Social and Developmental Psychology Research Group

About the Social and Developmental Research Group:

The social and developmental research group in the School of Psychology aims to conduct high quality research to advance understanding of processes involved in development across the lifespan and the nature of human social interaction.  Individual group members are involved in a very wide range of research projects.  For example, current research projects focus on youth mental health, children’s food knowledge, eating disorders, language acquisition and learning, engagement and disengagement, liberation/post-colonial psychology, attitudes/stigma, work and organizational psychology, gender and sexuality, among other topics.  

Researchers in the Social and Developmental Research Group employ a wide range of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, reflecting the diversity of research interests. Quantitative research designs obtain data from national and international databases as well as from primary data collection. Qualitative methods have been used with children and adults, with a variety of frameworks that include Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and Grounded Theory.  Many research projects have an applied focus, involving individuals, groups and communities in a variety of settings.

The group’s research has been funded by the Health Research Board, One Foundation, HSE North East, Royal Irish Academy, Department of Health and Children, Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, EU Marie Curie, Foras Na Gaeilge, An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta & Gaelscolaiochta, Combat Poverty Agency.

Research in brief:

1. Is there a criminal personality? (Mick O’Connell with Cáit O’Riordain).                 
Do people who commit crime tend to have a distinct personality structure? Offenders were found to be more extraverted & neurotic, less agreeable & conscientious. Personality was a better predictor than social class.
Personality and Individual Differences
2. How do we assess children’s well-being? (Mick O’Connell with Carly Cheevers)
Using Growing-Up-in-Ireland data from 8,568 children, a well-being index was devised using measures of physical health, social  emotional functioning and educational attainment.
Child Indicators Research            

3. What do pre-school children know about healthy food? (Eilis Hennessy with Mimi Tatlow-Golden)
Preschool children recognise twice as many unhealthy as healthy food brands, even though the brands were advertised equally often. Children who watched more TV knew more about unhealthy but not healthy brands.
4. How do young people respond to peers with mental health problems? (Eilis Hennessy with Lynn McKeague, Caroline Heary (NUIG) and Claire O’Driscoll (NUIG))
The findings suggest that young people respond negatively to peers with ADHD and depression.  Adolescent boys, in particular, showed significantly stronger negative evaluations of depression compared to younger males and adolescent females.
Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry:
5. How does Irish spelling work and how best to teach it? (? (Tina Hickey with Nancy Stenson)
Irish spelling uses letters familiar from English, with different rules.  This (Marie Curie funded) research explores how Irish orthography works and how to teach it to child and adult learners.
6. When do children mean ‘I don’t know’ when they say ‘no’? (Tina Hickey with Claire Keogh)
This research shows that many children (aged 7-9) avoid admitting they don’t know, and offer definite answers about information they lack  - findings relevant to educational and legal settings.
7. Is consultancy an effective model of service delivery for educational psychology services? (Joan Tiernan with Paula Long)
The training needs of specialist school staff were identified and a bespoke training programme developed to provide core concepts and training in school-based consultation under the auspices of NEPS.
Long, P., and Tiernan, J. (in press). Training teachers to be school-based consultants – how to get started. In, Hatzichristou, C., and Rosenfield, S. (in press), International Handbook of Consultation in Educational Settings, London: Routledge.
8. How can researchers increase investment in programmes that successfully reduce recidivism in disadvantaged areas? (Joan Tiernan with Evelyn Kennedy)
A social return on investment (SROI) analysis was conducted to prove the efficacy of the Ballyrunners Programme which assists access to training and employment to school leavers vulnerable to substance abuse and juvenile offending.
Kennedy, E., and Tiernan, J. Supporting the needs of early school leavers: An evaluation of the Ballyrunners programme using SROI analysis. Paper submitted to The Journal of Community Psychology.
9. What is the role of psychological and social factors in adolescents’ food intake patterns? (Amanda Fitzgerald with Caroline Heary (NUIG) Elizabeth Nixon (TCD) and Colette Kelly (NUIG))
This study examined the relationship between self-efficacy for healthy eating, parent and peer support for healthy and unhealthy eating and food intake patterns.
10. My World Survey National Study on Youth Mental Health (Barbara Dooley with Amanda Fitzgerald)
This is the first national survey on youth mental health conducted with over 15,000 young people aged 12-25 years. The survey investigated both risk and protective factors, such as resilience, optimism social support, self esteem, alcohol behavior and cannabis use.
UCD Research Repository:
Early Intervention in Psychiatry:
11. Are the Irish Different? (Geraldine Moane)
This project examines theory and research on the Irish psyche using the theoretical framework of liberation and postcolonial psychology. The current focus is on how the Irish are described by psychologists and psychiatrists in published work and by press and social media.
12. Where do lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people find   support? (Geraldine Moane, Georgina Mullen, Finn Reygan)
This project adopts several theoretical frameworks to identify strengths associated with LGBT experience. Recent research has focused on transgender identity affirmation, spirituality and sexual orientation, and the role of community education.


Career Paths

Sample career paths of students who have done postgrad or undergraduate projects in Social/Developmental area:

  • Fulltime posts as Research Assistant/Associate in Educational Research Centre (educational research), in DCU (research on suicide prevention), and in Ipsos (survey company)
  • Pursuing accredited MSc Degrees in Work & Organisational Psychology in UL, DCU or any of the 20 accredited professional courses in this area in the UK
  • IBEC graduate industrial relations and human resources trainee programme
  • Funded PhD programme in Autism in University of Edinburgh 
  • Funded D.Clin programmes in Trinity and UCD
  • PhD in Neuroscience in University College London
  • Funded PhD in Palliative Care in the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health
  • MSc in Developmental and Educational Psychology Institute of Education, London
  • Professional researcher with IBEC
  • Junior consultancy positions in Accenture, PwC, in the Banking or Insurance sector
  • MSc in Education (Child Development and Education) University of Oxford
  • Masters in Counselling in Edinburgh and Warwick
  • MSc Human Cognitive Neuropsychology, University of Edinburgh
  • M.Sc. in Computational Neuroscience and Cognitive  Robotics, University of Birmingham
  • Masters in Economic and Consumer Psychology University of Leiden
  • Masters in Child and Adolescent Psychology University of Leiden
  • Masters in Education, University of Cumbria