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  Impact of Motor Skills on Wellbeing: The Roles of Relationships and the Self

   Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences

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  Dr Erica Hepper  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Applications are invited for a fully-funded (fees + stipend) PhD in Psychology at the University of Surrey to begin in October 2022. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Erica Hepper, Dr Debbie Gooch and Dr Harriet Tenenbaum on research that aims to understand the associations between motor competence/difficulties (including dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Disorder) and social-emotional wellbeing in children and adults. The successful candidate will join the DEVELOP and Social Emotions and Equality in Relations research groups and collaborate with stakeholders at the Dyspraxia Foundation.

Motor (movement) skills are essential for all aspects of daily living and fundamental to children’s personal and social development. Poor motor skills can affect a child’s confidence, play, and friendships and in turn impact wellbeing. At the lowest end of the spectrum, those with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD, or dyspraxia) often experience reduced self-esteem, poor wellbeing, and high anxiety which persist into adulthood. However, there are other psychological reasons that poor motor skills or DCD might undermine children's self-esteem and social development, which have not been studied before. Furthermore, we know very little about these relationships in adulthood. This project will examine when, how, and why individual differences in motor skills impact self-esteem and social functioning in children and adults.

Two key novel pathways are via attachment insecurity and emotion-regulation. Understanding these mechanisms (risk/protective factors) between motor skills and social-emotional functioning will help support people with motor difficulties and ultimately mitigate later mental health issues.

This aims of this PhD are:

  1. To examine profiles of social-emotional wellbeing (self-esteem, social functioning), attachment and emotion-regulation in children and adults with and without DCD.
  2. To test indirect links between motor skills, attachment security/anxiety, emotion-regulation, and social-emotional wellbeing outcomes.

The successful candidate will use a range of research methods (with appropriate training) including meta-analysis, delivering standardised assessments, online surveys, and advanced quantitative analysis techniques. They will communicate with families and stakeholders as well as the academic community via conference presentations and publications.

A 3.5-year fully funded studentship open to applicants worldwide starting in October 2022. Funding includes stipend, full fees and a research grant.

More information on the School of Psychology.

Entry requirements

A minimum of an upper second-class Honours degree (65 per cent or above) in psychology (or a related discipline) and a Masters degree in a relevant subject with a pass of 65 per cent or above.

English language requirements: An IELTS Academic of 6.5 or above with 6 in each individual category (or equivalent qualification from other agencies).

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the online application portal for Psychology

This project is part of the Faculty-funded studentship scheme and you can express interest in one or two of the projects available via this scheme. When completing your application, in place of a research proposal, please provide a 1-page (maximum) document containing the reference numbers(s), project title(s) and supervisor name(s) of the project or two projects you have selected, together with an explanation of your motivations for wanting to study for a PhD and your reasons for selecting the project(s) you have chosen.

The reference number for this project is FHMS PL - BM - 32.

For those interested in the project described above, we strongly encourage informal enquiries to Dr Erica Hepper ([Email Address Removed]).

Medicine (26) Psychology (31)


Cairney, J., Rigoli, D., & Piek, J. (2013). Developmental coordination disorder and internalizing problems in children: The environmental stress hypothesis elaborated. Developmental Review, 33, 224-238. https://doi/org/10.1016/j.dr.2013.07.002
Leonard, H. C. (2016). The impact of poor motor skills on perceptual, social and cognitive development: The case of developmental coordination disorder. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 311.
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2019). Attachment orientations and emotion regulation. Current Opinion in Psychology, 25, 6-10.
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 About the Project