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Staff Profile

Dr Nicola Savill

Senior Lecturer

Dr Nicola Savill

I am a Senior Lecturer in Psychology with research interests in cognitive and neurobiological aspects of language processing, particularly in the domains of reading and verbal short-term memory.

Before joining York St John University, I completed a PhD at Bangor University, in which I used electroencephalography (EEG) to track reading difficulties in developmental dyslexia, and subsequently worked at the University of York as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on an ERC project investigating phonological binding in verbal short-term memory.

My research considers various topics related to how and when the sounds and meanings of words influence ongoing language and thought, and how these influences might be understood in terms of differences in brain activity and behaviour.


PhD Psychology, Bangor University, UK
MSc Psychological Research, University of Wales, Bangor, UK
BSc Human Psychology, Aston University, UK


My area of expertise is cognitive and neurobiological research on language and memory. I supervise dissertation projects, and currently teach on the following modules:

  • PSY4003M Biological Bases of Behaviour (module leader)
  • PSY4004M Experimental Research Methods and Statistics
  • PSY5005M Advanced Topics in Brain and Behaviour (module leader)
  • PSY5006M Investigating Cognition
  • 3PY400 Research Paper (module leader)


My research addresses various aspects of normal and disordered language processing. A core focus of my research is phonological function (i.e. the processing of language sounds, in particular the sounds of a word) and how this is influenced by different cognitive and neurobiological factors.

Studies consider questions related to how and when our long-term linguistic and semantic knowledge influence ongoing language processing and span investigations of verbal short-term memory, reading, word learning and repetition. I use various experimental psycholinguistic and electrophysiological approaches in my research, in addition to different cognitive neuroscience methods via collaboration with colleagues at the University of York.

I am happy to hear from potential PhD students interested in pursuing experimental psychology and EEG research on similar topics.


Peer-reviewed journal articles

Zhang, M., Nathaniel, U., Savill, N., Smallwood, J. & Jefferies, E. (2022) Intrinsic connectivity of left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex predicts individual differences in controlled semantic retrieval. NeuroImage, 246, 118760.

Zhang, M., Savill, N., Margulies, D., Smallwood, J. & Jefferies, E. (2019). Distinct individual differences in default mode network connectivity relate to off-task thought and text memory during reading. Scientific Reports, 9, 16220. 

Savill, N., Cornelissen, P., Whiteley, J., Woollams, A., & Jefferies, E. (2019). Individual differences in verbal short-term memory and reading aloud: Semantic compensation for weak phonological processing across tasks. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 45, 1815-1831. 

Savill, N. J., Cornelissen, P., Pahor, A., & Jefferies, E. (2019). rTMS evidence for a dissociation in short-term memory for spoken words and nonwords. Cortex, 112, 5-22. 

Teige, C., Mollo, G., Millman, R., Savill, N., Smallwood, J., Cornelissen, P. L., & Jefferies, E. (2018). Dynamic semantic cognition: Characterising coherent and controlled conceptual retrieval through time using magnetoencephalography and chronometric transcranial magnetic stimulationCortex, 103, 329-349

Savill, N., Ellis, R., Brooke, E., Koa, T., Ferguson, S., Rojas-Rodriguez, E., Arnold, D., Smallwood, J., & Jefferies, E. (2018). Keeping it together: Semantic coherence stabilizes phonological sequences in short-term memory. Memory & Cognition, 46, 426-437. 

Savill, N. J., Ellis, A. W. & Jefferies, E. (2017). Newly-acquired words are more phonologically robust in verbal short-term memory when they have associated semantic representationsNeuropsychologia, 98, 85-97.

Savill, N., Metcalfe, T., Ellis, A. W. & Jefferies, E. (2015). Semantic categorisation of a word supports its phonological integrity in verbal short-term memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 84, 128-138. 

Savill, N., Ashton, J., Gugliuzza, J., Poole, C., Sim, Z., Ellis, A. W., Jefferies, E. (2015). tDCS to temporoparietal cortex during familiarisation enhances the subsequent phonological coherence of nonwords in immediate serial recall. Cortex, 63, 132-144. 

Lallier, M., Carreiras, M., Tainturier, M-. J., Savill, N. J., & Thierry, G. (2013). Orthographic transparency modulates the grain size of orthographic parsing: Behavioral and ERP evidence from bilingualismBrain Research, 1505, 47-60. 

Grossi, G., Savill, N., Thomas, E., & Thierry, G. (2012). Electrophysiological cross-language neighborhood density effects in late and early English-Welsh bilingualsFrontiers in Psychology, 3, 408. 

Savill, N. J. & Thierry, G. (2012). Decoding ability makes waves in reading: Deficient interactions between attention and phonological analysis in developmental dyslexia. Neuropsychologia, 50, 1553-1564. 

Savill, N. & Thierry, G. (2011). Electrophysiological evidence for impaired attentional engagement with ortho-phonological correspondence in developmental dyslexia. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 139. 

Savill, N. J. & Thierry, G. (2011). Reading for sound with dyslexia: Evidence for early orthographic and late phonological integration deficitsBrain Research,1385, 192-205. 

Savill, N., Lindell, A., Booth, A., West, G., & Thierry, G. (2011). Literate humans sound out words during silent reading. NeuroReport, 22, 116-120. 

Grossi, G., Savill, N., Thomas, E., & Thierry, G. (2010). Posterior N1 asymmetry to English and Welsh words in Early and Late English-Welsh bilinguals. Biological Psychology, 85, 124-133. 

Lindell, A. & Savill, N. J. (2010). Time to turn the other cheek? The influence of left and right poses on perceptions of academic specialisation. Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 15, 639-650. 

Conference Papers

Presentations and Posters

Savill, N. & Jefferies, E. (2015). An individual differences approach to semantic and phonological effects in reading, repetition and verbal short-term memory. Poster presented at workshop on Individual differences in language processing across the adult life span. Nijmegen, December 10-11, 2015.

Savill, N. (2015). The contribution of semantic knowledge to verbal short-term memory: Insights from training novel words. Talk presented at the Cognition, Learning and Memory Discussion Group Meeting. York, June 17, 2015.

Savill, N., Ellis, A. W, Jefferies, E. (2014) Site-specific modulation of lexicality effects in auditory verbal short-term memory using TMS. Poster presented at the 2014 Neurobiology of Language Conference. Amsterdam, August 27-29, 2014.

Savill, N., Ashton, J., Gugliuzza, J., Poole, C, Sim, Z. & Jefferies, E. (2013) tDCS, concreteness and lexical learning effects on the stability of phonological representations of novel words in verbal short term memory. Poster presented at workshop on Concepts, Actions, and Objects: Functional and neural perspectives. Rovereto, May 23-26, 2013.

Savill, N. (2012). Semantic context benefits phonemic ordering in STM. Talk presented at the Greater Yorkshire Memory Meeting. York, December 20, 2012.

Savill, N. (2012). Reduced sensitivity to the phonological content of written words in developmental dyslexia? Insights from event-related potentials (ERPs). Talk presented at the Psycholinguistics Research Group Meeting. York, November 12, 2012.

Savill, N., Davis, N., Bracewell, R. M., & Thierry, G. (2012).  Modulating word decoding fluency in dyslexic and normal readers with direct current stimulation of the left temporoparietal junction. Poster presented at the 2012 Neurobiology of Language Conference. San Sebastian, October 25-27, 2012.

Savill, N. J., Davis, N. J., Bracewell, R. M. & Thierry, G. (2012). The effect of anodal tDCS over the left temporoparietal junction on decoding the sounds of written words. Poster presented at the Magstim Neuroscience Conference 2012. Oxford, May 12-13, 2012.

Savill, N. (2011). ERPs to oddball homophones in developmental dyslexia: Evidence for deficient attentional engagement with spelling-sound correspondences. Talk presented at the School of Psychology Cognitive Neuroscience colloquium. Bangor, December 9, 2011.

Grossi, G., Savill, N., Thomas, E., & Thierry G. (2011). Cross-language neighborhood density effects in late English-Welsh bilinguals: An ERP study. Poster presented at the 2011 Cognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Meeting. San Francisco, April 2-4, 2011.

Savill, N., Lallier, M., Carreiras, M., & Thierry, G. (2010). ERP evidence of reduced automatic differentiation of words and consonant strings in English-Welsh bilinguals.  Poster presented at the 2nd Neurobiology of Language Conference. San Diego, November 11-12, 2010.

Grossi, G., Savill, N., Thomas, E., & Thierry, G. (2010) Posterior N1 asymmetry to English and Welsh words in early and late English-Welsh bilinguals.  Poster presented at 17th Cognitive Neuroscience Society Meeting. Montreal, April 17-20, 2010.

Savill, N. & Thierry, G. (2009) Electrophysiological evidence for post-lexical impact of phonological priming during reading in developmental dyslexia. Poster presented at Developmental Dyslexia: Searching the Links between Neurocognitive Functions. Rome, October 9-10, 2009.

Savill, N. (2009).  Tasks affect dyslexic response to phonology: ERP evidence.  Talk presented at the 16th European Society for Cognitive Psychology Conference. Krakow, September 2-5, 2009.

Brunswick, N., Martin, G.N., Marzano, L. & Savill, N. (2007). Visuo-spatial ability, handedness and developmental dyslexia: Just how sinister was Andy Warhol? Poster presented at the 25th European Workshop on Cognitive Neuropsychology. Bressanone, January 24, 2007.

Brunswick, N., Martin, G.N., Savill, N., & Marzano, L. (2006). Visuospatial advantage in developmental dyslexia- myth or reality? Poster presented at BPS Annual Conference. Cardiff, March 30-April 1, 2006.

Professional Activities

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Ad-hoc reviewer for: Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience; PLoS ONE; Brain and Language; Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition; Frontiers in Human Neuroscience; Journal of Memory and Language; Psychonomic Bulletin & Review; Memory; Language, Cognition & Neuroscience.

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