The impact of motor impairment on cognitive development in neurodevelopmental conditions

You will investigate early motor development in neurodevelopmental conditions. Motor data will be used to better understand motor impairment; to determine the developmental consequences of motor impairment on cognitive and social ability, and to create guidance for families.

Start date

1 October 2022


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership

Funding information

Enhanced EPSRC stipend (£19,062 per annum for 2022-23, with annual increments based on inflation) and fees covered. Funding also includes a research training and support grant of £3,000 for the duration of the studentship.


Applications are invited for a fully-funded Cross-disciplinary PhD in Psychology and Computer Science. You will be a member of CoGDeV lab, supervised by Prof. Emily Farran,  Dr Jo Moss and Dr Brijesh Dongol.

The motor system is central to almost everything that we do. We use motor skills to interact socially, to produce language and in activities of daily living. Motor ability, unlike most competencies, can be measured from birth thus offering insight into how development unfolds. For example, motor ability is positively related to language, cognitive and social domains (Leonard & Hill, 2016), and in autism, motor delay in the first year constrains the rate of later expressive language development (Leonard et al., 2015).

Across three studies, you will investigate early motor impairment (using traditional methods and novel methods such as measuring force variables from tablet games [Anzulewicz et al., 2016], and by designing motor milestone Apps) in Williams syndrome (WS). WS is a genetic syndrome characterised by motor and cognitive impairment (Farran & Karmiloff-Smith, 2012), yet we have limited knowledge of the impact of motor deficits on cognitive development in this group.

Motor data will be used to: create a motor milestone App and guidance for families with WS and those who support them (programming experience is not an essential criterion; App development will be supported Dr Dongol and Computer Science technical support) (Aim 1); to better understand motor impairment in WS by measuring fine-grained motor quality and motor patterns (Aim 2). Finally, the developmental consequences of motor impairment on cognitive and social ability in children with WS will be determined (Aim 3).

The findings will advance theoretical understanding of developmental pathways in the field of neurodevelopmental conditions. The cross-disciplinary nature of this studentship will enable you to co-create a motor milestone guidance App, which will be used by parents/GPs to determine whether development is typical for a child with WS, or whether there is cause for concern. Given the prevalence of motor difficulties across neurodevelopmental conditions (e.g., Developmental Coordination Disorder, Autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD), the research from this studentship and App development will have high impact.

Related links

Dr Brijesh Dongol


Anzulewicz, A., Sobota, K., & Delafield-Butt, J. T. (2016). Toward the autism motor signature: Gesture patterns during smart tablet gameplay identify children with autism. Scientific reports6(1), 1-13.

Farran, E.K., Karmiloff-Smith, A. (Eds) (2012). Neurodevelopmental Disorders Across the Lifespan. Oxford University Press.

Leonard, H.C., Hill, E.L. (2016). The role of older siblings in infant motor development. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 152, 318-326.

Leonard, H.C. et al. (2015). Predicting the rate of language development from early motor skills in at-risk infants who develop ASD. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 13, 15-24.

Eligibility criteria

Applicants for PhDs in Psychology are expected to hold 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 

IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6 in each individual category.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Psychology PhD programme page on the "Apply" tab (select October 2022 start date). Please clearly state the studentship title and supervisor on your application. Once you have completed and submitted your application, please send an email to the primary supervisors confirming you have applied.

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Application deadline

Contact details

Emily Farran
06 AC 05
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686878

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