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Classification & Attribution Laboratory

Classification & Attribution Lab 


The UCD Classification & Attribution Lab was established by Dr Cliódhna O’Connor in 2020. The lab forms a hub for research exploring the social and psychological processes through which we classify individuals into social categories and attribute causal explanations for those groups’ characteristics. For an up-to-date list of members, publications and activities, (opens in a new window)visit the lab website.

The Classification & Attribution Lab comprises a growing network of faculty, postgraduate students and research assistants. While we take a primarily social psychological approach to advance our research agenda, many of our projects rely on interdisciplinary collaborations with colleagues worldwide. Our research has been funded by a range of national and international bodies, including the European Commission Horizon 2020, Health Research Board, Enterprise Ireland, and the Faraday Institute at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

The Classification & Attribution Lab maintains two parallel research streams, characterised by the following overarching concerns:

  1. How are individuals classified into social categories, and what are the implications of these categories for people’s lives? Our team is particularly interested in how classifications that originate in scientific or medical definitions evolve into meaningful social categories that affect people’s identities, self-concepts and interpersonal relations. For example, much of our research explores how receiving a psychiatric diagnosis shapes a person’s identity, and the social responses they might encounter when they disclose that diagnosis to others.
  2. How do people develop causal explanations for a group’s traits or behaviour, and what are the social consequences of these attributions? Our lab is especially concerned with the dynamics of ‘biological essentialism’ – i.e. the tendency to attribute a group’s characteristic traits to inherent biological causes, rather than contextual, environmental or cultural influences. Our research has particularly focused on how neuroscientific explanations of group differences, when recruited in public discourse, can reinforce stereotypes related to gender, sexual orientation and mental illness.

To study these complex issues, we use a diverse array of quantitative and qualitative methods, including experiments, surveys, interviews, media analysis and systematic reviews. A cross-section of some of this research is available below.

Selected Projects

(opens in a new window)Prevalence and Experience of Diagnostic Shifts in Youth Mental Healthcare (PAEDS)  
Investigators: Dr Cliódhna O’Connor, Prof Fiona McNicholas (UCD Medicine)
Funder: European Commission

Being diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental or mental health disorder can have profound consequences for how young people see themselves and relate to others. For various reasons, some young people may have their original diagnosis changed as they move through mental health services. The PAEDS study set out to explore how frequently these diagnostic shifts happen and their social, emotional and practical repercussions for young people and their families. Results informed the development of free resources to help clinicians, young people and parents communicate and adapt to diagnostic shifts.

Key References:

O’Connor, C., & McNicholas, F. (2020). Lived experiences of diagnostic shifts in child and adolescent mental health contexts: a qualitative interview study with young people and parents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology48, 979-993. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-020-00657-0

O’Connor, C., Downs, J., Shetty, H., & McNicholas, F. (2020). Diagnostic trajectories in child and adolescent mental health services: exploring the prevalence and patterns of diagnostic adjustments in an electronic mental health case register. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry29, 1111-1123. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-019-01428-z

O'Connor, C., Kadianaki, I., Maunder, K., & McNicholas, F. (2018). How does psychiatric diagnosis affect young people's self-concept and social identity? A systematic review and synthesis of the qualitative literature. Social Science & Medicine212, 94-119. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.07.011


The Brain in the Public Sphere
Investigators: Dr Cliódhna O’Connor, Prof Helene Joffe (University College London)
Funder: Faraday Institute at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge

The rising public profile of neuroscience in recent years has prompted questions about its impact on culture and society. This project synthesised diverse evidence to consider the ways neuroscience is invoked in popular media and how lay publics engage with such information. In particular, the project explored how neuroscience may affect common-sense understandings of individuals and social groups, for example by studying how neuroscientific information about sex differences is interpreted in wider society.

Key References:

O’Connor, C., Rees, G., & Joffe, H. (2012). Neuroscience in the public sphere. Neuron, 74(2), 220-226. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2012.04.004

O’Connor, C., & Joffe, H. (2013). How has neuroscience affected lay understandings of personhood? A review of the evidence. Public Understanding of Science, 22(3), 254-268. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662513476812

O’Connor, C., & Joffe, H. (2014). Social representations of brain research: Exploring public (dis) engagement with contemporary neuroscience. Science Communication36(5), 617-645. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547014549481

O’Connor, C., & Joffe, H. (2014). Gender on the brain: A case study of science communication in the new media environment. PLOS ONE, 9(10), e110830. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110830


Understanding the Experience of Receiving an Autism Diagnosis in Adulthood
Investigators: Juwayriyah Nayyar, Dr Cliódhna O’Connor

Increasing numbers of people are receiving diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as adults, yet very little research has explored how adults experience this process. This PhD project explores the barriers and facilitators to adult ASD assessment, how people make sense of receiving this neurodevelopmental diagnosis in adulthood, and the implications of the diagnosis for people’s lives.

Participate and Collaborate

We frequently run research projects that invite participation from members of the general public or specific groups. If you are interested in participating in our research, keep an eye on (opens in a new window)our website for upcoming opportunities.

We welcome expressions of interest in PhD, postdoctoral or research assistant positions from people who may complement or extend our ongoing work. If you are interested in working with us, feel free to review our current projects and contact Dr Cliódhna O’Connor ((opens in a new window)cliodhna.oconnor1@ucd.ie) to outline your own interests and experience.

We are always keen to expand our international and interdisciplinary network of collaborators. If you are interested in discussing potential collaboration ideas, Dr Cliódhna O’Connor ((opens in a new window)cliodhna.oconnor1@ucd.ie) would be delighted to hear from you.

UCD School of Psychology

Newman Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.