Cognitive Development

As children grow, so does their mind. They’ll be able to do increasingly complex cognitive tasks, and they will also exhibit more emotions. (And ultimately even learn to control those emotions, even if it doesn’t feel that way as a toddler is having their umpteenth tantrum of the day…)

Some aspects of cognitive development simply grow with age. Our cognitive capacities increase, we learn tricks, and we are taught new things about the world. However, children do not grow up in a vacuum. (That is both literally and figuratively true.) Their environments can help or hinder their development. For example, growing up in relative poverty is associated with poorer scores on all sorts of cognitive tasks, ranging from language to memory. In addition, kids who grow up in socioeconomic1 disadvantage are more likely to have socioemotional issues.

There are several theories on why this occurs, some focussing on direct and indirect2 genetic effects, and others on how environments can directly impact children3. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, characterised by complex interactions between individual traits and features of the environment. One of our group’s aims is to characterise those complex interactions.

1 What is “socioeconomic status”? While different researchers define it in different ways, the general concept reflect one’s position in society. Traditionally, high salaries and certain types of jobs are associated with more prestige. Socioeconomic status captures this, as well as individuals’ or families’ financial situation.

2 For example, kids who grow up with more books tend to have better reading abilities. Some people argue that this is actually due to parents with higher levels of education: they are both more likely to buy more books, and also more likely to have kids with better reading abilities. Hence more books might not directly lead to better reading ability, or is at the very least mediated by parental genetics.

3 While some of this environment might be shaped by parents/carers, the idea here is emphatically not to blame families. There are many factors that come into play here, and most parents try to make the absolute most out of their situation. Identifying which aspects of socioeconomic status impact children’s development is important to support policies that help families; not to blame them for being poor.

Relevant publications

The following are papers that relate to development. You can find a full list of our peer-reviewed work on our publications page.

  • Bignardi, G., Dalmaijer, E.S., & Astle, D.E. (2022). Testing the specificity of environmental risk factors for developmental outcomes. Child Development, 93(3), p. e282-e298. doi:10.1111/cdev.13719

    Preprint available via PsyArXiv, doi:10.31219/

  • Anwyl-Irvine, Dalmaijer, E.S., Quinn, A., Johnson, A., & Astle, D.E. (2021). Subjective SES is associated with children’s neurophysiological response to auditory oddballs. Cerebral Cortex Communications, 2(1), tgaa092. doi:10.1093/texcom/tgaa092

    Preprint available via PsyArXiv, pwe3s, doi:10.31234/

  • Bignardi, G., Dalmaijer, E.S., Anwyl-Irvine, A., & Astle, D. (2021). Collecting Big Data with small screens: Using touchscreen tablets for brief and reliable assessments of cognitive ability. Behavior Research Methods, 53, p. 1515-1529. doi:10.3758/s13428-020-01503-3

    Preprint available via OSF PrePrints, aw6c5. doi:10.31219/

  • Bignardi, G., Dalmaijer, E.S., Anwyl-Irvine, A., Smith, T.A., Siugzdaite, R., Uh, S., & Astle, D. (2021). Longitudinal increases in childhood depression during the COVID-19 lockdown in a UK cohort. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 106, p. 791–797. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2020-320372

    Copy available via Cambridge’s repository. doi: 10.17863/CAM.60688

    Preprint available via OSF PrePrints, v7f3q. doi:10.31219/

  • Dalmaijer, E.S., Anwyl-Irvine, A.L., Bignardi, G., Hauk, O., & Astle, D.E. (2021). Magnetoencephalography and developmental cognitive neuroscience. In: K. Cohen Kadosh (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198827474.013.5
  • Dalmaijer, E.S., Gibbons, S.G., Bignardi, G., Anwyl-Irvine, A., Smith, T., Siugzdaite, R., Uh, S., Johnson, A., & Astle, D.E. (2021). Direct and indirect links between children’s socio-economic status and education: Pathways via mental health, attitude, and cognition. Current Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s12144-021-02232-2

    Pre-print available via PsyArXiv, doi:10.31234/

  • Uh, S., Dalmaijer, E.S., Siugzdaite, R., Ford, T.J., & Astle, D.E. (2021). Two pathways to self-harm in adolescence. Journal of the American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 60(12), p. 1491−1500. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2021.03.010

    Pre-print available via medRxiv, doi:10.1101/2020.07.10.20150789

  • Defoe, I.N., Dubas, J., Dalmaijer, E.S., & Van Aken, M. (2020). Is the peer presence effect on heightened adolescent risky decision making only present in males? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, p. 693-705. doi:10.1007/s10964-019-01179-9.

Blog posts on our work

Because scientific articles are a bit dense, we try to write more easily digestible summaries on our blog. Please find a sampling below:

We just published an article in Current Psychology on the direct and indirect relations between socioeconomic status and various developmental
Testing children is less easy than testing adults, primarily because they lack the social inhibition to tell psychological researchers to

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