Dr Sam Wass
Developmental Psychology, Psychology
Sam’s research examines how stress and emotional arousal influence concentration and learning capacities during early childhood. At UEL, he is the leader of the BabyDevLab and the Developmental Group.
I am a developmental cognitive neuroscientist who leads the BabyDevLab at the University of East London.
I am a previous holder of research fellowships from the British Academy and the Economic and Social Research Council, and a current holder of a 5-year research fellowship from the European Research Council. My research examines stress and attention during early life.
I am also active in running training for Early Years practitioners, and as a media spokesperson with expertise in early childhood.
2009-2012 PhD, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London
2013-2015 British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, MRC Cognition and Brain Unit, Cambridge
2016-2018 ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow, University of East London
2019-2025 ERC Starter Grant Fellow, University of East London
gained a first-class undergraduate degree in Experimental Psychology at Oxford
University. He spent his twenties working as an opera director, in opera houses
in London, Glyndebourne, Berlin, Vienna, Bregenz, Geneva and others, before
returning to academia. He did his PhD at the
Sam’s research examines stress, concentration and learning during infancy and early childhood. He uses methods including eyetracking, autonomic monitoring and neuroimaging (EEG) to understand how stress influences children's concentration and learning, and how young children's stress, concentration and learning capacities are influenced by the environment, and people around them. Sam works with typically developing children, children being raised in low socio-economic status backgrounds, and children in early stages of developing conditions such as Autism Spectrum disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and anxiety.
Sam has held research fellowships from the British Academy and Economic and Social Research Council, and is a current holder of a €1.5 million research fellowship from the European Research Council. In addition, he has received funding as a Principal Investigator from the Medical Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council, and others, and as a co-Investigator from the National Institute of Health Research, the Nuffield Foundation, the MQ Mental Health charity and others.
Sam has active research collaborations with a range of researchers including: Vicky Leong (Cambridge/NTU Singapore), Mark Johnson (Cambridge/Birkbeck), Emily Jones (Birkbeck), Edmund Sonuga-Barke and Tony Charman (IoPPN, London), Oliver Perra (Queen's Belfast) Jukka Leppanen (Tampere, Finland), Stefanie Hoehl (Vienna, Austria), Aleksandra Djukic and Susan Rose (Albert Einstein, New York), Noa Gueron Sela (Ben Gurion, Israel), Bart Boets (KU Leuven) and Lonnie Zwaigenbaum and Susan Bryson (Alberta, Canada).
In addition, Sam is very active in the public communication of science. He appears regularly as an early years expert on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky television channels and on all the UK's radio channels and newspapers. He acted as a media spokesperson for public campaigns for the Department of Education, Public Health England, Save the Children, LEGO, Nickelodeon and more.
How stress influences attention and learning in children
My research has investigated relationships between physiological stress and early attention and learning. Recently, I have been working on new techniques to model how children's stress states spontaneously fluctuate in real-world naturalistic settings .
How orchids concentrate? The relationship between physiological stress reactivity and cognitive performance during infancy and early childhood.
Wass, S.V. (2018). 2018. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 90, 34-49..
How children's stress, attention and learning are influenced by people around them
I investigate how stress and attention emerge as shared states during parent-child interaction by recording brain activity and physiology in parents and children concurrently during free-flowing interactions .
Wass, S.V., Whitehorn, M., Marriot Haresign, I., Phillips, E., Leong, V. 2020. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Wass., S.V., Smith, C.G., Clackson, K., Gibb, C., Eitzenberger, J., Mirza, F. U. 2019. Current Biology 29(14), 2415-2422.
Wass, S.V., Noreika, V., Georgieva, S., Clackson, K., Brightman, L., Nutbrown, R., Santamaria, L., Leong, V. 2018. PLoS Biology.
Leong, V., Byrne, E., Clackson, K., Lam, S. and Wass, S.V. 2017. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. 114 (50), 13290–13295.
How children's stress, attention and learning are influenced by their environment.
These papers examine how noisy and unpredictable early-life environments can affect the early development of cognitive and affective control.
Wass, S.V., Smith, C.G., Daubney, K.R., Suata, Z.M., Clackson, K., Begum, A., Mirza, F.U. 2019. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 60(12):1323-1333 .
Physiological stress, sustained attention and cognitive engagement in 12-month-old infants growing up in urban environments.
Wass, S.V., Smith, C.G., Stubbs, L., Clackson, K., Mirza, F.U. (pre-print).
Attention training for children
The research evaluates the use of gaze-contingent attention training paradigms in infants. .
Training basic visual attention leads to changes in responsiveness to social communicative cues in 9-month- old infants.
Forssman, L. and Wass, S.V. 2017. Child Development. 89 (3) 199-213.
Wass, S.V., Porayska-Pomsta, K. and Johnson, M.H. 2011. Current Biology . 21(18), 1543-1547.
Attention and stress in atypical children
In addition to examining the relationship between physiological stress and attention in typical children, we also study atypical populations, such as children with ADHD and Rett Syndrome.
2015. Scientific Reports . 5 (8284), 1-8. .
Sam is very active in the public communication of science. He appears regularly as an early years expert on television (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky) and radio (all channels), and in all national newspapers.
He has acted as media spokesperson for public campaigns by the Department of Education, Public Health England, Save the Children, Lego, Nickelodeon, and more. He also appeared as one of the psychologists in the multi-award-winning Channel 4 series The Secret Life of 4-, 5- and 6-Year-Olds, produced by Teresa Watkins for RDF Television and supported by the Wellcome Trust.
I am always happy to receive research proposals from students in any of my areas of interest.