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Department of Psychology


Claire Hughes completed her first degree and her PhD (on the topic of executive function in autism) at the University of Cambridge. She then spent two years in Paris as a post-doctoral research fellow, where she worked at the Hopital Robert Debre and INSERM at the University of Paris V, investigating executive functions in parents and siblings of children with autism. Returning to the UK, Claire worked for 6 years at the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre where she collaborated with Professor Judy Dunn in two parallel studies of ‘hard to manage’ preschoolers and typically developing preschool friends. Claire then returned to Cambridge and joined the Centre for Family Research and Newnham College.  She is currently a Deputy Head for the Psychology Department (Wellbeing, Equality and Diversity), Deputy Director of the Centre for Family Research, Director of Studies at Newnham College and Subject Convenor for the PBS Tripos.


Claire has conducted a number of in-depth longitudinal studies (funded principally by the ESRC) to investigate the origins and consequences of young children’s socio-cognitive skills. In the longest of these studies, Claire and her team tracked a socially diverse sample of toddlers across preschool and primary school to pre-adolescence, filming the children in this 'Toddlers Up' study interacting with mothers, siblings, friends and unfamiliar peers at multiple time-points. In 2013 her book about this study ‘Social Understanding, Social Lives’ was awarded the BPS book of the year prize.

More recently, Claire's studies include international collaborative investigations into theory of mind and executive function in children from different cultures as well as more applied work developing tools for teachers to identify children likely to benefit from extra support during the transition to school. With collaborators in New York and the Netherlands (Clancy Blair and Judi Mesman) Claire and her team have recently completed a study of new mothers and fathers (446 couples) tracked across the transition to parenthood to the children's second birthdays.  The aim of this study was to investigate how early parent-infant interactions mediate relations between prenatal wellbeing (in both fathers and mothers) and the early development of executive control and self-regulation.  The findings show remarkable similarities for mothers and fathers, despite large differences in mothers' and fathers' contact time.  Currently, Claire and her team have taken on the challenging task of investigating children's transitions to school - in a year that has been like no other for children starting school.  This has involved developing zoom-based tasks and remote methods of working with teachers.  A recent philanthropic donation has enabled Claire to extend this ESRC-funded work to Hong Kong and mainland China.  Claire has also received funding for a pan-African workshop to bring together researchers interested in children's conversational environments.


Key publications: 

For a list of publications please see

Teaching and Supervisions


Claire is the course organizer for the third year PBS paper ‘Development and Psychopathology’ and also contributes to the second year PBS paper on Social and Developmental Psychology (  Her lectures include two third year modules (Risk and Resilience in the Perinatal Period; Conduct Disorder and Bullying) and five second-year lectures on children’s social and cognitive development.

Directors of Studies Coordinator and Subject Convenor (PBS Tripos)
Deputy Director, Centre for Family Research
Deputy Head (Wellbeing, Equality and Diversity)
Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge

Contact Details

Office Phone: +44 (0)1223 (3)34517
Takes PhD students
Not available for consultancy