Beyond developmental psychopathology: positive child development

This PhD project focuses on investigating the predictors, processes, and markers of positive child development based on theoretical considerations and the statistical analysis of existing large data sets.

Start date

1 October 2024


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

University of Surrey

Funding information

UKRI standard stipend funded by University of Surrey (the current stipend is £18,622 per annum, which will increase each year in line with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) rate).


Positive development is fundamental to human flourishing and is reflected in the emergence and growth of various competencies: from learning to walk and talk, to building relationships, solving complex problems, bouncing back from setbacks, and interacting with new technologies.

Traditionally, much developmental research has focused on identifying risk factors for behavioural and mental health problems, rather than on investigating positive competencies and abilities. In addition, different research domains (i.e. physical, emotional, cognitive, social etc.) have tended to be investigated separately rather than in combination. 

Deeper and broader knowledge of the factors that contribute to positive child development is crucial in order to understand and promote flourishing. To this end, it is necessary to move beyond traditional perspectives and critically investigate the building blocks of positive development, strength, and resilience more broadly. 

This PhD project will contribute to a new research area focused on investigating positive child development—that is, the growth of competencies and abilities, such as empathy, social skills, self-regulation, and optimism. Moving beyond the current state of knowledge, the project will explore and identify the predictors, processes, and mechanisms implicated in the development of these competencies across physical, cognitive, social, and behavioural domains.

Rather than collecting new data, the PhD project will be based on literature review and the advanced statistical analysis of several existing large cohort studies, such as the Millennium Cohort Study and the Children of the 2020s Study, amongst others. The research will involve theorising on positive development based on existing literature (i.e., systematic review) and applying a broad range of statistical approaches (e.g., latent class analysis, network analysis, factor analysis, multiple regression, etc.) to large data sets in order to identify the key domains of positive development and investigate the relationship between these domains. The work will contribute to the development of a new comprehensive model of positive child development that will guide future research and social policy.

Eligibility criteria

Open to candidates who pay UK/home rate fees. See UKCISA for further information.

Besides meeting the entry criteria for our PhD programme, this project requires strong conceptual thinking, excellent statistical skills and the ability to acquire new statistical expertise when needed, advanced writing skills, and the ability to work independently and to a high standard. We are looking for highly motivated candidates with a background in psychology (preferably with a BSc and MSc in psychology) and a strong desire to advance the field of developmental psychology. 

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Psychology PhD programme page. In place of a research proposal, you should upload a document stating the title of the project that you wish to apply for and the name of the relevant supervisor. Please also submit a letter explaining how your experience and abilities represent a good fit for the project. Informal enquires to with cover letter and CV are strongly encouraged.

Psychology PhD

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Application deadline

Contact details

Michael Pluess
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689762

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