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Understanding the health implications of using different definitions of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Cardiff School of Psychology

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Dr K Langley , Dr Joanna Martin No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Cardiff United Kingdom Epidemiology Genetics Psychology

About the Project

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be defined as a categorical diagnosis or as a continuous trait. Although these definitions are related, we need to better understand how they differ. This PhD will investigate the differences in developmental and clinical outcomes, as well as genetic risk factors in children with ADHD using different definitions.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders and is associated with life-long adverse social, educational, and health outcomes, including criminality, unemployment, and premature mortality (e.g. from accidents and suicide). ADHD increases an individual’s risk for other neurodevelopmental problems (e.g. autism), co-occurring mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. Whilst clinically ADHD is defined categorically, evidence suggests that ADHD can also be defined as a continuous trait and that individuals who do not meet diagnostic criteria can still have difficulties due to their ADHD symptoms. Understanding how best to define ADHD is very important for supporting children with ADHD and their families. This research project also provides a unique opportunity for a PhD student to develop a highly specialised skillset and to benefit from the expertise of researchers across the fields of psychiatry, psychology, and genetic epidemiology. One essential insight we have for understanding more about ADHD is that it is a heritable brain-based neurodevelopmental disorder, with thousands of genetic risk variants implicated. Genetic studies indicate that different definitions of ADHD (i.e. categorical diagnosis or continuous trait) share genetic risk. However, these definitions are intuitively very different (with categorical diagnoses used for making decisions about treatment and support, while traits are more typically considered for research) and understanding the nature of these differences is important both aetiologically and for clinical practice. ADHD constitutes 18 behavioural symptoms and impairment of functioning, with specific cut-points for diagnosis. There is heterogeneity in the presentation of ADHD, in terms of symptom constellation and level of impairment. However, there is limited research examining how this heterogeneity affects children’s long-term mental health, educational outcomes and genetic risk profiles.

Understanding these issues better is important for tailoring support, even in the absence of a strict clinical diagnosis.

 The aims of this studentship are as follows:

1. Examine the impact of different definitions of ADHD (based on symptom constellations and impairment) in children from the general population, on co-occurring developmental difficulties and longer-term outcomes. Sex differences will also be examined.

2. Compare these groups in terms of their genetic risk profiles (for ADHD and other major psychiatric disorders) and examine how these genetic risks relate to the measurement of ADHD symptom impairment.

3. Take forward findings from the above studies to further examine how variability in degree of impairment impacts on outcomes and whether genetic risks are associated with degree of impairment in a clinical sample of children with ADHD. Data from a general population sample of children, will be used to address aims 1 & 2 and data from a genotyped clinical sample of children with ADHD will be used to address aim 3. 

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.

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Kate Langley, Dr Joanna Martin, both at Cardiff University and Dr Evie Stergiakouli at University of Bristol.

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


Cardiff University Centre for Human Development Science (CUCHDS) - The Cardiff University Centre for Human Development Science (CUCHDS) provides opportunities for research and training in the study of human development from conception to adulthood.
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 Understanding the health implications of using different definitions of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Deadline for applications is the 19th March 2021 with interviews taking place in April 2021

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