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Individual Differences in Children’s Sensitivity to the School Context

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  • Full or part time
    Prof Michael Pluess
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A fully funded PhD studentship is available to start in September 2020 in Professor Michael Pluess’ group, and co-supervised by Dr Francesca Lionetti.

Research environment

The School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 160 PhD students working on projects in the biological, chemical and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

The successful candidate will join Prof Pluess’s research group which consists of several PhD students and postdocs.

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

This studentship includes training for observational measures in the school context. The successful candidate will meet weekly with the supervisors, participate in the biweekly lab meetings as well as attend weekly seminars.

Project details

Project: The quality of the school environment and the teacher-child relationship play an important role in the positive development of children with long-term influences into adulthood. However, as suggested in theories of Environmental Sensitivity, such as Differential Susceptibility (Belsky & Pluess, 2009), children differ substantially in their sensitivity to the environment, with some being more affected by the quality of their environment than others. The current project will apply theories of Environmental Sensitivity to the educational sector, with the goal of developing and testing new measures of Environmental Sensitivity for children in school and investigating what aspects of school are of particular importance to sensitive children. The result of this project will enable teachers and other educational professionals to assess children’s Environmental Sensitivity and provide guidance on how to adapt the educational environment to the specific needs of sensitive children.

Aims: The aim of the research project is to investigate the role of children’s sensitivity in the context of early education. Data will be collected as part of an ongoing study funded by Jacobs Foundation and led by supervisors Prof Pluess and Dr Lionetti. The specific objectives are:
1. Develop and test new measures of Environmental Sensitivity in the school context
2. Investigate whether sensitive children are more affected by the quality of the school environment
3. Identify specific aspects of the school context that are important for the positive socio-emotional and academic development of highly sensitive children

Methods: This PhD studentship is associated with a new longitudinal research study in Switzerland, the Sensitivity to School study, which involves 250 7-8 year-old children that are assessed five times across the first two years of primary school. Data of the first two waves will be available at the start of this PhD project. All follow-up data will have been collected by the end of the first year. The successful candidate will be based in London and support the Sensitivity to School study whilst also collecting additional data from schools in the UK. See our webpage for further related information on the Sensitivity to School project.

Eligibility and applying

Applications are invited from candidates with UK/EU nationality with, or expecting to obtain, at least an upper second degree in psychology or related discipline.

This PhD project requires advanced skills in data management and data analysis as well as excellent scientific writing skills and the ability to work independently. Furthermore, we are looking for a candidate with a good understanding of and preferably existing links to primary schools in the UK. Knowledge of the Italian language is not required but would be an advantage.

Applicants from outside of the UK are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

For informal inquiries, contact Prof Michael Pluess ([Email Address Removed]). Formal applications should be submitted online by the stated deadline.

The School of Biological and Chemical Sciences is committed to promoting diversity in science; we have been awarded an Athena Swan Bronze Award. We positively welcome applications from underrepresented groups.

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to UK/EU applicants and is funded by the Jacobs Foundation. It will cover tuition fees, and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for three years at the Research Council rate (£17,285 in 2020/21).


Lionetti, F., Klein, D., Aron, E. N., Aron, A., & Pluess, M. (2019). Observer-Rated Environmental Sensitivity Predicts Children’s Differential Susceptibility to Parenting in Early Childhood. Developmental Psychology.

Nocentini, A., Menesini, E., Pluess, M. (2018). The Personality Trait of Environmental Sensitivity Predicts Children’s Positive Response to School-Based Antibullying Intervention. Clinical Psychological Science, 2167702618782194.

Pluess, M., Assary, E., Lionetti, F., Lester, K. J., Krapohl, E., Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (2018). Environmental sensitivity in children: Development of the Highly Sensitive Child Scale and identification of sensitivity groups. Developmental Psychology, 54(1), 51-70. doi: 10.1037/dev0000406.

Pluess, M. (2015). Individual Differences in Environmental Sensitivity. Child Development Perspectives, 9(3), 138-143. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12120

Pluess, M., & Belsky, J. (2013). Vantage Sensitivity: Individual Differences in Response to Positive Experiences. Psychological Bulletin, 139(4), 901-916.

Belsky, J. & Pluess, M. (2009). Beyond Diathesis-Stress: Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences. Psychological Bulletin, 135(6), 885-908.

How good is research at Queen Mary University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 23.39

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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