Projects

Below you will find a brief description of some of the projects that we are currently working on. Please contact the Director, if you want to discuss collaborative activities, or if you want to find out more about our research.

PaCT (Parents and Children Together)

Several studies have explored the association between personality traits and symptoms of psychopathology in adults; and the influence of parental personality on the behaviour of children with neurodevelopmental disorders. However, there is limited research that has assessed, concurrently, child and parent traits (e.g. personality, challenging behaviours and symptoms of psychopathology) in the general population. This gap in the literature makes it challenging to separate direct and mediated associations between parental characteristics (e.g. personality traits) and children’s characteristics (such as temperament and behavioural difficulties) and school performance. The PaCT project (2017-) explores the degree to which parents’ traits (e.g. personality traits) and adverse childhood experiences influence their children’s (6 to 8 years of age) temperament, behaviour, symptoms of psychopathology, school performance and telomere length, a biomarker of adversity and longevity. Data are currently being collected from a large number of families and schools across Northern Ireland. The children’s primary caregivers are completing self-report measures assessing their own personality traits, symptoms of psychopathology, and adverse childhood experiences.  The teachers are completing measures that assess children’s symptoms of psychopathology, challenging behaviours, temperament and school performance. Children’s saliva samples are also being collected to estimate telomere length.

The project will be expanded to include longitudinal data collection and it has implications for understanding how parental and child factors interact within a dynamic developmental framework to produce individual differences in children’s traits, behaviour and school performance.

Beyond Good and Evil: Exploring Associations between Non-Cognitive Traits and Academic Performance

There is increasing interest in studying the role of non-cognitive traits in contributing to variation in academic performance.  In educational contexts, personality traits may be stronger predictors of academic performance in higher education in comparison to lower levels of education. This is because university samples tend to exhibit less individual variation in intellectual ability, as a result of students being selected on the basis of similar academic performance at high school.  The Beyond Good and Evil project aims at assessing longitudinally (two assessment waves per year for the next three years starting in 2017) undergraduate students’ personality traits such as, the Big Five, Mental Toughness and the Dark Triad of personality traits.  Cognitive data (e.g. IQ and measures of attention using eye-tracking) and additional data on symptoms of psychopathology and motivation will also be collected.  This rich dataset will be analysed in relation to the students’ academic performance (accessed via the university’s assessment records) during the three years of their degree.  

It is expected that the project will involve a large number of students, who will be enrolled in a variety of courses at Queen’s University Belfast, offering the opportunity to explore direct, mediated and moderated associations between non-cognitive and cognitive factors with academic performance.  Plans have already been made to expand the project, using identical assessment protocols, in other universities across the UK; and to conduct experimental work to investigate how individuals with different personality profiles perform in cognitive tests during various levels of stress.

The title of the project highlights our intention to explore concurrently both prosocial traits (e.g. mental toughness), and traits that are considered being socially malevolent (e.g. the dark triad of personality traits), in relation to academic performance. Our view is that, personality traits are complex—beyond good and evil–and focusing on their contextually adaptive or maladaptive properties, as well as their interaction, could facilitate our understanding of how non-cognitive factors influence academic achievement

ALLUSION (vALidating attentionaL measUres as indiceS of executIve functiOniNg)

The ALLUSION project aims to explore in depth the link between visual attention and executive functions in childhood. The project will collect cross-sequential eye-tracking data from two cohorts of typically developing 6- and 8-year-old children, who will also complete the CAN MEASURE (Measuring Executive Abilities for a Sound Understanding of Real Executive Function). The CAN MEASURE has been developed by our collaborator, Dr. Kate Woodcock (http://www.katewoodcock.com/) and her research team, and it is a comprehensive battery of tests that assess children’s executive abilities. The parents will also complete parent-report measures of children’s executive control and symptoms of psychopathology.  A better understanding of the relationship between visual attention and executive abilities in childhood could have significant theoretical and applied implications for developmental research. The project will expand to include longitudinal data collection in infancy in typically and atypically developing infants aiming at training visual attention in infancy to decreasing behavioural problems linked to executive deficits in childhood.  Our new PhD student, Mr. Aaron Patterson (2017-2020) will be working on this project in collaboration with research associates and lab members.

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