Observational social development lab

Development, Interaction and Social Relations

  • Unit(s) of assessment: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
  • School: School of Social Sciences


Researchers in this group integrate social, developmental and cross-cultural perspectives to tackle a range of topics with the ultimate goal of developing resilient individuals who contribute fully to society. The group comprises around 40 members of faculty and 9 PhD students.  While our work has clear applied links, research by the group also draws on the dedicated Psychology research facilities and specialist resources such as the observational laboratory, an EEG suite, and the interview and focus group suite.

Work by the group has appeared in major international journals such as American Psychologist, British Journal of Social Psychology, Computers in Human Behaviour, Developmental Science, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, Personality and Individual Differences, Quality of Life Research, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, World Journal of Biological Psychiatry. Our work has been funded by a variety of sources including the ESRC, British Academy, Bailey trust charitable foundation, Daedalus Trust, and Kaspersky Lab (UK).

Staff within the group collaborate with other colleagues in the Department of Psychology and undertake inter-disciplinary with colleagues across the University.  Group members are also actively involved in the Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People, and Families.  We also collaborate will researchers from national universities (e.g., Kingston University, St Andrews University, University of Central Lancashire, University of Dundee) and international universities (e.g., Rotterdam School of Management, University of Allahabad, University of Rome, University of Queensland, University of Wuerzburg). Research group members also work with a number of external stakeholders including local schools, charities, and public sector organisations.  Research from this group fed in to a case study for REF2014 on the impact of digital technologies and learning behaviour.

The group conducts applied research across seven core themes reflecting our research activities:

  • Atypical development


    Alyson Blanchard, Gayle Dillon, Vivienne Wenchong Du, Nadja Heym, Lai-Sang (Linda) Iao, Suvo Mitra


    Our work on atypical development draws on a diverse range of approaches to address a number of questions. We have undertaken research using a novel story telling methodology as a means of exploring imagination use in autism.  Other lines of work have looked at factors involved in movement including perceptual motor action planning, learning of locomotion, and implicit learning in individuals with developmental coordination disorder, dyslexia, and ADHD. Research has also explored the differences in cognitive processing and how neurodevelopmental disorders deviate from the typical developmental pathways including examining the underlying neuropsychological mechanisms of affective processing and decision making deficits related to callous-unemotional traits and behavioural problems.

    Representative Publications (2014 onwards)

    Blanchard, A., Lyons, M., & Centifanti, L. (2016). An effective way to deal with predators is to taste terrible: Primary and secondary psychopathy and mate preference. Personality and Individual Differences, 92, 128–134.

    Dillon, G. V., Underwood, J. D. M., & Freemantle, L. J. (2016).  Autism and the U.K. secondary school experience. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 31, 163-173.

    Heym, N., Kantini, E., Checkley, H., & Cassaday, H. (2015). Gray’s revised Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory in relation to symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity and Tourette-like behaviors in the  general population. Personality and Individual Differences, 78, 24-28.

    Iao, L.-S., & Leekam, S. (2014). Non-Specificity and Theory of Mind: New Evidence From a Non-Verbal False Sign Task and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,122, 1-20.

    Wilmut, K., Du, W., & Barnett, A. L. (2015). How do I fit through that gap? Navigation through apertures in adults with and without developmental coordination disorder. PloS ONE, 10(4), e0124695.

  • Characteristics of interpersonal relationships


    Loren Abell, Lucy Betts, Alyson Blanchard, Mick Gregson, Craig Harper, Nadja Heym, Maria Kontogianni, Joost Leunissen, Mark Sergeant, Alexander Sumich


    Together our research examines a number of characteristics of interpersonal relationships including trust, conflict, jealousy, and sexuality, both in private and organisational settings. We also examine traits and behaviours that impact on social relationship formation and maintenance such as how personal construct theory can be applied to friendship development, decision making, and the role of the dark trait personality traits (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy) in interpersonal attraction, relational and sexual aggression. Considering when interpersonal relationships breakdown, our research also examines blame attribution and interpersonal reconciliation including the factors that predict an individual’s willingness to apologise and the willingness to forgive.

    Representative Publications (2014 onwards)

    Abell, L., Brewer, G., Qualter, P., & Austin, E. (2016). Machiavellianism, emotional manipulation, and friendship functions in women’s friendships. Personality and Individual Differences, 88, 108-113.

    Betts, L. R., Rotenberg, K. J., Petrocchi, S., Lecciso, F., Sakai, A., Maeshiro, K., & Judson, H. (2014). An investigation of children’s peer trust across culture: Is the composition of children’s peer trust universal? International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38, 33-41.

    Blagden, N., Winder, B., Gregson, M., & Thorne, K. (2014). Making sense of denial in sexual offenders: a qualitative and repertory grid analysis. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29 (9), 1698-1731.

    Harper, C. A., & Hogue, T. E. (2017). Press coverage as a heuristic guide for social decision-making about sexual offenders. Psychology, Crime & Law, 23, 118-134.

    Leunissen, J. M., De Cremer, D., van Dijke, M., & Folmer, C. P. R. (2014). Forecasting errors in the averseness of apologizing. Social Justice Research, 27, 322-339.

    Lyons, M., & Blanchard, A. (2016). “I could see, in the depth of his eyes, my own beauty reflected”: Women’s assortative preference for narcissistic, but not for Machiavellian or psychopathic male faces. Personality and Individual Differences, 97, 40–44.

    Zheng, X., Van Dijke, M., Leunissen, J.M., Giurge, L., & De Cremer, D. (2016). When saying sorry may not help: Transgressor power moderates the effect of an apology on forgiveness in the workplace. Human Relations, 69, 1387-1418.

  • Communication and language


    Matthew Belmonte, Andrew Dunn, Kate Ellis-Davies, Andy Grayson, Lai-Sang (Linda) Iao, Gary Jones, Rebecca Larkin, Gareth Williams


    We study typical and atypical individual differences in language and social communication, both directly and with reference to prerequisite skills of perceptual organisation and motor and cognitive control from which social communicative skills emerge developmentally.  Our work on atypical language development has explored communication processes in people with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions, exposing hidden communicative competencies in some individuals who otherwise are regarded as severely intellectually disabled.  We also are interested in the effect of parents on children's language learning, in particular the influence of quantity and quality of primary caregivers' speech.

    Representative Publications (2014 onwards)

    Abbott, I., Larkin, R. F., & Dunn, A. K. (2015). Spatial attention shifting and phonological processing in adults with dyslexia. The New School Psychology Bulletin, 12 (1), 10-23.

    Jones, G. & Macken, B. (2015). Questioning short-term memory and its measurement: Why digit span measures long-term associative learning. Cognition, 144, 1-13.

    Iao, L.-S., Tsang, Y. T., Wong, M. Y., & Ho, Y. H. (2015). Talking While Thinking About Another’s Mind in Preschoolers: Evidence of Getting Vygotskian About Social Cognition. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 31, 1-8.

    Rudra, A., Ram, J. R., Loucas, T., Belmonte, M. K., & Chakrabarti, B. (2016). Bengali translation and characterisation of four cognitive and trait measures for autism spectrum conditions in India. Molecular Autism, 7, 50.

  • Communities, resilience and trauma


    Mhairi Bowe, Simon Clarke, Rowena Hill, Blerina Kellezi, Fraenze Kibowski, Niamh McNamara, Rebecca Stack, Alexander Sumich, Juliet Wakefield


    At a community level our research examines how psychologically significant places may satisfy basic identity motives such as the need for self-continuity and attachment, how intra-group processes contribute to resilience in socially marginalised groups, and the impact of social deprivation and poverty on health and well-being.  Working with families, research has also explored family resilience and the impacts of spillover at the work-home interface and how family structures adapt to protect against spillover.  Our research also seeks to understand how people are affected by extreme life events from illness and accidents to war, torture, detention, and trauma.

    Representative Publications (2014 onwards)

    Bradshaw, D., Jay, S., McNamara, N., Stevenson, C., & Muldoon, O. T. (2016). Perceived discrimination amongst young people in socio-economically disadvantaged communities: parental support and community identity buffer (some) negative impacts of stigma. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 34, 153-168.

    Brunsden, V., Hill, R., & Maguire, K. (2014). Putting fire & rescue service stress management into context: a UK informed perspective. International Fire Service Journal of Leadership and Management, 7, 27-39.

    Kellezi, B., Beckett, K., Earthy, S., Barnes, J., Sleney, J., Clarkson, J., ... & Kendrick, D. (2015). Understanding and meeting information needs following unintentional injury: Comparing the accounts of patients, carers and service providers. Injury, 46, 564-571.

    Tiwana, R., Rowland, J., Fincher, M., Raza, K., & Stack, R. J. (2015), Social interactions at the onset of rheumatoid arthritis and their influence on help-seeking behaviour: A qualitative exploration. British Journal of Health Psychology. Sep20(3),  648-61.

    Stevenson, C., & Sagherian-Dickey, T. (2016). Collectively coping with contact: the role of intragroup support in dealing with the challenges of intergroup mixing in residential contexts. British Journal of Social Psychology, 55, 681-699.

    Wakefield, J.R.H., Sani, F., Herrera, M., Khan, S. S., & Dugard, P. (2015). Greater family identification – but not greater contact with family members - leads to better health: Evidence from a Spanish longitudinal study. European Journal of Social Psychology, 46, 506–513

  • Families and parenting


    Loren Abell, Mhairi Bowe, Kate Ellis-Davies, Gayle Dillon, Rowena Hill, Preethi Premkumar,


    As a group, our interest in families and parenting considers how families function and collective continuity in family members.  Focusing on parenting, we have explored the role personality plays along with context in aspirations to become a parent and the precursors to fathers’ well-being and adaptation to parenting by surrogacy.  In addition to exploring the development of children in families where conception has occurred through assistive reproduction, our research also considers how family relationships and interactions impact on the development of specific traits such as Machiavellianism, psychosis, and primary and secondary psychopathology.

    Representative Publications (2014 onwards)

    Mount, N., & Dillon, G. (2014).  Parents' experiences of living with an adolescent diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Educational & Child Psychology, 31, 72-81.

    Premkumar, P., Onwumere, J., Jacobo, A., Kessel, D., Kumari, V., Kuipers, E., Carretié, L. (2015). The relation between schizotypy and early attention to rejecting interactions: the influence of neuroticism. World Journal of Biological Psychiatry. 16, 587-601.

  • Group process and identity


    Jens Binder, Mhairi Bowe, Blerina Kellezi, Maria Kontogianni, Niamh McNamara, Clifford Stevenson, Juliet Wakefield


    We are interested in a diverse range of intergroup relations such as between ethnic minorities and majorities, and small group processes in negotiation. Another distinct strand of research explores the implications of group memberships (and the social identities derived from them) for health and well-being and the impact of identity dynamics on help-seeking behaviours including service engagement in socially stigmatised groups. Other work explores transgender identities with a focus on how sexuality non-conforming athletes navigate the heteronomative sporting environment.

    Representative Publications (2014 onwards)

    Kellezi, B. & Reicher, S. (2014). The double insult: explaining gender differences in the psychological consequences of war., Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 20, 491-504.

    McNamara, N. & Parsons, H. (2016). 'Everyone here wants everyone else to get better': The role of social identity in eating disorder recovery. British Journal of Social Psychology, 55, 662-680.

    Stevenson, C., McNamara, N., & Muldoon, O. (2014). Stigmatised identity and service usage in disadvantaged communities: residents', community workers' and service providers' perspectives. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 24, 453-466.

    Wakefield, J.R.H., Kalinauskaite, M., & Hopkins, N. (2016). The Nation and the Family: The impact of national identification and perceived importance of family values on homophobic attitudes in Lithuania and Scotland. Sex Roles, 75, 448–458

    Zagefka, H., Binder, J., Brown, R.,   Kessler, T., Mummendey, A., Funke, F… Maquil, A. (2014). The relationship between acculturation preferences and prejudice: Longitudinal evidence from majority and minority groups in three European countries, European Journal of Social Psychology, 44, 578–589.

  • The impact of digital technology


    Thom Baguley, Phil Banyard, Lucy Betts, Jens Binder, Sarah Buglass, Nadja Heym, Olatz Lopez-Fernandez, Ben Oldfield, Preethi Premkumar, James Stiller


    Our research broadly looks at the impact of digital technology across the lifespan.  Funded by Becta, some of our research has examined the impact of digital technology in UK schools.  These projects have provided reports for policy makers and teachers on the best way to utilise digital technology in schools and explored how learners engage with digital technology in an educational setting.  Research has also looked at using virtual reality training to reduce students’ anxiety associated with public speaking.  Outside of the educational context, our research examines how digital technology can impact on an individual’s well-being and social networks. Topics explored by our research include cyber bullying, online vulnerability, the impact of social exchanges on friendships, fear of missing out, and how the maladaptive use of digital technology may lead to potential dependent or addictive behaviour.

    Representative Publications (2014 onwards)

    Banyard, P. (2015). Giving psychology away: How George Miller’s vision is being realised by psychological literacy. Psychology Teaching Review, 21, 93-101.

    Betts, L. R., & Spenser, K. A. (2017). “People think it’s a harmless joke”: Young people’s understanding of the impact of technology, digital vulnerability, and cyber bullying in the United Kingdom. Journal of Children and Media, 11, 20-35.

    Binder, J. F., & Sutcliffe, A. G. (2014). The best of both worlds? Online ties and the alternating use of social network sites in the context of migration. Societies, 4, 753-769.

    Buglass, S., Binder, J.F., Betts, L.R., & Underwood, J.D. (2016). When ‘friends’ collide: Social heterogeneity and user vulnerability on social network sites. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 62-72

    Lopez-Fernandez, O. (2017). Short version of the smartphone addiction scale adapted to Spanish and French: Towards a cross-cultural research in problematic mobile phone use. Addictive Behaviors, 64, 275–280

    Underwood, J. D., & Stiller, J. (2014). Does Knowing lead to doing in the case of learning platforms? Teachers and Teaching, 20, 229-246.

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