Skip to Main Content

Apply Now to the University of Wyoming apply now

David Estes, Ph.D.

Associate Professor EmeritusDavid Estes

Cognition and Cognitive Development • (307) 766-6303 • Bio Sciences Bldg 108

I am not recruiting new graduate students at this time.


     Ph.D., University of Michigan 1986

     B.A., Jacksonville State University 1970


 Academic Positions

     Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Wyoming, 1999

     Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Wyoming, 1992

     Assistant Professor of Human Development, Penn State University, 1986-1992

     Director, Child Development Laboratory, Penn State University, 1986-1992


     - General Psychology (Undergraduate)

     - Psychology of Adulthood (Undergraduate)

     - History and Systems of Psychology (Graduate)

     - Introduction to Research (Graduate)

     - Optimal Development: The New Science of Well-Being (Graduate)


 Research Interests

Optimal Development and Well-Being

My current work focuses on optimal development, which I define as well-being from a dynamic, developmental perspective. I am interested in optimal development across the lifespan, but with special emphasis on three crucial periods - early childhood, the transition to adulthood, and later adulthood. What are the key factors that promote or impede well-being during these critical periods?

Under the unifying theme of optimal development, the following topics and questions are of special interest:

- Worldviews and Well-Being

How do worldview beliefs (our fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality and human existence) develop over the lifespan and how do they influence well-being?

- Conceptions of Human Nature

One key category of worldview beliefs concerns the qualities, potentials, and dispositions we attribute to all humans. How do our core beliefs about human nature influence our values, attitudes, behavior, and well-being?

- Imagination

My earlier work focused on how children come to understand and use imagination and the role imagination plays in children's developing theory of mind. I continue to work on issues related to imagination and theory of mind, primarily in collaboration with my colleague Karen Bartsch. I am especially interested in using imagination as a window onto children's developing awareness of mental phenomena and their potential for mindfulness. More generally, I am interested in how imagination might be used to promote optimal development.

 - Nature and Well-Being

My former student and now colleague Ethan McMahan and I are also exploring how exposure to nature can stimulate positive emotions and enhance well-being.

Recent and Selected Publications

Bartsch, K., & Estes, D. (in press). Beyond autism: Challenging unexamined assumptions about social motivation in typical development. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

McMahan, E., Estes, D., Murfin, J., & Bryan, C. (2018). Nature connectedness moderates the effect of nature exposure on explicit and implicit measures of emotion. Journal of Positive Psychology and Well-Being, 2(2), 128-148.

Estes, D., & Bartsch, K. (2017). Theory of mind: A foundational component of human general intelligence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, 28-29.

McMahan, E., & Estes, D. (2015). The effect of contact with natural environments on positive and negative affect: A meta-analysis. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10, 1-13.

Mousseau, A., Scott, W., & Estes, D. (2014). Values and depressive symptoms in American Indian youth of the Northern Plains: Examining the potential moderating roles of outcome expectancies and perceived community values. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43, 426-436.

McMahan, E., & Estes, D. (2012). Age related differences in lay conceptions of well-being and experienced well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 79-101.

Bartsch, K., Wade, C. E., & Estes, D. (2011). Children's attention to others' beliefs during persuasion: Improvised and selected arguments to puppets and people. Social Development, 20(2), 316-333.

McMahan, E. A., & Estes, D. (2010). Measuring lay conceptions of well-being: The Beliefs about Well-Being Scale. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(2), 267-287.

McMahan, E. A., & Estes, D. (2010). Hedonic versus eudaimonic conceptions of well-being: Evidence of differential associations with experienced well-being. Social Indicators Research, 103(1), 93-108.

Bartsch, K., Wright, J. C., & Estes, D. (2010). Young children's persuasion in everyday conversation: Tactics and attunement to others' mental states. Social Development 19(2), 394-416.

Estes, D. (2006). Metacognition. In Salkind, N. J. (Ed.) The encyclopedia of human development (pp. 832-834) London: Sage.

Estes, D., Chandler, M., Horvath, K., & Backus, D. (2003). American and British college students' epistemological beliefs about research on psychological and biological development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 23, 625-642.

Estes, D. (1998). Children's awareness of their mental activity: The case of mental rotation. Child Development, 69, 1345-1360.

Estes, D., & Bartsch, K. (1997). Constraining the brain: The role of developmental psychology in cognitive neuroscience [Invited Commentary]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 20, 562-563.

Estes, D. (1994). Young children's understanding of the mind. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 529-548.

Estes, D., Wellman, H., & Woolley, J. (1989). Children's understanding of mental phenomena. In H.W. Reese (Ed.), Advances in Child Development and Behavior (pp. 41-89). New York: Academic Press.

Wellman, H., & Estes, D. (1986). Early understanding of mental entities: A reexamination of childhood realism. Child Development, 57, 910-923.

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
UW Operators (307) 766-1121 | Contact Us | Download Adobe Reader

Accreditation | Virtual Tour | Emergency Preparedness | Employment at UW | Privacy Policy | Harassment & Discrimination | Accessibility Accessibility information icon