Professor Peter Bryant

I am a developmental psychologist. My research is about children’s perception and their logical reasoning.

My first degree was in Psychology at Cambridge University (1961).  I did my Phd at the  Institute of Psychiatry, University of London (1963) and continued working there until 1967 when I went to Oxford University as a university lecturer in the Department of Experimental Psychology and the tutorial fellow in Psychology at St John’s College. In 1980 I was appointed the Watts Professor of Psychology in the same department  and a Professorial Fellow in Wolfson College. I retired from my position as the Watts Professor in 2004 and am now a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Education in Oxford University and an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College.

I was given the British Psychology Society’s President’s Award in 1984 and was elected to the Academia Europaea in 1990. I was made a  Fellow of the Royal Society in 1991 (sorry if I’m boring you).

In 1991 I received the APPORT International Award for “contributions to Psychology and co-operation with Portuguese Psychology”.  In 1999 I was given the award for Outstanding Scientific Contribution by the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading . I was elected to the Reading Hall of Fame in 2013.

I was the founding editor from 1982 to 1986 of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. I was also the editor of Cognitive Development from 2000-2005.


My Phd research (1963) was on children and adults with learning difficulties. Soon after that, I spent a post-doctoral  year (1964) in the University of Geneva working with Prof. Piaget and his colleagues.

In 1967 I began a series of experiments on children’s perceptual and logical abilities, which led to my first book Perception and Understanding in Young Children (1974) and to a very controversial article in Nature, written with Tom Trabasso, on children’s transitive inferences in 1971.

Around that time I began working on children learning to read and, together with my colleague Lynette Bradley, created a novel design which we called the ‘reading age control match’ to establish for the first time that many dyslexic children are remarkably insensitive to the sounds that make up words (i.e. to phonology). With the same kind of phonological awareness tasks Lynette Bradley and I went on to conduct  a large-scale longitudinal study, combined with an intervention study, which was also a completely new design at the time, to test the causal hypothesis that children’s phonological awareness has a pervasive and powerful effect on the progress that they make in reading and spelling. This was published in a much-cited article in Nature in 1983. We also wrote two books on the subject of phonology and reading.

Soon after that Terezinha Nunes and I began to work on another form of linguistic awareness, the awareness of morphemes, and its relation to reading. This research also involved combinations of longitudinal research and intervention, and it has shown that morphemic awareness is also a powerful determinant in learning to read, particularly later on in the school years.

Terezinha Nunes and I have also been doing research on children’s mathematics and in particular on their ability to reason about quantitative relations.  We persuaded the ALSPAC research team to include measures of children’s additive and multiplicative reasoning in their very large-scale study and that allowed us to plot the longitudinal relationships between these measures and the children’s success in key stage assessments at 11- and 14-years in a large number of children. We found a vey strong predictive relation between the children’s reasoning and their subsequent success in the key stage assessments of mathematics.

Our interest in children’s understanding of quantitative relations led naturally to research on what are called intensive quantities i.e. quantities like density and probability, that are based on a proportional relationship between two other quantities. Recently Terezinha Nunes and I were invited by the Nuffield Foundation to write a report on Children’s Understanding of Probability (now available on the Nuffield Foundation website). We followed this with an intervention study of children learning about probability in a project directed by Terezinha Nunes and her research team consisting of myself, Deborah Evans, Laura Gottardis and Emmanouela Terlektsi.  This project  was with 10-year-old children and involved two 15-session intervention studies  in both of which one group learned about probability and another about mathematical problems solving.  These studies established that it is possible for children of this age to learn how to solve probability problems.

My reason for coming to the Oxford Department of Education is that I am working with Terezinha Nunes. It helps a great deal to be a member of her department. I have also been able to participate in some of the classes in the MSc in Education, Child Development and Education Pathway. My contacts with the Mathematics Education group in the department  have also been very useful to me.


  • Honorary Research Fellow

College affiliation

  • Wolfson College

Subject area

  • MSc Education (Child Development and Education)

Research groups

  • Children Learning

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