Harry Purser

Postdoctoral research fellow

Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development
School of Psychology, Birkbeck College
Mail: Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX
Office: Main Building, Rm. 501
Phone: +44 (0)20 7631 6488
Email: h dot purser at bbk dot ac dot uk


Research interests

My current focus is on the development of analogy and metaphor comprehension in typical children and children with developmental disorders. Although, at first glance, this research area might appear quite abstracted, in fact, it is really just a way of getting at the development of "understanding one thing in terms of another". What is this process of understanding (a comparison, a transformation)? Do people with developmental disorders develop in similar ways to typical children? What can this tell us about development more generally?

Previously, I completed my PhD at the University of Bristol with Chris Jarrold, on short-term memory in individuals with Down syndrome. This work was a progressive programme of ruling out possible explanations for the robust finding that individuals with Down syndrome tend to have a marked impairment of verbal short-term memory. Relatedly, I am interested in elucidating the nature and functional properties of the representational codes utilised by both short- and long-term memory systems.

Generally, I am interested in whether individuals with developmental disorders use different strategies from typically-developing children to afford good task performance, particularly in tasks that are used for matching and regression purposes. Other areas of interest include the degree of independence of verbal short-term memory and language (both comprehension and production), and what exactly it is that verbal and visuospatial short-term memory have in common. I organise a reading group on the philosophy of science and psychology (by amateurs for amateurs) and am increasingly interested in what philosophers and psychologists can do for each other (there seem to be a lot of misunderstandings on both sides).

Most generally of all I'm interested in identifying the stats and inference framework that will help us to know when we're wrong, throw away the book, and start again.


Curriculum vitae


PhD (Bristol) - Short-term memory in Down syndrome

MA (Cantab) - Natural Sciences (Experimental Psychology)



Purser, H. R. M. & Jarrold, C. (2005). Impaired verbal short-term memory in Down syndrome reflects a capacity limitation rather than atypically rapid forgetting. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology91, 1-23.

Jarrold, C., Purser, H. R. M., & Brock, J. (2006). Short-term memory in Down syndrome. In T. P. Alloway & S. Gathercole (Eds.) Working memory and neurodevelopmental conditions. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Purser, H. R. M., Thomas, M. S. C., Snoxall, S., & Mareschal, D. (in press). The development of similarity: Testing the prediction of a computational model of metaphor comprehension. Language and Cognitive Processes.

Purser, H. R. M. & Jarrold, C. (in press). Short- and long-term memory contributions to immediate serial recognition: Evidence from serial position effects. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Thomas, M. S. C., Purser, H. R. M., & Richardson, F. M. (in press). Modularity and developmental disorders. In: P. D. Zelazo (Ed), Oxford Handbook of Developmental Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Purser, H. R. M. & Jarrold, C. (under revision). Poor phonemic discrimination does not underlie poor verbal short-term memory in Down syndrome.

Thomas, M. S. C., Van Duuren, M., Purser, H. R. M., Mareschal, D., Ansari, D., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (under revision). The development of metaphorical language comprehension in typical development and in Williams syndrome.

Purser, H. R. M. & Jarrold, C. (submitted). Does the Corsi task measure visual or spatial short-term memory? Evidence from Down syndrome.

Purser, H. R. M., Thomas, M. S. C., Snoxall, S., Mareschal, D., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (submitted). Definitions versus categorisation: Assessing the development of lexico-semantic knowledge in Williams syndrome.

Thomas, M. S. C., Purser, H. R. M., & Mareschal, D (submitted). The mystery of thought: demystified by context-dependent categorisation?