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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Professor Emma Flynn, Ph.D.

Professor in the School of Education
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 46050
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 48412

Contact Professor Emma Flynn (email at

Research Interests

My research focuses on various aspects of socio-cognitive development, including social learning (observational learning, peer tutoring and collaboration), the acquisition, transmission and evolution of cultural behaviours and the development of, and inter-relations between, theory of mind and executive functioning. In my work I have adopted specialised methods, including the microgenetic method, diffusion chains and open diffusion.

Research Interests

  • Mechanisms of observational learning (including imitation and emulation)
  • Processes and strategies of information transmission
  • Acquisition of artefact knowledge and tool use
  • Social learning: Observational learning, collaboration and peer tutoring
  • Innovation
  • Cumulative culture
  • The development of socio-cognitive skills (theory of mind and executive functioning)

Journal Reviewer: Animal Behaviour; British Journal of Developmental Psychology; Child Development; Cognitive Development; Current Anthropology; Current Biology; Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience; Developmental Neuropsychology; Developmental Psychology; Developmental Review; Developmental Science; Evolution and Human Behaviour; Journal for the Study of Education and Development; Infant and Child Development; International Journal for Infant Behavior; Learning and Instruction; Philosophical Psychology; Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society; PLoS One; Scientific Reports; Social Development; Journal of Experimental Child Psychology; Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Grant Reviewer: Economic and Social Research Council; The Leverhulme Trust; The Nuffield Foundation; Royal Society; British Academy; National Science Foundation, USA; Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

PhD Examining: Cardiff, Psychology; Stirling, Psychology; Durham, Psychology & Education; Utretch, Biology.

Information for prospective doctoral research student supervisions

I am happy to receive enquiries from students who are interested in completing a PhD on any of my research interests

Research Groups

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Research Projects

School of Education

  • CAPES (Brazilian Government Funding) An investigation into the social learning of co-operation in children: cognitive, cultural and social differences
  • Developmental Trajectory of Trust (and Mistrust) through Childhood into Adulthood
  • Mind the Gap: Evaluation
  • NHS & Durham University: Spread and Embed: Investigating the adoption, transmission and evolution of healthcare processes
  • The Trust Map
  • Uncovering the determinants of the discovery, utilisation and transmission of information through social learning and innovation in young children

Research Interests

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

  • Mesoudi, A., Laland, K.N., Boyd, R., Buchanan, B., Flynn, E., McCauley, R.N., Renn, J., Reyes-Garcia, V., Shennan, S.J., Stout, D. & Tennie, C. (2013). The cultural evolution of technology and science. In Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion. Richerson, P. & Christiansen, M. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.
  • Flynn, E. (2010). Underpinning Collaborative Learning. In Self and Social Regulation: Social interaction and the development of social understanding and executive functions. Sokol, B., Muller, U., Carpendale, J., Young, A. & Iarocci, G. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 312-336.

Journal Article

  • Flynn, E., Turner, C. & Giraldeau, L. (2018). Follow (or don’t follow) the crowd: Young children’s conformity is influenced by norm domain and age. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 167: 222-233.
  • Stubbersfield, J., Tehrani, J. & Flynn, E. (2017). Chicken tumours and fishy revenge: Evidence for emotional content bias in the cumulative recall of urban legends. Journal of Cognition and Culture 17(1-2): 12-26.
  • Turner, C., Giraldeau, L.-A. & Flynn, E. (2017). How does the reliability of a model affect children's choice to learn socially or individually? Evolution and Human Behavior 38(3): 341-349.
  • Rawlings, B., Flynn, E. & Kendal, R (2017). To copy or to innovate? The role of personality and social networks on children's learning strategies. Child Development Perspectives 11(1): 39-44.
  • Reader, S., Morand-Ferron, J. & Flynn, E. (2016). Animal and human innovation: novel problems and novel solutions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 371(1690): 20150182.
  • Carr, K., Kendal, R.L. & Flynn, E.G. (2016). Eureka!: What is innovation, how does it develop, and who does it? Child Development 87(5): 1505-1519.
  • Lough, E., Flynn, E. & Riby, D. M. (2016). Personal space regulation in Williams syndrome: The effect of familiarity. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 46(10): 3207-3215.
  • Vale, G., Flynn, E., Pender, L., Price, E., Whiten, A., Lambeth, P., Schapiro, S. & Kendal, R. (2016). Robust retention and transfer of tool construction techniques in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). The Journal of Comparative Psychology 130(1): 24-35.
  • Flynn, E., Turner, C. & Giraldeau, L.-A. (2016). Selectivity in social and asocial learning: investigating the prevalence, effect and development of young children's learning preferences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 371(1690): 20150189.
  • Wood, L., Kendal, R. & Flynn, E. (2015). Does a peer model’s task proficiency influence children’s solution choice and innovation? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 139: 190-202.
  • Carr, K., Kendal, R.L. & Flynn, E.G. (2015). Imitate or Innovate? Children’s Innovation is Influenced by the Efficacy of Observed Behaviour. Cognition 142: 322-332.
  • Lough, E., Flynn, E. & Riby, D. M. (2015). Mapping real-world to online vulnerability in young people with developmental disorders: Illustrations from autism and Williams syndrome. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 2(1): 1-7.
  • Stubbersfield, J.M., Tehrani, J.J. & Flynn, E.G. (2015). Serial killers, spiders and cybersex social and survival information bias in the transmission of urban legends. British Journal of Psychology 106(2): 288-307.
  • Dean, L., Vale, G.L., Laland, K.N., Flynn, E.G. & Kendal, R.L. (2014). Human cumulative culture: a comparative perspective. Biological Reviews 89(2): 284-301.
  • Vale, G.L., Flynn, E.G., Lambeth, S.P., Schapiro, S.J. & Kendal, R.L. (2014). Public information use in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children (Homo sapiens). The Journal of Comparative Psychology 128(2): 215-223.
  • Wood, L.A., Kendal, R.L. & Flynn, E.G. (2013). Copy you or copy me? The effect of prior personally-acquired, and alternative method, information on imitation. Cognition 127(2): 203-213.
  • Flynn, E.G., Laland, K.N., Kendal, R.L. & Kendal, J.R. (2013). Developmental niche construction. Developmental Science 16(2): 296-313.
  • Flynn, E. & Whiten, A. (2013). Dissecting children's observational learning of complex actions through selective video displays. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 116(2): 247-263.
  • Wood, L.A., Kendal, R. & Flynn, E.G. (2013). Whom do children copy? Model-based biases in learning. Developmental Review 33(4): 341-356.
  • Wood, L.A., Kendal, R.L. & Flynn, E.G. (2012). Context-dependent model-based biases in cultural transmission: children's imitation is affected by model age over model knowledge state. Evolution and Human Behavior 33(4): 387-394.
  • Vale, G.L., Flynn, E.G. & Kendal, R.L. (2012). Cumulative culture and future thinking: Is mental time travel a prerequisite to cumulative cultural evolution? Learning and Motivation 43: 220-230.
  • Flynn, E. & Whiten, A. (2012). Experimental 'microcultures' in young children: identifying biographic, cognitive, and social predictors of information transmission. Child Development 83(3): 911-925.
  • Kaley, F., Reid, V.M. & Flynn, E (2012). Investigating the biographic, social and temperamental correlates of young infants’ sleeping, crying and feeding routines. Infant Behavior and Development 35: 596-605.
  • Flynn, E. & Smith, K. (2012). Investigating the mechanisms of cultural acquisition: How pervasive is overimitation in adults? Social Psychology 43(4): 185-195.
  • Kaley, F., Reid, V. & Flynn, E. (2011). The psychology of infant colic: A review of current research. Infant Mental Health Journal 32(5): 526-541.
  • Hopper, L., Flynn, E., Wood, L. & Whiten, A. (2010). Observational learning of tool use in children: Investigating cultural spread through diffusion chains and learning mechanisms through ghost displays. Journal Of Experimental Child Psychology 106(1): 82-97.
  • Flynn, E.G. & Whiten, A. (2010). Studying children’s social learning experimentally “in the wild”. Learning and Behavior 38(3): 284-296.
  • Whiten, A. & Flynn, E. (2010). The Transmission and Evolution of Experimental Microcultures in Groups of Young Children. Developmental Psychology 46(6): 1694-1709.
  • Flynn, E. & Whiten, A. (2008). Cultural transmission of tool use in young children: A diffusion chain study. Social Development 17(3): 699-718.
  • Flynn, E. & Whiten, A. (2008). Imitation of hierarchical structure versus component details of complex actions by 3- and 5-year-olds. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 101(4): 228-240.
  • Flynn, E (2008). Investigating children as cultural magnets: Do young children transmit redundant information along diffusion chains? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 363(1509): 3541-3551.

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