Dr Sarah Beck PhD

Dr Sarah Beck

School of Psychology
Reader in Cognitive Development

Contact details

School of Psychology
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sarah Beck - Research in 60 seconds videoMy research examines children’s and adults’ thinking about time and knowledge. I am interested in how children become able to speculate about events in the past and future and how they handle uncertainty, and how adults’ apparently sophisticated thinking in these areas is often irrational. More information about my research and my lab can be found at www.sarahruthbeck.net.

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 www.sarahruthbeck.net


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


Beck, S 2020, 'The subject of children’s counterfactual thoughts.', Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. https://doi.org/10.1037/cns0000235

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2018.11.005

Cutting, N, Apperly, I, Chappell, J & Beck, S 2019, 'Is tool modification more difficult than innovation?', Cognitive Development, vol. 52, 100811. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2019.100811

McCormack, T, Feeney, A & Beck, S 2019, 'Regret and decision making: a developmental perspective', Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2017.1326373

Beck, S 2017, 'Interaction between comparative psychology and cognitive development', Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, vol. 16, pp. 138-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2017.07.002

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2017.03.009

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. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-01715-2

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2736-2

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. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0190

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2016.02.008

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. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2015.2402

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2015.03.003

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 2015, 'Why What Is Counterfactual Really Matters: A Response to Weisberg and Gopnik (2013)', Cognitive Science, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 253-256. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12235

View all publications in research portal