Professor Sarah Beck PhD

Professor Sarah Beck

School of Psychology
Professor of Cognitive Development

Contact details

School of Psychology
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sarah Beck - Research in 60 seconds video

Sarah's research examines how we think imaginatively about the real world. She is especially interested in how children become able to speculate about what might have been (counterfactual thinking) and how they think creatively to solve novel problems, particularly those involving tools. She takes a developmental approach, focusing on how children’s imaginative thinking changes and what cognitive factors influence this change. She collaborates to take a broad approach to cognition in clinical groups and recently, in nonhuman animals. More information about my research and my lab can be found at

Feedback and office hours

I set office hours during term time. For meetings at other times please contact me by email.


  • PhD (Birmingham)
  • BA (Oxford)


Dr Beck completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford in Psychology and Philosophy (PPP) before moving to become a research assistant at the University of Birmingham, where she has studied and worked ever since.


Sarah Beck teaches a 3rd year optional module on comparative and developmental cognition: Higher Cognitive Functions.


I am interested in the ability to think about things outside the here and now: to imagine alternative possibilities and worlds. I am particularly interested in how children speculate about events in the past (counterfactual thinking) and their innovative problem solving. I explore the cognitive components of these higher cognitive functions in children and adults. I also collaborate to work with atypical populations.

More information about my research and my lab can be found at


Other activities

  • Awarded the 2011 Margaret Donaldson Early Career Prize by the British Psychological Society Developmental Section
  • Psychology Programme Chair for the for the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology between 2008 – 2011
  • College of Life and Environmental Sciences Equality & Diversity Lead


Recent publications


McCormack, T, Feeney, A & Beck, S 2020, 'Regret and decision making: a developmental perspective', Current Directions in Psychological Science.

McCormack, T, O'Connor, E, Cherry, J, Beck, S & Feeney, A 2019, 'Experiencing regret about a choice helps children learn to delay gratification', Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 179, pp. 162-175.

Cutting, N, Apperly, I, Chappell, J & Beck, S 2019, 'Is tool modification more difficult than innovation?', Cognitive Development, vol. 52, 100811.

Feeney, A, Travers, E, O'Connor, E, Beck, S & McCormack, T 2018, 'Knowing when to hold ‘em: regret and the relation between missed opportunities and risk taking in children, adolescents and adults', Cognition & emotion, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 608-615.

Beck, S 2017, 'Interaction between comparative psychology and cognitive development', Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, vol. 16, pp. 138-141.

Whalley, C, Cutting, N & Beck, S 2017, 'The effect of prior experience on children’s tool innovation', Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 161, pp. 81-94.

Reindl, E, Apperly, I, Beck, S & Tennie, C 2017, 'Young children copy cumulative technological design in the absence of action information', Scientific Reports, vol. 7, 1788.

Waite, J, Beck, SR, Heald, M, Powis, L & Oliver, C 2016, 'Dissociation of cross-sectional trajectories for verbal and visuo-spatial working memory development in Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome', Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 46, no. 6, pp. 2064-2071.

Beck, S, Williams, C, Cutting, N, Apperly, I & Chappell, J 2016, 'Individual differences in children's innovative problem-solving are not predicted by divergent thinking or executive functions', Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences, vol. 371, no. 1690, 20150190.

McCormack, T, O'Connor, E, Beck, S & Feeney, A 2016, 'The development of regret and relief about the outcomes of risky decisions', Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 148, pp. 1–19.

Reindl, E, Beck, S, Apperly, I & Tennie, C 2016, 'Young children spontaneously invent wild great apes’ tool-use behaviors', Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences, vol. 283, no. 1825, 20152402.

O’connor, E, Mccormack, T, Beck, SR & Feeney, A 2015, 'Regret and adaptive decision making in young children', Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 135, pp. 86-92.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Chappell, J, Cutting, N, Tecwyn, E, Apperly, I, Beck, S & Thorpe, S 2015, Minding the Gap: A Comparative Approach to Studying the Development of Innovation. in A Kaufman & J Kaufman (eds), Animal Creativity and Innovation. Academic Press (Elsevier), pp. 287-314.


Beck, SR 2016, 'Counterfactuals matter: a reply to Weisberg & Gopnik', Cognitive Science, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 260-261.

Review article

Beck, S 2020, 'The subject of children’s counterfactual thoughts', Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice.

View all publications in research portal

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