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We study how the mind and brain changes across the lifespan, and the methods and models that can be used to capture their development. Our focus is on understanding how environmental influences, such as adversity or education, shape the brain, cognition and mental health between childhood and adulthood. We seek to provide knowledge to inform prevention and intervention efforts with the aim of fostering well-being across the lifespan.

Our current projects

1. Modelling the co-occurrence and interactions of different types of adversities
Research on adversity has traditionally focused on early childhood. This has inadvertently left another key period of vulnerability for adversity neglected: adolescence. Compared to the body of work on adverse childhood experiences, there is little consensus as to what types of adversity affect adolescents, impeding the development of effective policies for prevention and intervention. This project, led by Ayla Pollmann and Amber Inman, characterizes the topology of adverse experiences in adolescence. Capitalizing on recent advances in statistical methodology (e.g., network analysis), the project characterizes the interrelationship between different types of adversity in adolescence.

2. Understanding sensitive periods in adolescence
Building on our theoretical and experimental work on sensitive periods in adolescence, we are using a mixed-methods approach to investigate whether the type and timing of different adversities shape outcomes such as mental health and cognition in adulthood. This work will be used to inform prevention and intervention work. This work is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and delivered in collaboration with the charity Barnardo’s. If you want to find out more about this work, get in touch with Dr Kathryn Bates.

3. Capturing longitudinal changes in brain development
In collaboration with the Danish Centre for Magnetic Resonance, we are adopting quantitative approaches like non-linear mixed models, currently mainly used in pharmacological research, to provide normative data on brain development, characterize individual and regional differences in brain development and to popularize robust and meaningful tools to capture longitudinal development. To find out more about this work, get in touch with Dr Delia Fuhrmann.

4. Developing frameworks and measures for youth loneliness
In collaboration with Prof. Jennifer Lau at Queen Mary University London, we are developing new frameworks to conceptualize youth loneliness. We are also starting development of a new, co-produced scale for youth loneliness. To find out more about this work, get in touch with Dr Delia Fuhrmann.

Our approach

We build formal models of human development and test them, mostly using data from large, representative cohorts. We take a complex systems approach to human development, investigating how developmental causes interact and produce adaptive behaviors.

We use mainly multivariate analytic approaches to capture the complex relationships in the developing mind. We have used network models to investigate how adversities interact, structural equation models to capture the hierarchical nature of intelligence and are exploring how non-linear mixed models can be leveraged to capture brain development.

We are interested in robust and transparent research practices. We share code and materials to allow for replication and extension of our work.

We co-produce our research with stakeholders. We work with young people co-researchers and non-academic partners, such as the charity Barnardo’s, to develop and communicate our research and to ensure that our findings serve children and young people.

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