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Developmental Psychology Research Group


The Developmental Psychology Research Group joins together psychologists, neuroscientists and comparative developmental psychologists. Using a range of innovative techniques such as high-density EEG, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and eye-tracking, along with observational and qualitative methodology, we explore different aspects of brain, cognitive and social development from birth and throughout the life span. Our projects actively engage the community of East London and are aimed at optimising the wellbeing and development of all local children and adults but in particular those facing social economic disadvantage. See the full list of group members.

Early-Years Brain and Cognitive Development

In the Babylab (led by Dr Elena Kushnerenko) we are studying how babies learn and develop from birth onwards, how they learn to pay attention to some things and not others, how their language and understanding of the world develops. Dr Elena Kushnerenko is an expert in auditory event-related brain potentials and maturation of auditory and audiovisual speech processing throughout infancy and childhood. She leads two large longitudinal projects ELAS (Early Language Attention and Social development study, phase 2) and TALBY (Take a Look Baby!, phase 2). Ms Jolanta Golan has joined the group as a PhD student and is working with Elena on these projects. Other early-years research being conducted by Dr Dee Birtles includes the development of bimanual co-ordination during infancy and cognitive development in young bilingual children.

Social and Communication Development

Interacting with others is effective for social development. Our research investigates how skills in social cognition, communication, speech and language develop from birth through to early adulthood. Dr Rachel George is programme leader for the BSc Child Psychology. Her research interests include early language and language difficulties and the development of numeracy. Dr Mary-Jane Budd leads research on language development in both spoken and written form. Her work on typical and atypical language development includes examining speech errors and morphological processing in typically developing 5–11 year olds and syntactic sentence construction in children with English as an additional language. She is also investigating the role of new technologies in language learning such as the use of tablet computers for reading and comprehension. Dr Virginia Lam studies social cognition in children, adolescents and adults, in particular self and identity (gender, ethnic, national) and group processes and the applications of these in social contexts. Recent research activity includes children’s inference-making on social decisions (such as toy/play/peer choice and food preference) and behaviour (e.g., peer interactions, healthy eating). Dr Christel Schneider is a comparative developmental psychologist whose research centres on the development of social behaviour in human and non-human great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans). She is particularly interested in how infants socially ‘come alive’ or are already ‘socially alive’ when born and how the earliest relationship between mother and infant shapes and develops after birth.

Developmental Difficulties

To understand developmental difficulties we need to take a developmental approach. This means we need to consider all levels of explanations, starting from genetic factors and encompassing neurological, cognitive, social and environmental factors. Our research in this area includes cognitive, social and motor development in children with Down syndrome (Rachel George, Dee Birtles), children born preterm (Dr Caroline Edmonds, Dee Birtles) and children with prenatal exposure to recreational drugs (DAISY). The development of children with language disorders is investigated by Mary-Jane Budd and Rachel George.

Wellbeing and Life-Span Development

We aim to obtain a greater understanding of how humans develop, mentally, socially and behaviourally, throughout the life span from infancy to old age. We investigate various factors such as environment that may impact on an individual’s wellbeing and development. We also monitor changes in development and consider factors contributing to individual differences. Dr Matteo Martini leads research investigating the effects of ageing on cognition and the perception of pain and pain modulation. He studies both the neurophysiology of nociception as probed by Evoked Potentials and also the cognitive and emotional aspects of pain, making use of immersive virtual reality scenarios. Somatosensation and cognitive profiles are investigated both in young and in older participants. The research of Dr Virginia Lam focuses on links between British identity, intergroup attitudes, competitiveness and sport participation of Newham children and adolescents and how these changed since the 2012 Games. Recently, she has begun new lines of research investigating links between social identity and psychological wellbeing (self-esteem, body image satisfaction and depression) or political attitudes (on immigration, devolution and the EU) in late adolescents and young adults. Dr Nick Wood is a clinical psychologist and his research focuses on men’s health issues and children with disabilities or mental health difficulties. He is a senior lecturer in Child and Life-Span Mental Health on the BSc in Counselling degree.

Other projects in this area include studies investigating the impact of prenatal drug exposure on babies’ long-term developmental outcomes (DAISY); the impact of drinking water on children's cognitive abilities (Caroline Edmonds) and factors that influence the psychological wellbeing of adolescents (Well London study).