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Atypical Social Cognition in Young Children with Neurodevelopmental Problems

Cardiff School of Psychology

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Dr Lucy Livingston , Prof S vanGoozen No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Social cognition (e.g., theory of mind; the ability to understand other people’s minds) is critical to human social development. It enables us to communicate and interact successfully with others in our social environments. Atypical social cognitive and emotional development therefore can contribute to social difficulties (e.g., difficulties with friendships) and can have a host of downstream consequences for other non-social aspects of behaviour and cognition.

Children with neurodevelopmental problems (e.g., emotional, cognitive, and behavioural difficulties) are more likely to experience atypical social development compared to typically developing children; for example, they may show a delayed or atypical trajectory in their theory of mind. However, we currently have limited understanding of how individual differences in atypical social cognitive abilities contribute to neurodevelopmental problems in childhood. First, experimental tasks used to measure individual differences in social cognitive abilities in young childhood are limited. Second, research has tended to focus on how atypical social cognition contributes to social difficulties in autistic children alone, whilst overlooking atypical social cognition in children with broader, overlapping neurodevelopmental problems.

The Neurodevelopmental Assessment Unit (NDAU) at Cardiff University ( assesses children aged 4-7 years old with diverse neurodevelopmental problems on a range of cognitive, emotional and behavioural assessments. Given how frequently neurodevelopmental conditions overlap, instead of focusing on a particular condition (e.g., autism), NDAU takes a broader approach to understand how atypical cognition, emotion and behaviour contribute to a range of neurodevelopmental difficulties.

This PhD project aims to 1) improve development of novel tasks to measure social cognition in young children, and 2) using these tasks, investigate how atypical social cognition contributes to a diverse range of neurodevelopmental problems in young childhood in the NDAU sample and typically developing children. The findings will inform important developmental social cognitive theory and interventions to support young children with social cognitive and emotional difficulties.

The successful candidate will be based in the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science ( and will be supervised by Dr Lucy Livingston and Professor Stephanie van Goozen, with external collaborators at the Universities of Bath and Bristol. The candidate will also be a member of the new GW4 Neurodevelopmental and Neurodiversity Network across Cardiff, Bath, Bristol and Exeter ( 

The studentship will commence in October 2021 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2020-21 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,285 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

How to Apply

Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology with a start date of October 2021

In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided.

In the funding section, please select 'I will be applying for a scholarship/grant' and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from Atypical Social Cognition in Young Children with Neurodevelopmental Problems 

Deadline for applications is the 19th March 2021 with interviews taking place in April 2021

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to Home, EU or international students. The award offered will cover Home fees and maintenance stipend. International/EU candidates are welcomed but may need to self-fund the difference between Home and International fees.

However, there are a limited number of studentships available for international/EU applicants that can cover full or partial fees

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