Dr Emma Blakey

Department of Psychology

Senior Lecturer

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Full contact details

Dr Emma Blakey
Department of Psychology
Interdisciplinary Centre of the Social Sciences (ICOSS)
219 Portobello
S1 4DP

I am a Developmental Psychologist and I’m part of the Sheffield Cognitive Development Research Group. My research focuses on how children develop high-level cognitive skills known as executive functions, why we see differences in those skills, and how their development can be best supported. I am also interested in how social inequalities impact childhood outcomes and how we can mitigate the impact of this.

I studied at the University of Sheffield for my degree, Masters and PhD and returned as a Lecturer in 2017. In between then, I was awarded an ESRC overseas research award and spent several months working with Prof Sandra Wiebe at the University of Alberta examining the neural correlates of executive function in toddlers. I was then a post-doctoral researcher at Cardiff University, where I worked on an inter-disciplinary project looking at how causal beliefs can shape children’s time perception and whether this changes over development.

I love that my job allows me to work with local families and nurseries and more recently understand the ways we might best support development and reduce the impact of social inequality on children’s outcomes. I am also passionate about widening participation, public engagement and getting students involved in research. In both my research and my role as Department Parent Champion, I endeavour to do work that supports caregivers, parents, and teachers who are involved in raising and caring for young children.

  • PhD Developmental Psychology (University of Sheffield)
  • MSc Psychological Research (University of Sheffield)
  • BA Philosophy and Psychology (University of Sheffield)
Research interests

I’m interested in the development of children’s executive functions, which are the collection of cognitive skills that support goal directed thinking and self-regulation. I am interested in how they develop in toddlers and preschoolers, why we see individual differences in these skills and how their development can be best supported. My research also examines how executive functions might relate to school readiness and how social inequalities might shape their development.

I am currently leading an ESRC funded longitudinal study 'The Sheffield Early Years Study' to examine how executive functions develop in the toddler and preschool years. I am interested in the important role that parents play in buffering the impacts of social inequality and how language may shape the development of executive functions. For more information, please see our project website here.

I am currently working with colleagues at the University of Oxford and Ulster University to design and evaluate interventions to support maths skills and cognitive development. In one study we are trialling whether we can reduce socioeconomic disadvantage in early maths by working with practitioners to embed executive functions into fun learning activities (The ONE intervention; funded by the Education Endowment Foundation). In another study, we are examining the role the home environment plays in early maths by running secondary analyses on a large-scale dataset and designing and trialling a co-produced parent intervention (PLUS study; funded by the Nuffield Foundation).

I'm also leading a research project with Fiona Scott in the School of Education, Michelle McGillion (University of Warwick) and the National Childbirth Trust to understand the unique experiences new parents have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please see the project website here.

I am part of the Sheffield Cognitive Development Group where we run child development studies with local schools and families. If you would like to take part in our studies with your child, or if you want to find out more about our lab group, please see the Sheffield Cognitive Development Research Group page.


Journal articles


Research group

I am part of the Sheffield Cognitive Development research group

Current PhD students

  • Rosemary O'Connor (University of Oxford): The preschool Environment, Inequalities and Cognitive Development. With Gaia Scerif (1st Supervisor).
  • Elif Kaplan: The Development of Early Cognitive Flexibility: A Longitudinal Study. Co-supervised by Dan Carroll.

Former PhD students

  • Christ Billy Aryanto: The Structure and Mechanism of the Relation between Music Making, Executive Function, and Sensory Discrimination. With Claudia von Bastian (1st Supervisor).

  • Ella James-Brabham: Understanding how we can close the achievement gap: The role of SES and cognitive factors on early mathematical skills. Funded by an ESRC studentship award co-supervised by Dan Carroll and Paul Wakeling (University of York).

  • Yesim Yavaslar: The development of cognitive flexibility in early childhood. Funded by the Turkish Government co-supervised by Dan Carroll.

  • Aleksandra Laketa (International Faculty, City College, Thessaloniki): The role of acculturation and motivation in testing the bilingualism cognitive advantage. Funded by a SEERC fee scholarship and co-supervised by Ana Vivas (SEERC) and Elisavet Chrysochoou (Aristotle University).

  • Arvesa Studenica (International Faculty, City College, Thessaloniki): Mechanisms underpinning the so-called bilingual cognitive advantage. Funded by a SEERC fee scholarship and co-supervised by Ana Vivas (SEERC) and Elisavet Chrysochoou (Aristotle University).

  • Educational Endowment Foundation (2023-2025) Trialling the ONE Intervention to Reduce Socioeconomic Disadvantage in Early Maths (£995,127). With Gaia Scerif (PI) (University of Oxford) and Victoria Simms (Ulster University).

  • ESRC New Investigator Award (2021-2024) (PI): Why do inequalities emerge in children’s early cognitive development? (£298,846). With Danielle Matthews (Co-I).

  • Nuffield Foundation (2023-2025). Improving Early Mathematical Skills by Supporting the Home Learning Environment. (£223,580). With Victoria Simms (PI) and Abbie Cahoon (Ulster University), Danielle Matthews, Ella James-Brabham.

  • ESRC White Rose Network Grant (2017-2021): Inequalities in Cognitive Development (funded 3 x 1+3 PhD studentships across the White Rose doctoral training partnership). With Mark Mon-Williams (PI), Rosie McEachan, Liam Hill, Amanda Waterman, Dan Carroll, Kate Pickett and Paul Wakeling.

  • The Nuffield Foundation (2017-2018): Testing a short executive function training intervention to improve academic skills in children before they start school (£179,111) (Co-PI). With Dan Carroll, Danielle Matthews, and Lucy Cragg. To find out more about this project, see our webpage here.

  • The Economic and Social Research Council Overseas Visit Award (2015): The neural correlates of cognitive flexibility in 2- to 4-year-olds. With Sandra Wiebe (ABCD Lab, University of Alberta).

I have received a number of small grants from the Wellcome Trust, EPS, BPS and the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) scheme to fund undergraduates to do a summer research project.

University of Sheffield Science Faculty Widening Participation Grant (2013) to develop a STEM activity for schools (£1200).

Teaching activities

I teach on the Developmental Stream on our BSc Psychology degree, as well as on the MSc Psychological Research Methods Course on Longitudinal Methods.

I supervise research projects at a range of levels including undergraduate dissertations, Masters students on the MSc Psychological Research Course, Clinical Doctorate Research Students, and PhD students.

Professional activities and memberships

I am a Parent Champion for the Department and I also sit on the University Parents Network Committee. I am also a member of the Department of Psychology ED&I committee.

Events and Public Engagement:

I enjoy organising exhibitions, talks and activities to demonstrate my research. These have been held as part of Pint of Science, Ignite Academy, exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection, Cambridge Secret Garden Party, the Sheffield Mobile University, Discovery Night, National Science and Engineering week and Sheffield City Council’s LearnFest.

I also enjoying giving talks in schools and running workshops for educators on topics such as school readiness.

Articles and programmes

Cognitive Development:

I was interviewed for the Learning Scientists podcast about my executive function research. Listen here.

I have wrote articles for The Conversation, and have been interviewed for articles on topics of Developmental Psychology e.g., Scientific American. Read here.

I was involved in the Wellcome Trust Science of Learning 'ask a scientist' web event. Found out more here.

The Pandemic and Parents:

Medium Article - Becoming a New Parent in a Pandemic

BPS Article - Space for Parents and Children to grow together

Conversations on Class - The Psychologist

ASMR Research:

The Guardian Article: ASMR and 'head orgasms': what's the science behind it?

BBC News Article - ASMR: What's going on inside my brain?

Radio programme featuring our ASMR research

BBC programme featuring our ASMR research: 

PhD Opportunities

I am happy to receive applications for PhD study in my area of research.

We advertise PhD opportunities (Funded or Self-Funded) on FindAPhD.com

For further information, please see the department PhD Opportunities page.