me in Memory' project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and is being run in collaboration with Dr Josephine Ross (Dundee University) and Dr Jacqui Hutchison (University of Aberdeen)

Self in developmental disorders

Self-processing can vary across individuals, and particularly in children who are diagnosed with developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD. In collaboration with Dr Josephine Ross (Dundee University), Dr Karri Gillespie Smith (UWS) and Dr Sinead Rhodes (Edinburgh University), we are examining the extent and nature of these variations.

Applying the self in education

Self-cues can capture attention and increase memory for information, features that have obvious educational applications. We are running a number of studies exploring the usefulness of incorporating self-cues in educational materials, in collaboration with Dr David Turk (Bristol University), Dr Josephine Ross (Dundee University) and Dr Janet McLean (Abertay University).

Effects of self-cues on cognition

Cues of self-relevance have significant effects on the attention system, affective processing, binding and memory, partly driven by their high position in the goal hierarchy. In collaboration with Dr Kevin Allan and Dr Doug Martin (Aberdeen University), and Dr Julia Vogt (Reading University) we are testing these cognitive effects and the conditions under which they are likely to be evoked.

>>>> NEWS <<<<

  • [April 2018] New paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, applying ownership effects to enhance children's learning.
  • [Feb 2018] Please help our sister project CulTra - a fifteen-minute online game accessed here.
  • [Feb 2018] We are delighted that the Carnegie Trust has awarded funding to support our research on self-processing bias in children with ASD!
  • [Jan 2018] New paper published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, exploring patterns of self-reference effect in children with autism (link here).
  • [Dec 2017] Data collection is now underway in two new Dundee city schools, whose support we greatly appreciate.
  • [Sept 2017] Data from the Me in Memory project and our research with children with ASD was presented at a symposium at the BPS's Developmental section conference 


2017/18 Publications

  • Cunningham, S. J., Scott, L., Hutchison, J., Ross, J., & Martin, D. (in press). Applying self-processing biases in education: Improving learning through ownership. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.
  • Cunningham, S. J. (in press). The thoughtful self. In Hauke & Kritikos (Eds.) Embodiment in Psychology – A Practitioner’s Guide. Springer.
  • Gillespie-Smith, K, Ballantyne, C, Branigan, H, Turk, D. J., & Cunningham, S. J. (2018). The I in Autism: Severity and social functioning in Autism is related to self-processing. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 36, 127-141. doi:  10.1111/bjdp.12219 
  • Hutchison, J., Martin, D., Slessor, G., Urquhart, J., Smith, K., & Cunningham, S. J. (2017). Shared cognitive biases influence the cumulative cultural evolution of stereotypes, Cognitive Science, 1-27. doi: 10.1111/COGS.12560
  • Martin, D., Cunningham, S. J., Hutchison, J., Slessor, G. & Smith, K. (2017). How societal stereotypes might form and evolve via cumulative cultural evolution? Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11, 1-13. doi: 10.1111/SPC3.12338
  • Allan, K., Morson, S., Dixon, S., Martin, D. & Cunningham, S. J. (2017). Simulation-based mentalizing generates a ‘proxy’ self-reference effect in memory. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70, 1074-1084. doi: 0.1080/17470218.2016.1209532
  • Cunningham, S. J. & Turk, S. J. (2017). A review of self-processing biases in cognition. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70, 987-995. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1276609

Click here for full publication list. 

Recent conference presentations

  • Cunningham, S. J., Hutchison, J., Ross, J. & Martin, D. Self-biases in recall: Applying ownership effects in education. BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sept. 2017.
  • Ross, J., Hutchison, J., & Cunningham, S. J. Self-processing biases in event memory: Implications for the development of self-awareness. BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sept. 2017.
  • Cunningham, S. J., Hutchison, J., & Martin, D. The ownership effect in memory: applications for learning. International Convention on Psychological Science, Vienna, March 2017.
  • Hutchison, J. Cunningham, S. J., & Ross, J. The me in memory: Using self-reference effects to predict autobiographical memory development. BPS Cognitive Section Annual Conference, Barcelona, Sept. 2016.
  • Gillespie-Smith, K., Branigan, H., Ballantyne, C., Turk, D. J., & Cunningham, S. J. Level of functioning in Autism associated with self-processing ability: Evidence from an ownership paradigm. BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, Belfast, Sept. 2016.
  • Gillespie-Smith, K., Ballantyne, C., Turk, D. J., & Cunningham, S. J. Children with autism spectrum disorder do show self-processing biases: Evidence from an ownership. Meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society, Oxford, July 2016.
  • Martin, D., Swainson, R., Slessor, G., Hutchison, J., & Cunningham, S. J. The simultaneous extraction of emotion and social categories from unfamiliar faces. Meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society, Oxford, July 2016.
  • Cunningham, S. J. Applying self-processing biases in an educational context. Meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society, Durham, April 2016.

Schools and educators

Workshops and Continuing Professional Development sessions

We are leading research into the positive effects of self-processing biases on children's learning. We can advise on strategies and methodologies to improve children's task engagement and performance, by capitalising on self-cues. For more details, please contact Dr Sheila Cunningham (s.cunningham@abertay.ac.uk)

With support from: