Welcome! We are the Laboratory for Brain & Cognitive Development, led by Dr. Hilary Richardson. We are part of the Wee Science group within the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

As children get older, they acquire new facts, memories and skills, build and revise intuitive theories about people, objects, and space, and develop and foster social relationships with others. How does the brain support these remarkable achievements? Our lab uses a variety of methods, including child-friendly neuroimaging experiments, to address this question. In particular, we investigate the relationship between social cognitive development and brain development in childhood in order to inform theories of cognitive development and address basic science questions about the human brain.

Our Research

Our research addresses fundamental questions about cognitive development: what cognitive capacities are available early versus learned or developed gradually? To what extent is development domain-specific versus domain-general? What are the relative roles of genes and experience in individual differences and developmental change? To date, most of our research has tackled these questions with regards to children’s developing “theory of mind” – i.e., their intuitive theory for how mental states (beliefs, desires, emotions) interact and predict behavior.

We use a variety of methods, including child-friendly neuroimaging experiments, to ask questions like: when do we develop “specialized” brain regions? What computations do these brain regions carry out? What kinds of neural changes support different aspects of cognitive development? What environmental and genetic factors promote or hinder development?

To learn more about our research, read our publications, watch Hilary’s PEN lecture, or take a look at press coverage of our work here and here.

Current Projects

We have lots of exciting projects going on in the lab. Some examples include:

  • Studying brain and cognitive development in children born preterm, via the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort research study.
  • Investigating the relative roles of structural and functional brain development for theory of mind behaviour.
  • Characterizing the neural correlates of music processing in school-aged children.
  • Examining the impact of social experiences (with caregivers, siblings) on social cognitive and brain development.
Open Science

Our lab embraces open science practices. We share data and stimuli, pre-register analysis plans, and are engaged in continual efforts to increase the transparency & reproducibility of our research.