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Staff Profile

Dr Nicola Cutting

Senior Lecturer

Staff profile image of Nicola Cutting

My primary research interests are in Developmental Psychology. I joined York St John University as a Lecturer in Psychology in 2016. Prior to joining York St. John I completed my PhD at the University of Birmingham in 2012. Supervised by Dr Sarah Beck and Professor Ian Apperly, my PhD investigated children’s tool innovation and problem solving. Following my PhD I was a named Research Fellow on the ESRC funded grant ‘(Re)Inventing the wheel: the development of tool innovation’.

Academic Qualifications
PhD in Psychology, University of Birmingham, 2012
BSc (hons) Psychology, University of Sheffield, 2008


PSY4006M Foundations of Human Development

PSY5002M Infant and Child Development (Module Leader)

PSY5008M Psychology in Practice (Module Leader)

3PY418 Lifespan Development (Module Leader)

3PY400 Research Paper

PSY7003M Child Development

PSY7002M Research Paper


We all know that children are brilliant at learning to use tools. By copying others, children quickly master how to use a spoon, a cup and even an iPad. In contrast to children’s ability to learn from others, children are surprisingly poor at working things out for themselves. My research investigates the difficulties children have with innovating simple novel tools to solve problems. The evolution of human culture (tools in particular) is due to our faithful imitation of others actions, and innovations. Much research has focused on our ability to replicate what we see, but much less is known about innovations. My research focuses on why innovation is so difficult and what makes someone an innovator.

My second stream of research explores how exposure to different types of narrative (books, audio, film) relates to the development of mentalising and empathy in children and young people. This project is a collaboration with Dr Lorna Hamilton.

Current Students:

Alex Bond
Christabelle Toni-Uebari

Professional Activities

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Recognised Senior Advisor UK Advising and Tutoring (UKAT)

Member of the Experimental Psychology Society

Reviewer for the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Cognitive Development, Journal of Cognition and Development, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.


Cutting, N., Apperly, I. A., Chappell, J., & Beck, S. R. (2019). Is tool modification more difficult than innovation? Cognitive Development. Advance online Publication.

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

Beck, S. R., Williams, C., Cutting, N., Apperly, I. A., & Chappell, J. (2016) Individual differences in children’s innovative problem-solving are not predicted by divergent thinking or executive functions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371: 20150190.

Chappell, J., Cutting, N., Tecwyn, E. C., Apperly, I. A., Beck, S. R., & Thorpe, S. K. S. (2015). Minding the Gap: A Comparative Approach to Studying the Development of Innovation. In A. B. Kaufman & J. C. Kaufman, Animal Creativity and Innovation (pp. 287–314). London: Academic Press.

Cutting, N., Apperly, I.A., Chappell, J. & Beck, S.R. (2014). Why can’t children piece their knowledge together? The puzzling difficulty of tool innovation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 125, 110-117.

Beck, S. R., Cutting, N., Apperly, I. A., Demery, Z., Iliffe, L., Rishi, S., & Chappell, J. (2014). Is tool-making knowledge robust over time and across problems? Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1395.

Chappell, J., Cutting, N., Apperly, I. A., & Beck, S. R. (2013). The development of tool manufacture in humans: what helps young children make innovative tools? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 368, 1630.

Beck, S. R., Chappell, J., Apperly, I. A., & Cutting, N. (2012). Tool innovation may be a critical limiting step for the establishment of a rich tool-using culture: a perspective from child development. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 35(4), 220-221 

Cutting, N., Apperly, I. A., & Beck, S. R. (2011). Why do children lack the flexibility to innovate tools? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 109, 497–511. 

Beck, S. R., Apperly, I. A., Chappell, J., Guthrie, C., & Cutting, N. (2011). Making tools isn’t child’s play. Cognition, 119, 301–306.


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