University College London, UK
What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on understanding different developmental pathways to persistent antisocial behavior. I have a particular interest in a subgroup of children who not only have behavioral problems, but also have callous-unemotional traits.
What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?
It is puzzling to meet children with callous-unemotional traits. They seem to lack empathy for others and do not appear to care much about social affiliation. I want to understand what makes them that way and what could be done to help their social integration.
Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?
I have been lucky to have several brilliant mentors. Robert Plomin and Francesca Happé of Kings College London, Uta Frith of University College London, Terrie Moffitt of Duke University, and James Blair of the US National Institute of Mental Health have been particularly important.
To what do you attribute your success in the science?
A combination of working with excellent colleagues, having access to great institutional resources, being extremely excited and motivated by my chosen research topic, and having nice “home troops.”
What’s your future research agenda?
I want to use multiple methodologies to understand how both genetic and environmental risk factors contribute to neurocognitive vulnerabilities characterizing callous-unemotional traits.
Any advice for even younger psychological scientists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?
I will re-iterate excellent advice given to me by Robert Plomin: “Do not take the review process too personally and pick your collaborators carefully.”
Please write a sentence or two about the publication you are most proud of or feel has been most important to your career. As challenging as it may be, please limit it to one publication.
Viding, E., Blair, R. J. R., Moffitt, T. E., Plomin, R. (2005). Evidence for substantial genetic risk for psychopathy in 7-year-olds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(6), 592-597.
This paper from my PhD used the twin design and demonstrated that antisocial behavior is strongly heritable in children with callous-unemotional traits, but mostly due to environmental influences in children without callous-unemotional traits. It adds to the evidence base from other labs suggesting that children with conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits are a meaningful subgroup that have a biological vulnerability to behavioral problems. The challenge is to figure out what environmental factors trigger that biological vulnerability and what protective mechanisms could be put in place to ensure that these children do not get side-lined from society.