Dr Felice van't Wout
Washington Singer Laboratories, University of Exeter, Perry Road, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK
Office hours: Term 1 Office Hours: Monday 11:30-12:30 Tuesday 10:30-11:30
Term 1 Office Hours:
I am a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Exeter. My research falls into the areas of cognitive and developmental psychology. I am particularly interested in how adults and children are able to control their behaviour in response to their internal goals and the external environment. Much of my recent research focusses on how language helps people to acquire novel skills.
I also teach at BSc (2nd year Cognition Practical) and MSc (Introduction to Statistics) level, and I supervise research projects in the areas of cognitive and developmental psychology.
PhD in Psychology – University of Exeter (2008-2012)
MSc in Neuroscience – University of Oxford (2007-2008)
BSc in Psychology – University of Exeter (2004-2007).
I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Exeter in 2007. I then went on to do an MSc in Neuroscience at Oxford, before returning to Exeter to complete my PhD in Psychology under the supervision of Stephen Monsell and Aureliu Lavric. I subsequently worked as a post doc in Bristol, before returning to Exeter as a Lecturer in 2020.
Research group links
I am interested in people’s ability to flexibly control their behaviour, and the cognitive mechanisms that support this ability. Specifically, my research investigates working memory, which can be defined as the ability to maintain and manipulate information over a short period of time; and task-set control, which enables people to flexibly switch between existing tasks, as well as learn novel tasks.
Most of my research has examined the relationship between working memory and task-set control in adults and children. More recently, I have begun to examine the process by which people acquire novel tasks and skills, and particularly the contribution of language to this process. These different research projects are described in more detail below.
Task-set control and working memory
My PhD research (University of Exeter; 2008-2012) investigated the relationship between task-set control and working memory in adults. Using task switching paradigms, I investigated the process of retrieving a task-set from long-term memory into working memory (Van ‘t Wout et al., 2015); and the factors influencing the representation of the currently operative task-set within working memory (Van ‘t Wout et al., 2013; Van ‘t Wout, 2018).
Children’s working memory capacity and task-set control
Following my PhD, I worked at the University of Bristol (2015-2018) as a postdoc on a Leverhulme-funded project investigating children’s ability to maintain and execute task rules, together with Chris Jarrold. This research found that children’s working memory capacity for task rules increases throughout childhood (Van ‘t Wout et al., 2019). Another series of experiments showed that this age-related improvement in working memory capacity contributes to children’s developing ability to switch between tasks.
Additionally, as part of a JSPS-funded collaboration with colleagues in Japan (Kaichi Yanaoka and Satoru Saito) and Bristol (Christopher Jarrold) I have recently begun to investigate children’s ability to implement cognitive control strategies, and their ability to transfer such strategies to novel environments (e.g., Yanaoka et al., 2021).
The role of language in novel task learning
More recently my research has begun to focus on the cognitive mechanisms which enable people to learn novel tasks or skills. Daily life frequently requires us to learn new skills, and humans appear especially adept at rapidly acquiring novel tasks, often with very little practice. I am especially interested in how language supports our ability to learn novel tasks. Together with my collaborator Chris Jarrold, we have shown that language plays a crucial role in the acquisition of novel cognitive tasks. In trial-and-error learning, the role of language emerges as participants construct a declarative representation of the task, and then diminishes again as the task becomes well-practised (Van ‘t Wout & Jarrold, 2020; 2022a). When learning via instructions, participants are able to use language to encode the task during the instruction phase (Van ‘t Wout & Jarrold, 2022b).
Following these discoveries, I have become interested in how the contribution of language to novel task learning might differ in people with an atypical inner speech profile. For example, a recent project sought to determine whether the use of inner speech in novel task learning is modulated by the expression of autism traits.
- 2020 Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS
Acquisition and development of strategic skill knowledge for cognitive control in adults and children.
- 2015 The Leverhulme Trust
The development of procedural working memory.
Publications by category
Publications by year
The modules I teach on (see below) are aligned with my research interests in cognitive and developmental psychology. I also teach Statistics at MSc level for our MSc Conversion courses.
Modules I teach:
PSY2212 Cognition Practical (BSc Psychology)
PSYM221 Introduction to Statistics (MSc Conversion)
PSYM221Z Introduction to Statistics (MSc Conversion Online)
PSYM214 Methods in Cognitive and Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience (MSc Psychological Research Methods)