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Child and adolescent socio-emotional development lab

Dr Esther Burkitt

We conduct research primarily focussed on emotional, cognitive and social development across childhood and adolescence.

The aim of the majority of the research is to better understand how children and adolescents experience and process social emotion information, what enables them to process and express their emotions, and how this processing relates to wellbeing and learning outcomes. Projects also explore the parameters of the benefits of verbal and nonverbal expression, verbal and nonverbal memory, and art practices on learning and wellbeing.

Current projects and available participation opportunities

Mapping mixed emotional development in childhood and adolescence: We are developing a model to describe cognitive and affective skills that underpin mixed emotion understanding and to identity wellbeing correlates of mixed demotion processing.

Comparative validity and benefits of verbal and nonverbal emotional measures of emotion: We are exploring how written, spoken and drawing expression of emotion benefits different children and examine the quantity and types of expression afforded by each mode.

Examining effects of audience authority on children’s drawn and reported expression: This work examines how and why children communicate affective information differently for different audiences.

Identifying influences of pictorial naming on children’s drawing routines: We are examining how children’s typical drawing routines maybe influenced by object knowledge and visual perspective.

Projects in development:

  • Examining self-affirmation and self-esteem in childhood
  • Assessing self-affirmation and STEM subject success
  • Developing measures of gender identity in adolescence
  • Exploring the effectiveness of encoding methods to support prospective memory across the lifespan
  • Developing educational support for at risk students
  • Exploring performance confidence in adolescent footballers

Children’s drawing survey:

If you would like to take part in a survey sharing your views of emotional communication in children’s drawings please go to the link below to see the survey which usually takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. Thank you in advance for your valuable responses!

Some recent past projects

Mixed emotion experiences in middle childhood and adolescence:

We found that children’s mixed emotion experiences in middle childhood are more akin to those of adults that can vary by emotional intensity in multiple ways. For example, when thinking about a bittersweet experience for themselves or another child, children may experience single, sequential or various types of simultaneous mixed emotions which increase with intensity during mid adolescence.

Adult and child interpretations of drawn and reported emotions:

Whilst emotional communication in drawing and people’s interpretation of children’s drawings is very subjective, we found that adults from a range of professional groups interpret children’s representations of single and mixed emotions very reliably in relation to children’s communicative intentions.

Drawing archive:

We are developing an archive of children’s drawings about a host of topics. Please copy and paste the link below directly into a browser to see our emerging archive of children's drawings.

Any other member(s) involved including faculty, PhD students, research volunteers

  • Dr Ruth Lowry
  • Dr Sue Churchill
  • Dr Antonina Pereira
  • Dr Sue Bentham
  • Dr James Galpin
  • Dr Dawn Watling
  • Professor Robin Banerjee
  • Professor Iain Greenlees
  • Professor Jason Low

PhD students:

  • Robert Pulley
  • Tanya Goosen
  • Sophie Goodwin


  • Sebastian Siemieniec
  • Daisy Chipperfield

Recent publications

 Burkitt, E., Watling, D., & Cocks, F. (2019). Mixed emotion experiences for self or another person in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 75, 63-72. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.07.004

Burkitt, E., Watling, D. & Message, H. (2019). Expressivity in children’s drawings of themselves for adult audiences with varied authority and familiarity. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12278

Burkitt, E. (2018). Children's drawings, 2nd Ed. In Oxford bibliographies in childhood studies. Ed. Heather Montgomery. New York: Oxford University Press.

Burkitt, E. (2017). Assessing the concordance between child reports and adult observations of single and mixed emotion in children’s drawings of themselves or another child. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Education, 38(1), 75-98. doi: 10.1080/01443410.2017.1390072

Burkitt, E., Lowry, R., & Fotheringham, F. (2017). Children’s understanding of mixed emotions in self and other: Verbal reports and visual representations. Infant and Child Development, 27(3), e2076, doi:10.1002/icd.2076