B3681 - From Social Cognitive Deficits to Later Emotional and Behavioural Problems The Roles of Cortisol and Inflammatory Cytokines - 17/12/2020

B number: 
Principal applicant name: 
Marta Francesconi | University College London (UK)
Dongying Ji, Ms, Steven Papachristou, Eirini Flouri
Title of project: 
From Social Cognitive Deficits to Later Emotional and Behavioural Problems: The Roles of Cortisol and Inflammatory Cytokines
Proposal summary: 

Social cognition, the ability to understand the mind of other people, is essential for successful social
interaction. Children with emotional and behavioural problems are more likely to have a history of poor
social cognition ability. However, the path from poor social cognition to emotional and behavioural problems
in childhood and adolescence is unclear. The possibility I will explore in this PhD project is that social
cognitive deficits increase stress (i.e., hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal dysregulation and flattened cortisol
rhythm and/or chronic inflammation), leading to emotional and behavioural problems. Cortisol and
inflammatory cytokines are thought to be promising biomarkers of various stressed-related behavioural and,
particularly, emotional disorders, yet existing evidence in children and adolescents is little and mixed, and
is mostly about clinical disorders. Additionally, it is not known yet how cortisol and inflammatory cytokines
work when facing stress caused by social cognition deficits, especially in the general population. The aim
of the project is to explore the role of these biomarkers in the interplay mechanism of social cognition deficits
and emotional and behavioural problems in children and adolescents, using longitudinal data from a large
general population study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Analytically, the project will
explore three relationships: a) the longitudinal association between deficits in core aspects of social
cognition (emotion recognition & theory of mind) and emotional and behavioural problems, b) the role of
cortisol in explaining the association and c) and the role of inflammatory cytokines in explaining the
association. The relationship between inflammation and cortisol is complex so the final analysis exploring
the role of both will consider this complexity fully.

Impact of research: 
Academic and policy. We think our findings will be of use and value to the following 4 groups. The first group are those making decisions about preventive and early treatment interventions. A second group to whom results will be addressed are the general public, especially parents and expectant parents. Academic researchers are a third category of users, including those with a substantive interest in child emotional and behavioural development, those interested in stress ‘effects’ and those interested in advanced longitudinal modelling. Finally, we hope to inform those commissioning research in child development, who, to a large extent, continue to underestimate or neglect the interaction between the body and the mind.
Date proposal received: 
Tuesday, 15 December, 2020
Date proposal approved: 
Thursday, 17 December, 2020
Mental health - Psychology, Psychiatry, Cognition, Behaviour - e.g. antisocial behaviour, risk behaviour, etc., Mental health, Pregnancy - e.g. reproductive health, postnatal depression, birth outcomes, etc., Statistical methods, Biological samples -e.g. blood, cell lines, saliva, etc., Biomarkers - e.g. cotinine, fatty acids, haemoglobin, etc., Statistical methods, Birth outcomes, BMI, Cohort studies - attrition, bias, participant engagement, ethics, Childhood - childcare, childhood adversity, Cognition - cognitive function, Development, Immunity, Intelligence - memory