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Dr Michelle Ellefson

Development of language from a cognitive science perspective; cognitive benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism; early literacy
Dr Michelle Ellefson

Reader in Cognitive Science, Faculty of Education

Bye-Fellow, Undergraduate Tutor and Director of Studies, Gonville & Caius College

Development of language from a cognitive science perspective

Cognitive benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism

Cognitive processes involved in early literacy

Artificial grammar learning

Evolution of language

Office Phone: (+4) (0)1223 767684

Departments and Institutes

Faculty of Education:

Research Interests

I am a lecturer in the Psychology and Education within the Faculty of Education. My research integrates cognition, neuroscience, child development, and education into a multi-disciplinary programme aimed at improving education in three core areas: science, maths, and literacy. Using an iterative process, I link laboratory-based research with classroom learning to better understand mechanisms responsible for cognitive development and improve educational practice. I study the role of executive functions in school achievement, investigate the role of causal reasoning for learning scientific phenomena, and apply specific cognitive principles to classroom learning (e.g., simplicity and desirable difficulties). Initially trained in developmental cognitive neuroscience, my inter-disciplinary team of students and collaborators includes developmental scientists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, educators, linguists, chemists, biologists, and physicists.


  • Cognitive development
  • Education
  • Psychology

Key Publications

Ellefson, M.R., Ng, F.F., Wang, Q., & Hughes, C. (2017). Efficiency of executive function: A two-generation cross-cultural comparison of samples from Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Psychological Science, 28, 555-566. DOI: 10.1177/0956797616687812

Teparek, M., Morgan, R., Ellefson, M., & Kingsley, D. (2017). Starting from the end: what to do when restricted data is released. Data Science Journal, 16, 10. DOI: 10.5334/dsj-2017-010

Goedert, K.M., Ellefson, M.R., & Rehder, B. (2014). Differences in the weighting and choice of evidence for plausible versus implausible causes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 40, 683-702. doi:10.1037/a0035547

Vousden, J.I., Ellefson, M.R., Solity J., & Chater, N. (2011). Simplifying reading: Applying the simplicity principle to reading. Cognitive Science, 35, 34-78. DOI:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01134.x

Ellefson, M.R., Treiman, R., & Kessler, B. (2009). Learning to label letters by sounds or names: A comparison of England and the United States. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 102, 323-341. DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2008.05.008

Christiansen, M.H., Conway, C.M., & Ellefson, M.R. (2002). Raising the bar for connectionist modeling of developmental disorders. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 752-753. doi:10.1017/S0140525x02230137

Christiansen, M.H., Dale, R.A.C., Ellefson, M.R., & Conway, C.M. (2002). The role of sequential learning in language evolution: Computation and experimental studies. In A. Cangelosi and D. Parisi (Eds.), Computational approaches to the evolution of language. New York, USA: Springer Verlag.

Christiansen, M.H., & Ellefson, M.R., (2002). Linguistic adaptation without linguistic constraints: The role of sequential learning in language evolution. In A. Wray (Ed.), The transition to language: Studies in the evolution of language (pp. 335-358). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. [Chapter selected by peer review].

Molfese, D.L., Narter, D.B., Van Matre, A.J., Ellefson, M.R., & Modglin, A.A. (2001). Language development during infancy and early childhood: Electrophysiological correlates. In J. Weissenborn and B. Hoehle (Eds.), Approaches to Bootstrapping: Phonological, lexical, syntactic and neurophysiological aspects of early language development, Volume 2 (pp. 181-229). Philadelphia, PA, USA: John Benjamins.