Dr Emma Tecwyn

Research Associate

Research group:
Development & health psychology & Cognitive science
029 208 74007
Tower Building, Park Place

Research summary

My research is in the related areas of cognitive development and comparative cognition. I am equally interested in how the human mind develops across childhood, and the ways in which humans’ cognitive abilities are similar to and different from those of other animals.

I am currently working on an interdisciplinary Leverhulme-funded project investigating time and causality in cognitive development.
Some of my other current research interests include:

  • Social-causal reasoning in children and non-human animals
  • Physical and social problem-solving in dogs
  • Statistical inference in non-human animals
For further details, please see my personal webpage: http://emmatecwyn.weebly.com

Teaching summary

In my previous position at the University of Toronto, Canada, I taught courses in Cognitive Development and Comparative Cognition. I also supervised several undergraduate research assistants.

Selected publications (2014 onwards)


Full list of publications


Media activities

How do dogs learn? U of T’s undergrads look for answers. U of T News (March 2017): https://www.utoronto.ca/news/how-do-dogs-learn-u-t-s-undergrads-look-answers?utm_source=UofTHome&utm_medium=WebsiteBanner&utm_content=HowDogsLearn

Like humans, capuchin monkeys can determine probability, study finds. CBC News (Jan 2017): http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/capuchin-monkeys-probability-1.3943186

Guest on Spit and Twitches: The Animal Cognition Podcast. (April 2016): http://www.spitandtwitches.com/2016/04/episode-18-emma-tecwyn.html

Research topics and related papers

Time and Causality in Cognitive Development

Research with adults has demonstrated that our causal knowledge (i.e., knowledge about relationships between actions and outcomes) can influence our perception of time. For example, if an adult believes that two events are causally related (e.g. pushing the button at the traffic lights causes the light to change), then the temporal distance between these two events is perceived as shorter than if they hadn’t pushed the button; thus the two events are ‘bound’ closer together in time (temporal binding). Similarly, causal knowledge can also influence the perceived temporal order of events. Returning to the traffic light example, because adults believe that pushing the button causes the light to change, then even if the reverse was actually true (i.e. the light actually changed before they pushed the button), they would still perceive the light as changing after they pushed the button; that is, they reorder events to fit their causal beliefs (temporal reordering).

To date, very little research has examined whether children are also susceptible to these to these effects. In collaboration with colleagues at Cardiff, Queen’s University Belfast, UCL the University of Warwick and the University of Sheffield I am developing paradigms to investigate these phenomena in primary school-aged children. ¬†Elucidating whether children experience these distortions of time perception, and if/how they change across development will have significant implications for psychological and philosophical debates regarding our experience of time, causality, agency and consciousness.

Social-causal reasoning in children and non-human animals

Observing the effects of other individuals’ actions is a valuable way to learn how complex objects and artefacts work. But how does a learner infer which out of potentially many actions they see a social partner perform are causally necessary? In collaboration with researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of St Andrews, this project uses a developmental, comparative and computational approach to investigate how non-human animals (primates and dogs) and human children combine different sources of information to make causal inferences, including how differences in the intentions and pedagogical stance of a social demonstrator change their choices of which causal actions to imitate. Answering this question has implications for understanding the mechanisms underpinning uniquely-human cumulative culture.

Physical and social problem-solving in domestic dogs

In comparison to the recent explosion of research on dog social cognition, relatively little is known about their physical cognition skills; that is, their intuitions about inanimate object properties, the interactions between them, and the physical forces that act upon them. What little we do know suggests that in contrast to their impressive socio-cognitive abilities, dogs’ ability to solve problems that involve knowledge of the physical world may be relatively impoverished. However, the tasks that have been presented to dogs to date have been relatively complex. With collaborators at the University of Toronto, I am presenting dogs with some classic physical reasoning tasks from developmental psychology, to better understand what factors guide their behaviour when searching for displaced objects. In another line of research, in collaboration with the Yale Canine Cognition Centre, we are investigating how dogs evaluate information provided by human social informants.¬† For example, are dogs able to track the relative accuracy of two informants, and do they consider consensus between informants?

Intuitive statistics in non-human animals

The aim of this project is to expand research into the evolutionary origins of intuitive statistics. Recent research has demonstrated that both pre-verbal children and non-human apes are able to make predictions regarding samples drawn from populations of items. These findings suggest that the capacity for intuitive statistics may be shared by humans and other great apes. Of interest from an evolutionary perspective is whether this cognitive ability is also shared with other less closely related non-human species. We recently found that capuchin monkeys seem to share the capacity for intuitive statistics with apes, and with collaborators at the University of Toronto we are currently adapting the methodology to test domestic dogs.

Research collaborators

Marc Buehner (Cardiff University)
Teresa McCormack (Queen’s University Belfast)
David Lagnado (UCL)
Christoph Hoerl (University of Warwick)
Emma Blakey (University of Sheffield)
Daphna Buchsbaum (University of Toronto)
Amanda Seed (University of St Andrews)
Angie Johnston (Yale University)
Stephanie Denison (University of Waterloo)

Undergraduate education

BSc Biological Sciences with Studies in Continental Europe, University of Birmingham (2002-2006)

Postgraduate education

PhD Biological Sciences, University of Birmingham (2009-2013)

MSc Animal Behaviour, Manchester Metropolitan University (2006-2007)


Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Canada (2014-2017)

Postdoctoral Research Assistant, School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, UK (2013-2014)