Welcome to the Self Lab


Abertay Self Lab

Led by Dr Sheila J. 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 postgraduate opportunities within the research team, please contact s.cunningham@abertay.ac.uk.

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)

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).

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.

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 <<<<

  • [Dec 2019]  We are delighted to have been awarded a research grant from ESRC. The funding is for a three-year project called  'Self-referencing in the classroom:  The influence of self-cues on children's information processing and retention' - look out for updates and job adverts coming soon! 
  •  [June 2019] Congratulations to lab member Zahra Ahmed, whose poster on self-processing biases in visuo-spatial working memory won the university's People's Choice Awards at Abertay's postgraduate poster session - well done Zahra!
  • [April 2019]  We have published a guest blog on our research in The Learning Scientists, a website for educators and psychologists . Read it here: http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2019/4/11-1  
  •  [Jan 2019] A major paper from our Leverhulme-funded project on self-development has been published in Child Development - happy days! 



Recent Publications

  • Ross, J., Cunningham, S. J., & Hutchison, J. (2019). The me in memory: The role of the self in autobiographical memory development. Child Development. doi:  10.1111/cdev.13211 (Early View online)
  • Cunningham, S. J., Scott, L., Hutchison, J., Ross, J., & Martin, D. (2018). Applying self-processing biases in education: Improving learning through ownership. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 7, 342-351. doi: 10.1016/j.jarmac.2018.04.004 
  • Cunningham, S. J. (2018). 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


  • Ahmed, Z., Cunningham, S. J. & McLean, J. Investigating the relationship between self-referencing and children’s visuospatial working memory: can ownership support working memory? BPS Developmental and Social Annual Conference. Stoke, August 2019.
  • Cunningham, S. J., Ahmed, Z., Rhodes, S., Gow, A., Macmillan, K. & Ross, J. Self-processing in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). International Convention on Psychological Science. Paris, March 2019.
  • Ross, J., Hutchison, J. & Cunningham, S. J. Development of self-reference effects. International Convention on Psychological Science. Paris, March 2019.
  • Ahmed, Z., Cunningham, S. J., Ross, J. & Rhodes, S. Exploring the self-reference effect in ADHD. BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, Liverpool, Sept. 2018.
  • Ross, J., Hutchison, J., & Cunningham, S. J.,Growing me: The development of the self-reference effect across childhood. BPS Developmental Section Annual Conference, Liverpool, Sept. 2018
  • Cunningham, S. J., Hutchison, J., & Ross, J. Development of incidental and explicit self-reference effects reveals distinct cognitive mechanisms. BPS Cognitive Section Annual Conference, Liverpool, Aug. 2018.
  • Ross, J., Hutchison, J., & Cunningham, S. J., The me in memory: Using the self-reference effect to measure development in the autobiographical self. BPS Cognitive Section Annual Conference, Liverpool, Aug. 2018.
  • 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.

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: