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Personal profile

Personal profile

I am Professor of Social Cognition in Abertay's Division of Psychology and Forensic Sciences. I joined Abertay in 2011, following completion of my PhD and two post-doctoral research fellowships at the University of Aberdeen.

My research focuses on social cognition across the lifespan. In particular, I am interested in self-processing biases, through which information associated with self attracts attention and is better remembered. My work explores both the development of self-processing biases, and the extent to which they can be applied in education to support children's processing and retention of information.

I am also interested in stereotypes and prejudice, particularly looking at gender stereotype development and the impact of gender stereotypes and social learning on young people's decision-making. Our current work in this area is designed to understand and combat the influence of gender stereotypes on the academic subject choices made by adolescents.

My research has been funded by ESRC, ERC, the Leverhulme Trust and the Carnegie Trust.


I teach on the following modules:

  • PSY216: Psychology in the real world
  • PSY314: Social cognition across the lifespan (Module Lead)
  • PSY408: Advanced social and cognitive psychology

Research interests

My research is focused on social cognition, exploring the mechanisms and biases through which we process information about the self and other people.

Particular areas of interest include:

  • the early development of self-processing biases, and implications for learning and education (visit the Self Lab webpage)
  • self-reference effects in memory 
  • effects of stereotypes on cognition and behaviour
  • the educational impact of gender stereotypes on young people's decision-making (visit the Gender Stereotypes Lab webpage)


Research grants include:

2023-2026: CI on £227,860 project award from the Leverhulme Trust

2022-2025: CI on £70,897 RLINCS2 PhD studentship award

2021: PI on £3,658 vacation scholarship awarded by the Carnegie Trust

2020-2023: PI on £484,575 project grant awarded by ESRC

2018: CI on £9,576 grant awarded by the Carnegie Trust

2018-2021: CI on £75,000 RLINCS PhD studentship award

2017-2020: CI on £363,321 grant awarded by the ESRC

2017-2018: CI on £7,490 grant awarded by the Carnegie Trust

2015-2018: PI on £106,396 grant awarded by the Leverhulme Trust

2014: PI on £3,500 workshop grant awarded by the Experimental Psychology Society

2009-2012: Named RF on 791,549€ awarded by the European Research Council


I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA), a member of the Experimental Psychology Society, and have been an elected committee member of the British Psychological Society's Developmental Section.

I have served as external examiner on numerous UK and international PhD and MbR viva examinations, and as external examiner on taught postgraduate degree programmes for Bristol University and the University of Aberdeen.

I peer review manuscripts for international journals including Developmental ScienceJournal of Experimental Child Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and CognitionQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, and Memory. I also guest-edited a special issue on self-processing biases for the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Knowledge Exchange


Cunningham, S. J., Applying self-reference effects to support learning in middle childhood. International Convention on Psychological Science, Brussels, March 2023.

Ahmed, Z., Mclean, J., March, J., Golden, K., Wilks, C., Ross, J., & Cunningham, S. J. How can ‘you’ support children’s maths word problem solving? British Psychological Society Developmental Section, Sheffield, UK. September 2022.

Hutchison, J., Wood, L., & Cunningham, S. J. Boys copy boys: Social learning in adolescence. British Psychological Society Developmental Section, Sheffield, UK. September 2022.

Ahmed, Z., Mclean, J., March, J., Golden, K., Wilks, C., Ross, J., & Cunningham, S. J. How can ‘you’ support children’s maths word problem solving? The Mathematical Cognition and Learning Society, Antwerp, Belgium. June 2022

Golden, K., March, J., Ahmed, Z., McLean, J. Ross, J., & Cunningham, S. J. Effects of personal pronouns on children's numerical problem solving. Cognitive Development Society Biennial Conference, Madison, WI. April 2022.

March, J., Cunningham, S. J., McLean, J., Golden, K., & Ross, J. The influence of self-referential cues and problem consistency on children's maths performance. Meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society, Keele University. March 2022.

Cunningham, S. J., Hutchison, J., & Ross, J. How do self-reference effects change across childhood? Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting (virtual). April 2021.

Ahmed, Z., Cunningham, S. J., & McLean, J. Can the ‘self’ enhance children’s verbal working memory? Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting (virtual). April 2021.

March, J., Golden, K., Ahmed, Z., McLean, J. & Cunningham, S. J. Investigating the effect of self-referential cues and working memory on children's maths performance. Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting (virtual). April 2021.

Ahmed, Z., Cunningham, S. J. & McLean, J. Investigating the relationship between self-referencing and children’s visuospatial working memory: can ownership support working memory? BPS Developmental and Social Annual Conference. Stoke, August 2019.

Cunningham, S. J., Ahmed, Z., Rhodes, S., Gow, A., Macmillan, K. & Ross, J. Self-processing in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). International Convention on Psychological Science. Paris, March 2019.Ross, J., Hutchison, J. & Cunningham, S. J. Development of self-reference effects. International Convention on Psychological Science. Paris, March 2019.



I have delivered talks to children in primary and secondary schools on psychology topics such as stereotyping, brain development and self-referencing. 

Our lab group also runs CPD workshops for teachers aimed at increasing awareness of the application of self-processing biases in the classroom (see I also deliver workshops on this topic to teachers via national CPD provider SSERC, and have published a number of  related resources for teachers:

  • Cunningham, S. J. (2021). The importance of self-referencing as a learning technique. Futurum: A Science, Research and Tech Mag for the Next Generation, 11, 26-29.

Article and resources also published in:

Times Educational Supplement:

Teachers Pay Teachers:



I have developed research impact through engagement with national bodies such as Education Scotland's Improving Gender Balance and Equalities (IGBE) group and the Scottish Executive's Gender Equalities Taskforce in Education and Learning (GETEL). We also engage with charitable foundations (e.g., YMCA) and local authorities (e.g., Dundee City Council) to ensure our research impacts on real-world policy and practice.



I delivered the 2019 Annual Leverhulme Public Lecture at the May Festival, University of Aberdeen, on self-processing biases in cognition. I have been involved in a number of scientific public engagement sessions, including the British Science Festival and Dundee Science Festival ("I heard it on the Grapevine: The social evolution of information") and Cafe Science Dundee ("Pink for girls and blue for boys? The colour of gender stereotypes").


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality


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