The role of the built environment in children’s cognition and mental health

Principal Supervisor:   Professor Eirini Flouri (UCL)

Co-Supervisor:  Dr Peninah Murage (LSHTM), Dr Emily Midouhas (UCL)

Project Description

The built environment can be strongly linked to human health. However, there has been little research on the role of the built environment for children. This project will attempt to fill this gap, by exploring its role in children’s cognition and mental health from the preschool period to the end of the primary school years. It will use longitudinal data from a UK birth cohort, the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a survey of more than 19,000 children born around 2000.

Specifically, the project will model the role of the neighbourhood’s built environment (greenspace and air pollution) in children’s trajectories of cognitive skills and emotional/behavioural problems from 3 to 11 years, controlling for family and area socio-economic disadvantage. It will track children over time and over any change of neighbourhood. As such, the project will improve the existing evidence in two important ways:  First, the existing research is mainly cross-sectional and therefore does not provide an accurate representation of how exposure to neighbourhoods over time may influence child outcomes. Second, the use children may make of increasingly independent access to outside space is likely to change with their age. MCS has had 5 follow-ups until the end of our study period (at ages 9 months and 3, 5, 7 and 11 years) to enable us to test for age specificity well. 

Measures: The greenspace measure in MCS is the 2001 estimate of the percentage of combined coverage of all green spaces (public or private) larger than 5 sq mi (excluding domestic gardens) for each Census Area Statistics ward (around 5,000 residents) in the UK (http://cresh.org.uk/cresh-themes/green-spaces-and-health/ward-level-green-space-estimates), given in deciles. Information on air pollutants (SO2, PM10, NO2, CO) has also been linked at ward level for all sweeps we will use. It is also available in deciles. Emotional/behavioural problems in MCS are measured by the parent-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11 years. Cognitive outcomes were measured primarily by the British Ability Scales (BAS) in MCS during that period.

This project will be making full use of the expertise and complementary strengths of the research team. It draws on the track record of Dr Murage, an environmental epidemiologist, and Drs Flouri and Midouhas, developmental psychologists with a long-standing interest in the role of the built environment in child outcomes.

Methodology: This will be a secondary analysis project requiring the student to use linked data. Analytically, the work will involve hierarchical modelling. The outcome of interest will be the trajectory of cognition and that of mental health due to the built environment.

Requirements

Graduates with a good first degree and/or master’s degree in psychology, statistics, epidemiology, geography, education, neuroscience, or other relevant sciences. Applicants with an interest and aptitude for child development and quantitative methods are encouraged to apply.

Key References

  • Evans G.W. (2006). Child development and the physical environment. Annu Rev Psychol:57, 423-451.
  • Flouri E., Midouhas E., Joshi H. (2014). The role of urban neighbourhood green space in children’s emotional and behavioural resilience. J Environ Psychol:40, 179-186.
  • Papachristou E., Flouri E. (2020). The co-development of internalising problems, externalising problems and cognitive ability across childhood and adolescence. Dev Psychopathol:32, 1375-1389.
  • Francesconi M., Flouri, E., Kirkbride, J.B. (2022). The role of the built environment in the trajectories of cognitive ability and mental health across early and middle childhood: Results from a street audit tool in a general-population birth cohort. J Environ Psychol:82, 101847 doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2022.101847

Further details about the project may be obtained from

Professor Eirini Flouri (e.flouri@ucl.ac.uk)

How to apply

Candidates should submit an online application via the Survey Monkey Apply portal. The application consists of a form, covering letter, CV, transcripts and references. Candidates will be selected for interview after the closing date.

Apply here: https://ucl.smapply.io/prog/2023_entry_BCS_childrenscognition

Closing date for applications is: 
March 8th 2023