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Sara Baker


  • Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Education
  • Member of the Doctoral Leadership Team
  • Official Fellow and Deputy Dean, Darwin College

E-mail and Twitter

stb32 AT



+44 (0)1223 767531


  • PhD (Rutgers)
  • MS (Rutgers)
  • MA (Paris 8)


  • Society for Research in Child Development
  • American Psychological Society
  • Experimental Psychology Society

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Sara's research interests are based in cognitive science. She studied for her Maîtrise in psychology and cognitive neuroscience at the University of Paris 8 while on placement at the Salpêtrière Hospital's Brain Imaging Unit. Sara then gained her Masters and PhD at the Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Science working with preschool children in schools throughout New Jersey. This led on to a three-year ESRC-funded postdoctoral research position within the University of Bristol's Cognitive Development Centre. Between 2007 and 2010 she was an invited lecturer at the Royal College of Psychiatrists teaching basic psychology. Sara held a lectureship in Developmental Psychology at the University of Salford for one year before joining the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education as a University Lecturer in October 2011. She has been a Senior Lecturer since 2017.   Sara is a PI in the recently established Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning.

Academic Areas

Psychology, Education and Learning Studies Research Group

Cambridge Neuroscience

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Sara’s research aims to improve children’s lives by identifying factors at home and school that can support their agency over their own learning. Children’s agency requires cognitive flexibility. In psychological terms, this depends on their developing executive functions. Sara studies the interaction between developing executive functions and the acquisition of domain-specific knowledge, like early science learning. How do children discover the general laws underlying these domains? How entrenched are their beliefs and what kinds of evidence or experiences are needed to revise these?

Sara uses lab-based experiments and works with teachers in schools to translate research from cognitive science into educational contexts. What types of strategies can children use to solve everyday problems more effectively, and how can adults support this? Later in development, what are the key factors in adults’ use of evidence-based reasoning (e.g. critical thinking and scientific reasoning)? And finally, how can neuroscientists and educators work together for better evidence-informed practice and practice-informed evidence? Sara's recent projects addressing questions like these have been funded by the Newton Trust, a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the LEGO Foundation.

Prospective Masters and PhD Applications

Sara welcomes queries from prospective Masters (2019 entry) and PhD (2020 entry) students before they officially apply to our programmes. Prospective students are encouraged to consider the research themes outlined above before making contact. For PhD applications, applicants are encouraged to outline a set of potential research questions linked to the themes above when making first contact. For Masters applications, it is not necessary to have identified a specific set of research questions when making first contact.

Current Research Projects

  • Bayesian change point analysis and microgenetic research designs
  • Interventions to improve executive functions (i.e. cognitive flexibility) in preschoolers
  • Children's judgements when weighing up information from multiple sources
  • Scientific reasoning by individuals with and without autism
  • Working with teachers as co-researchers to develop and test evidence-based pedagogy (recent ESRC project here: The Educated Brain)
  • PhD student projects and collaborators based in UK, USA, Denmark, South Korea, Ghana and Rwanda

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  • Postgraduate
    • MPhil/MEd in Psychology and Education (Biological Psychology; Developmental Psychology)
  • Undergraduate
    • Bachelor's in Education (Cognitive Development)


Dr Audrey Kittredge – Former postdoc - currently consultant for UNICEF

Dr Lauren Bellaera – Former postdoc - currently 2019 Fulbright Fellow; former Director of Monitoring and Evaluation at The Brilliant Club

Min Kyung Lee – PhD 2018 entitled “Associations between Maternal Executive Function, Parenting, and Preschool Children’s Executive Function in the South Korean Context”, currently teacher in South Korea

Elaine Gray – PhD 2018 entitled “The Role of Executive Function, Metacognition, and Support Type in Children’s Ability to Solve Physics Tasks”, currently postdoc at University of Edinburgh

Esinam Avornyo – PhD 2018 entitled "Investigating Play and Learning in the Ghanaian Early Years Classroom: A Mixed Methods Study"

Yishu Qin - PhD 2018 entitled "Developing an Implicit Association Test to Explore Implicit and Explicit Stereotypes of Empathy in Scientists among University Students in England"

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Selected Publications

Baker, S. (In press).  Adult-child interactions in playful early science learning. In M. Peters and R. Heraud (Eds). Encyclopedia of Educational Innovation. Springer.

Marulis, L., Baker, S., & Whitebread, D. (2019). Integrating metacognition and executive function to enhance children's perception of and agency in their learning. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Special Issue.

T. Krude and S. Baker (Eds.) Development: Mechanisms of Change. (2018). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellefson, M., Baker, S., & Gibson, J. (2018). Lessons for successful cognitive developmental science in educational settings: The Case of executive functions.  Journal of Cognition and Development, 1-25.

Cotton, J., & Baker, S. (2018). A Data mining and item response mixture modelling method to retrospectively measure DSM-5 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the 1970 British Cohort Study. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 28(1).

Kazanina, N., Baker, S., & Seddon, H. (Accepted Oct 2018). Actuality bias in verb learning: The Case of sublexically modal transfer verbs. Linguistics.

Baker, S. (May, 2018). Cognitive skills for active learning in the early years. Impact: The Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching. online here

Avornyo, E. A., & Baker, S. (2018). The role of play in children’s learning: The Perspective of Ghanaian early years stakeholders. Early Years, 1-16.

Lee, M. K., Baker, S., & Whitebread, D. (2018). Cultureā€specific links between maternal executive function, parenting, and preschool children's executive function in South Korea. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(2), 216-235.

Burra, N., Baker, S., & George, N. (2017). Processing of gaze direction within the N170/M170 time window: A combined EEG/MEG study. Neuropsychologia, 100, 207-219.

Baker, S.T., Leslie, A.M., Gallistel, C.R., & Hood, B. (2016). Bayesian Change-Point Analysis Reveals Developmental Change in a Classic Theory of Mind Task. Cognitive Psychology, 91, 124-149.

Cotton, J., Baker, S.T., & Wilson, J. (2015). An Exploratory case study of three children with ADHD and social difficulties: Child and parent responses to an educational intervention designed to facilitate self-regulation and deep learning. The Psychology and Education Review, 39, 3-8.

Baker, S.T., Gjersoe, N.L., Sibielska-Woch, K., Leslie, A.M., & Hood, B. (2011). Inhibitory control interacts with core knowledge in toddlers’ manual search for an occluded object. Developmental Science, 14, 270-279.

Baker, S.T., Friedman, O., & Leslie, A.M. (2010). The Opposites task: Using general rules to test cognitive flexibility in preschoolers. Journal of Cognition and Development, 11, 240-254.


Coverage of Bayesian change point work on the learning curve

Coverage of my research on executive functions in young children

Times Higher Education profile piece on playful learning approaches in young children

Podcast discussing play and the learning sciences