Centre for Reading and Language

Dr Sarah Watson

Email: watson.sarah28@gmail.com


Sarah completed a BSc in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University in 2007, with her final year project investigating nonsense word repetition in young children. Following her degree she stayed at Nottingham Trent for a year to work as a research assistant on a project investigating the cognitive deficits that underlie specific language impairment for one year. In June 2009 she left to work as a Project Co-ordinator on the York Reading for Meaning Project at the University of York before beginning her PhD studies in October 2009. Sarah completed her PhD in 2013. Dr Silke Goebel was her PhD supervisor.

Research interests

Sarah is interested in the cognitive bases of children’s arithmetic development. Her PhD involved a longitudinal study investigating the cognitive factors that are important in the development of early arithmetic skills. The study followed a large unselected sample of children for 2 years with 3 time points, starting when the children were in Year 1. There is a paucity of longitudinal research and the majority of studies to date have concentrated on single causal factors (e.g. working memory) rather than multiple factors and their overlap. Possible predictors of arithmetic skill were measured at time 1 (Number representation, Counting, Working memory and Phonological skills) and the predictive relationship of arithmetic ability were explored.


Title: Children’s Arithmetic Development: Contributions of Symbolic and Nonsymbolic Magnitude Comparison

This thesis aimed to explore the predictors of children’s arithmetic development with a specific focus on magnitude comparison. Children were assessed in whole class groups in order to recruit a sample large enough to use structural equation modeling (Chapters 2, 4 and 5), while also assessing a subsample of children individually with computerised measures (Chapter 6). This thesis also aimed to explore children’s development on the magnitude comparison tasks within the same group of children (Chapters 3 and Chapter 6 Study 1).
 Chapter 2 first assessed the underlying latent factors that different comparison tasks may have in common. It was found that symbolic and nonsymbolic comparison tasks loaded on the same factor (magnitude comparison), whilst letter comparison formed a separate factor. Furthermore, children’s magnitude comparison ability was found to be a concurrent predictor of their arithmetic achievement but letter comparison was not. The longitudinal analyses in Chapters 4 and 5 show how magnitude comparison ability was not a predictor of children’s untimed arithmetic ability, or fluency at completing subtraction and multiplication problems either one or two years later. However, it was a significant predictor of addition fluency one year later. In comparison, number identification ability was found to be a consistent predictor of arithmetic achievement both concurrently and longitudinally.
 Chapter 6 investigated whether the inconsistent findings regarding the importance of magnitude comparison ability was due to the methodology used to assess it. Computerised magnitude comparison tasks more akin to those in previous studies were individually presented to a subgroup of children that also completed the group based measures. Neither symbolic nor nonsymbolic comparison ability was found to predict later arithmetic achievement, whereas number identification was a significant predictor.
 Finally in Chapters 3 and 6, it was found that children improved significantly over time on all of the magnitude comparison tasks presented.

Recent publications

  • Henderson, L. M., Baseler, H. A., Clarke, P. J., Watson, S., & Snowling, M. J. (in press). The N400 effect in children: Relationships with comprehension, vocabulary and decoding. Brain and Language.
  • Jones, G., Tamburelli, M., Watson, S. E., Gobet, F., & Pine, J. M. (in press). Lexicality and frequency in specific language impairment: Accuracy and error data from two nonword repetition tests. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

Poster presentations

  • Watson, S. E., Hulme, C., & Göbel, S. Just choose the larger numerosity: Concurrent predictors of arithmetic skill in 5 and 6 year olds. Poster presented at the BPS Developmental Psychology Conference, London, September 2010.
  • Watson, S., Jones, G., & Tamburelli, M. A Comparison of Three Nonword Repetition Tests Varying in Their Degree of Lexicality. Poster presented at EPS, London, January 2009.