Professor Michelle Ellefson

Michelle Ellefson

University position


Professor Michelle Ellefson is pleased to consider applications from prospective PhD students.


Faculty of Education



Home page (personal home page)

Research Theme

Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience


Michelle Ellefson is a Professor of Cognitive Science in the Faculty of Education. Her work integrates cognition, neuroscience, child development, and education into a multi-disciplinary research programme aimed at improving maths and science education. Using an iterative process, she pairs laboratory-based research with classroom learning to better understand mechanisms responsible for cognitive development and improve educational practice. She studies the role of executive functions in school achievement, she investigates the role of causal reasoning for learning scientific phenomena, and she applies specific cognitive principles to classroom learning (e.g., simplicity and desirable difficulties). Initially trained in developmental cognitive neuroscience, her inter-disciplinary team of students and collaborators includes developmental scientists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, educators, chemists, biologists, and physicists.

Research Focus


Executive Functions

Causal Reasoning

Science & Maths Education

Task Switching

Scientific Reasoning

Clinical conditions

No direct clinical relevance


Behavioural analysis

Computational modelling

Cross-sectional and cohort studies

Electroencephalography (EEG)

Neuropsychological testing



Duncan Astle

Claire Hughes

Keith Taber

United Kingdom

Elisabeth Blagrove Web:

Nick Chater Web:

Anne Schlottmann Web:

Janet Vousden Web:


Xornam Apedoe Web:

Morten Christiansen Web:

Kelly Goedert Web:

Teresa Parr Web:

Christian Schunn Web:

Zewelanji Serpell Web:

David Sobel Web:

Associated News Items

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(5): 555-566

Goedert KM, Ellefson MR, Rehder B (2014), “Differences in the weighting and choice of evidence for plausible versus implausible causes.” J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 40(3):683-702 Details

Vousden JI, Ellefson MR, Solity J, Chater N (2011), “Simplifying reading: applying the simplicity principle to reading.” Cogn Sci 35(1):34-78 Details

Ellefson MR, Treiman R, Kessler B (2009), “Learning to label letters by sounds or names: a comparison of England and the United States.” J Exp Child Psychol 102(3):323-41 Details

Ellefson MR, Brinker RA, Vernacchio VJ, Schunn CD (2008), “Design-based learning for biology: Genetic engineering experience improves understanding of gene expression” Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 36:292-298

Ellefson MR, Shapiro LR, Chater N (2006), “Asymmetrical switch costs in children” Cognitive Development 21:108-130



Hughes PW, Ellefson MR (2013), “Inquiry-based training improves teaching effectiveness of biology teaching assistants.” PLoS One 8(10):e78540 Details


Vousden JI, Ellefson MR, Solity J, Chater N (2011), “Simplifying reading: Applying the simplicity principle to reading” Cognitive Science 35: 34-78


Apedoe XA, Reynolds B, Ellefson MR, Schunn CD (2008), “Bringing engineering design into high school science classrooms: The heating/cooling unit” Journal of Science Education and Technology 17: 454-465

Ellefson MR, Brinker RA, Vernacchio VJ, Schunn CD (2008), “Design-based learning for biology: Genetic engineering experience improves understanding of gene expression.” Biochem Mol Biol Educ 36(4):292-8 Details


Young ME, Wasserman EA, Ellefson MR (2007), “A theory of variability discrimination: finding differences.” Psychon Bull Rev 14(5):805-22 Details


Christiansen MH, Conway CM, Ellefson MR (2003), “Raising the bar for connectionist modeling of developmental disorders” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25:752-753

Young ME, Ellefson MR, Wasserman EA (2003), “Toward a theory of variability discrimination: finding differences.” Behav Processes 62(1-3):145-155 Details


Christiansen MH, Ellefson MR (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 Oxford UK: Oxford University

Christiansen, MH, Dale RAC, Ellefson MR, Conway CM (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


Molfese, DL, Narter DB, Van Matre AJ, Ellefson MR, Modglin AA (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 Philadelphia, PA, USA: John Benjamins


Molfese DL, Ellefson MR (1999), “The use of event-related potentials to study cognitive disorders” Journal of Molecular and Chemical Neuropathology 13:263-234