Developmental Psychology Section

Invitation for articles and blogs

The BPS Developmental Psychology Section welcomes your recently published journal articles and blog posts on any topics, related to developmental psychology, and we are happy to promote these on this page. All received items are considered for inclusion and we make sure our members can find quality reads about the latest findings and trending ideas. Please contact Emily Mather,  Viola Marx or Tibor Farkas by emailing [email protected] !


Dr. Sue Fletcher-Watson, University of Edinburgh

Winning the 2016 Margaret Donaldson Award was first and foremost a deeply humbling experience. Not just because of the honour of the receiving award itself, and the association with a pioneer of developmental psychology, but because of the waves of congratulation that poured in from friends and colleagues after the announcement. They were all thrilled by my success, and this got me thinking about that ‘success’ and its nature.

I am certainly not the first person to point out that ‘success’ in the context of an academic career is a tricky thing to measure. Success is often viewed through the lens of REF returns – still heavily focused on journal publication with a reliance on impact factor and other metrics as a proxy for scientific quality. It is true that the last REF incorporated more on the research environment, giving Universities a chance to get credit for such things as systems to support students and early career researchers, or networks to promote interdisciplinary collaboration. In addition, impact case studies provided a way for researchers whose work has led to policy change or community benefit to share their success. But the relative weighting given to these domains, and the ease with which they can be fudged by the use of clever rhetoric, means that the high-impact journal article remains a staple of our notion of success. Of course, the other main marker of success is grant income. This seems less important in the REF context but certainly plays a major role in individual career progression.

Sue meeting Margaret Donaldson for tea!

So, here I am. 2016 winner of this illustrious prize.  That makes me a success, doesn’t it? Well, as any academic will tell you, it certainly doesn’t feel that way, at least judging by those two metrics of journal output or grant income. One recent paper was submitted to five journals, receiving a total of 16 reviews over 18 months. In 2015, I was principal investigator or a co-applicant on no less than ten grant proposals, of which just two received funding. My academic career to date is littered with similar experiences of rejection and failure, though to the external observer it may seem that I have followed a smooth and ‘successful’ path.

If you are an academic, this is almost certainly not the first time you will have heard this message.  But it is a message so important that it bears repeating, especially to anyone in the early stages of the academic career. These rejections – the tough reviews, the grants which aren’t awarded – these are not failures.  This is not just an inevitable, but also an essential part of the research process.  No matter how brutal, I cannot think of a time when I didn’t learn something useful from a reviewer’s comments (even if what I learnt was “this type of research is not acceptable to that type of academic.”) Every time you re-draft an article for a new journal, you are honing your craft as a writer.  When you stay up into the wee hours pulling together a grant proposal in time for the deadline, even if it isn’t funded, you have created ideas and built a network of professional partners which will lead on to bigger and better things. You may feel you are measured by your output, but your success comes from your ability to identify problems and generate ideas to address them. To make an intellectual contribution to your discipline and to the world.

So next time you hear your paper or proposal didn’t make it, remember, you are a success.


Thu, 15/12/2016 - 16:08

Dr. Victoria Simms, Ulster University.

Over the summer I was thinking a lot about communication. We had the influence of propaganda exposed by the Brexit campaign, the powerful (mis)use of words in Trump versus Clinton and on a more personal note the inevitable academic summer pressure of submitting articles for publication. So, it was with great excitement that I attended the Developmental Section preconference workshop on impact, an event designed to enable developmental psychologists to reach out and communicate their research to wider audiences.

The morning session focused on the transfer of research findings to policy. Bethany Waterhouse-Johnson and Claire-Anne Mills  (Ulster University) expertly discussed their experience and knowledge of the policy process cycle. Both Bethany and Claire-Anne provided us with insider knowledge of the systems and processes involved in policy development. The speakers emphasised the importance of generating contacts in the civil service and voluntary sector, researching the lifespan of policies that may be coming up for renewal and communicating research findings in an accessible way. A real wake up call for me was the suggestion that civil servants have very little time to read material, thus by making findings of a paper genuinely accessible (i.e. one A4 page summary) could dramatically increase readership (and potential uptake) by policy makers.

The afternoon session focused on the communication of research findings to general audiences through blogging. Sinead Rhodes (Strathclyde University) led this session and provided excellent tips and case studies from her involvement in “Research the Headlines”. This blog aims to unpick research covered by the media in an accessible way for the general public and has also generated a schools competition in training children and young people to do the same. The huge impact of this communication program is evident through the popularity of the site and the funding that has been awarded to the “Research the Headlines” group. Sinead discussed the process of identifying a story, constructing a post and, importantly, mediating your own on-line responses. The take home message for me was to not “become the third reviewer”. The purpose of these communications should be to represent and critique the study and its coverage and then to make fair appraisal. We don’t blog to be nasty, instead we blog to be informative.  Of course this can be applied to all online communications, a useful reminder for a Twitter obsessive!

We rounded off the day with a public lecture for parents, teachers and early years workers by Suzanne Zeedyk on the topic of what 21st century parents should know about child development. Our workshop had focused on discussing communication with different audiences and we ended the day with a clear example of this. The feedback I received afterwards from parents and teachers was overwhelmingly positive. Suzanne also stimulated conversations with the academics who attended the session, or who followed it on Twitter. It’s important that we express scientific findings effectively to different audiences and observing different approaches can be a real learning experience for us all.

I suspect that I will be increasingly thinking about communication with wider audiences as I continue in my academic career, but this workshop really provided me with clear practical tools to aid this process.  Hopefully future conferences will also include useful preconference workshops to increase the profile and impact of developmental psychology in the UK!


Wed, 19/10/2016 - 17:52

By Dr. Sarah Rose, Staffordshire University

This year’s conference was in Belfast and included a wonderful mix of applied and more theoretical developmental psychology. The Conference was preceded by an inspiring public lecture in which Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk emphasised the importance of infant parent bonds not only on the child’s developing brain but for our vision for the kind of society we wish to build. This emphasis on the connections between children and the people around them was reflected in the Conference keynotes (Prof. Susan Golombok, University of Cambridge; Prof. Peter Hobson, University College, Tavistock Clinic; and Prof. Teresa McCormack, Queens University).

While at the conference I gave two research talks, presenting my work investigating the immediate impact of television on young children’s creativity and describing a new measure of creativity that I have been working on with Dr. Elena Hoicka from the University of Sheffield. Both talks were well attended and it was a great opportunity to get some feedback from others with interests in these areas.

Dr Sarah Rose presenting her children’s creativity research at the BPS Developmental Psychology conference (Photo credit: Dr. Sian Jones)

I also took to opportunity to present a poster showcasing work done by final year project students. This student, Grace Aldridge, developed an idea that I had become interested in when attending a symposium at the 2014 Developmental Section Conference, this was that children have problems recognising angry dogs and this may contribute to them being at an increased risk of being bitten by a dog. For a third year project it was ambitious! One hundred and thirty-five young children were shown 15 images and 15 video clips of dogs and asked firstly what emotion they thought each dog was experiencing and secondly their intention to approach the dog.

Dr Sarah Rose presenting her scientific poster at the BPS Developmental Psychology Section conference (Photo credit Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk)

We found that the children were actually relatively good at recognising the dogs’ emotions. However, we also found that although children were less likely to approach an angry dog there was no difference in their inclination to approach a happy or frightened dog. Suggesting that they may be unaware that there might be a problem approaching a frightened dog. We think that this could contribute to the increased likelihood of them being bitten by a dog. A press release was made about this research and there has been some great coverage in the National and International press. We hope that our evidence can be used to emphasise the importance of teaching children how to behave safely around dogs, especially regarding approaching a frightened dog.

The BPS Developmental Psychology Section Annual Conference is very friendly and welcoming. To find out more about the Section and plans for our 2017 Conference in Stratford Upon Avon see our website. Maybe see you there?

This Blog post was originally written for InPsych @ Staffordshire University and is reproduced here with permission from Dr. Sarah Rose.

Sun, 02/10/2016 - 16:36

By Dr Siân Jones, Goldsmiths College, London.

Misch, A., Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (2016). I won’t tell: Young children show loyalty to their group by keeping group secrets. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 142, 96-106.

It was at a conference last year that I first saw this paper presented. Interested, I banked it to read later. Then I saw it on the BPS Research Digest. It was time to dive in. This study involved 96 German 4 or 5 year-olds, interacting with hand puppets (developmental research is good fun:-) ) . The children and four of the puppets were introduced to each other, and then allocated to either the yellow or the green colour group, with two puppets put in each group. Groups were flagged by the wearing of a coloured scarf, that the child was also invited to wear. The child then left the room with the researcher, supposedly to help look for something, and on returning discovered two of the puppets, either from their own group, or the other group hiding a book.  The puppets  told children that the book was the group’s secret and urged them not to tell anyone. They hid the book and left. Another puppet, the same gender as the child participant, but not assigned to either group, called Siri then bribed children with up to five stickers to tell the secret. What would it take to get them to give up the book’s location?

Four puppets. Image from Misch et al., 2016


Female Siri, with her sticker bribes, that were revealed sequentially. Image from Misch et al., 2016

The findings showed that 61% of the children kept the secret, in spite of Siri’s bribes (and the last heart-shaped, larger sticker on offer). More importantly, for developmental psychology,  more children, aged either 4 or 5 years, chose to keep the secret when they were urged to do so by puppets in their own group, as opposed to the other colour group. Thus, according to the researchers, children as young as 4 years will make a sacrifice for group loyalty.  This study is simply yet beautifully designed, with a clean-cut and striking finding, building on past research that asked children to evaluate group members, towards assessing their behaviour as a group member. But what exactly does it show? And what does it mean for our understanding of children’s tendency towards group loyalty?

The authors note that the children had only joined the group minutes before being asked to keep the secret. The effect of minimal groups has been well-documented in children and adults alike (see Diehl, 1990 and Dunham et al., 2011). My repeated critique of such studies in children is that according to Tajfel et al.’s (1971) definition of a minimal group – one doesn’t ever see other group members – either from the ingroup or the outgroup. Yet one does meet group members in the current study. Thus, one doesn’t know (for certain) whether it is the gender / hair colour / voice etc. of the puppet, rather than their scarf that the child is evaluating. That said the yellow versus green group difference remains. And along with the authors, I’d ask: what about real groups? I’d also ask, what about “just-joined” status? Tajfel (1978) noted that those on the edge might be very ready to get their new group to see them  as fully supportive group members. Is it this, rather than loyalty that is driving the effect seen where the puppets were from the ingroup?

The Procedure to this study was clearly carefully thought through. It was important that the children were first introduced to the puppets, an attempt was made to ensure that they would treat the puppets as fellow children (the extent to which this is the case rather than the situation being seen as pretend play is debatable – but pretend play is a whole other research area), and the illusion of a secret hiding place for the puppets’ book was maintained. But what about the book?   We’re told it contains writing (which presumably the children would struggle with: do the children assume the puppets can read?) but not about the information in it. Would the game change if the yellow group and the green group were in competition, and the book contained the winning strategies? Telling then could have serious implications (depending on who Siri talks to: does she know members of the yellow or green groups?) And what is the relation between the yellow and green groups? And of course – the children were told the secret minutes after joining: maybe the secret wasn’t that much of a secret after all. One would expect stronger effects if the groups were pitted against each other – and if the secreted item had real value.

Talking of value leads me to ask about cost. The children in this study had to make a sacrifice – as the authors note – in foregoing the stickers. In doing so, they were giving up something that they never had. One could potentially make the effect stronger by raising the stakes. What if, instead of gaining something from telling, the child lost something for not telling – something that they already had in their possession?  What if they lost resources belonging to their own group? Would that cost be worth it in terms of the way they are seen by their ingroup? How would their ingroup value their loyalty? How would they view those who are disloyal? And following from this, and from the work of Rutland and colleagues showing that children will bully for the sake of group membership: what would happen if moral and social questions collided? If the child were asked to keep a secret for the ingroup (or the outgroup) that helped that group to cheat in some way?

Perhaps, for understanding proclivity for group loyalty, the most important question is why  children chose not to tell. The researchers did ask this – but unfortunately their findings were relegated to the “online supplementary material.”. Here, it is reported that children told the secret because “Siri wanted to know”, because “I  wanted the stickers”, because “I wanted to”, because “there was only writing in the book” – or they didn’t know. Refusing to tell was down to the fact that “I was not allowed to,” because “the others asked me not to tell it”, because “it was a secret”, or because “I didn’t want to tell”, or because they didn’t know. This information wasn’t broken down by age group or by which group the child was being (dis)loyal to. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that it is only upon refusal that the children defer to group loyalty (the puppets asked them not to tell), while other responses concern individual motives and understanding (deference to an individual, wanting the stickers,the special status of secrets). This difference is worthy of further investigation: what reasons do children give for (dis)loyalty? More specifically, does disloyalty occur only when it is self-serving or in response to an individual request? Would children pass on the secret to a fellow in-group puppet? And is the special status of secrets only retained when speaking to non-ingroup members?

So, this was one of the first studies to look at such young children’s understanding of group loyalty: not just to ask them to evaluate group members, but to look at their behaviour as a group member. It showed that children had awareness of the nature of secrets, of their choice to tell or keep that secret, and for whom they were keeping that secret. And, as with the best of research, there is now a multitude of questions remaining.  What about morality?  What is the extent of the children’s loyalty? How does this change according to the group and the secret in question? Children’s loyalty, and their reasoning surrounding it, is indeed a rich area of research.

A blog post reproduced from with permission from Siân Jones. 


Fri, 05/08/2016 - 16:04

Although parental language and behaviour have been widely investigated, few studies have examined their unique and interactive contribution to the parent–child relationship. The current study explores how parental behaviour (sensitivity and non-intrusiveness) and the use of parental language (exploring and control languages) correlate with parent–child dyadic mutuality. Specifically, we investigated the following questions: (1) ‘Is parental language associated with parent–child dyadic mutuality above and beyond parental behaviour?’ (2) ‘Does parental language moderate the links between parental behaviour and the parent–child dyadic mutuality?’ (3) ‘Do these differences vary between mothers and fathers?’ The sample included 65 children (Mage = 1.97 years, SD = 0.86) and their parents. We observed parental behaviour, parent–child dyadic mutuality, and the type of parental language used during videotaped in-home observations. The results indicated that parental language and behaviours are distinct components of the parent–child interaction. Parents who used higher levels of exploring language showed higher levels of parent–child dyadic mutuality, even when accounting for parental behaviour. Use of controlling language, however, was not found to be related to the parent–child dyadic mutuality. Different moderation models were found for mothers and fathers. These results highlight the need to distinguish parental language and behaviour when assessing their contribution to the parent–child relationship.


Menashe, A. and Atzaba-Poria, N. (2016), Parent–child interaction: Does parental language matter?. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12147



Sun, 26/06/2016 - 20:34



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