Developmental Risk and Resilience Unit 2020

This is the current team adjusting to new working from home conditions!


Prof. Essi Viding, PhD

Prof. Eamon McCrory, PhD, DClinPsy

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Our research programme aims to combine multiple methods in order to understand the emergence of developmental psychopathology. Essi’s primary research focus is the study of different developmental pathways to persistent antisocial behaviour. Eamon’s primary research focus is the study of how childhood adversity can increase latent vulnerability to later mental health problems. We both, however, work closely across both research themes and are increasingly interested in how both risk and protective factors interact across development.


 Diana Armbruster-Genc



During my PhD at the University of Frankfurt, Germany, I focused on the neural mechanisms of cognitive flexibility and stability using behavioural, fMRI and computational modelling methods. After the completion of my training as a clinical psychotherapist at the University of Frankfurt, I joined the Developmental Risk and Resilience Unit in 2017 to investigate the neurocognitive systems constituting latent vulnerability for mental health problems following early life adversity, how they can be measured, and their neurobiological underpinnings. The long-term aim of my research is to help to identify those children who are in most need of help and to inform the development of prevention methods to promote resilience.

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Louise Neil


I am a post-doctoral researcher, interested in how neurocognitive mechanisms may index risk and resilience for mental health difficulties. My doctoral thesis, from the Thomas Coram Research Unit, investigated teachers’ recognition of anxiety and somatic symptoms, building on previous research into the prevalence and patterning of anxiety and somatic symptoms in children. I started my research career at the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University, on a longitudinal study involving over 700 young people. More recently, I worked on a project into autistic children’s sensory sensitivities with Professor Liz Pellicano at the Centre for Research in Autism and Education (UCL IOE), where I investigated the relationship between intolerance of uncertainty, anxiety and sensory symptoms in children.

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Christina Carlisi


After completing my B.A. at the George Washington University (Washington D.C.), I worked as a research assistant in the Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) investigating the neurobiology of adolescent mood and anxiety disorders. I then completed my PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London in 2017, using fMRI to study shared and disorder-specific neurofunctional abnormalities related to executive function in adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I joined the DRRU in September 2017 as a Sir Henry Wellcome postdoctoral fellow supervised by Prof. Essi Viding at UCL, Prof. Ahmad Hariri (Duke University) and Dr. Isabelle Mareshcal (Queen Mary). My project uses structural equation modelling in multidimensional data (e.g. fMRI, DTI, neurocognitive, genetic, clinical) as well as computational methods (e.g. computational modelling, psychophysics) to examine individual differences in the mechanisms of affective processing. I am particularly interested in developing more sensitive measures of these differences to study how psychiatric traits develop across adolescence.

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PhD Studentsce

Rachel Smith



After receiving my B.A in Psychology from Chapman University in 2011, I spent two years working in diagnostic peripheral neurophysiology, and then went on to complete a 2-year M.Sc. in Developmental Neuroscience at University College London (UCL) and Yale University. In 2015, I began my PhD through the UCL/National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Joint Doctoral Training Program in Neuroscience. This partnership allows me to divide my time between labs in the United States and London and to conduct cross-institutional, collaborative research under the supervision of Dr. Alex Martin from the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at NIMH and Prof. Essi Viding at UCL. My doctoral research focuses on the neurobiological correlates of social cognition and empathy in the context of different developmental disorders (e.g. autism spectrum disorders and conduct problems with callous unemotional traits). In particular, I am interested in how differences in socio-affective abilities may relate to intrinsic brain activity. To explore this, I am analyzing functional connectivity among neural networks via resting state fMRI and relating that baseline brain activity to a range of trait-level measures of social cognition and empathy.

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Shana Silverstein



I am a graduate student in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and University College London, currently working on part of my doctoral project at the NIAAA with Dr. Andrew Holmes and UCL with Profs Essi Viding and Jon Roiser. Before beginning my PhD, I graduated with a B.A. in Neuroscience and a minor in dance from Franklin & Marshall College (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) in 2010 and a M.S. in Physiology from Georgetown University (Washington, DC) in 2013. My doctoral research is a translational project aimed at uncovering some of the brain regions and directional circuits involved in vicarious learning of fear in both mice and humans. I am particularly interested in regions and pathways connecting the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. By using mice to model human pathologies, such as psychopathy or anxiety disorders, we can gain a better understanding of the deficient functioning at a molecular and mechanistic level in order to inform and direct better targeted therapies. We can then also run parallel studies in humans using neuroimaging methods.

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Annie Gaule



I joined the DRRU in 2018 as a PhD student funded by the Medical Research Council. During my PhD I will be exploring the socio-cognitive mechanisms underlying challenging behaviour in young adolescents using a range of methods. Prior to joining the DRRU I studied BSc Psychology at UCL, during which time I also worked as a research assistant in the Social Perception Research Group at City University of London. Following this, I completed a Dual Masters degree in Brain and Mind sciences between UCL, the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, and the Ecole Normale Supèrieure in Paris. I subsequently spent a year working as a research assistant and translator in the Babylab of the Université Paris Descartes.

Tom Steare


After completing an MSc in Clinical Mental Health Sciences, I worked as a research assistant at the Division of Psychiatry across a range of different mental health service research projects. In 2020 I was offered a place on the UCL Wellcome 4-year PhD in Mental Health Science programme. During my first year on the programme, I am undertaking rotation projects with different research groups at the Institute of Mental Health across a range of exciting disciplines within mental health science research. At the DRRU I will be working with the team to investigate how certain neurocognitive systems are implicated in the development of mental health problems following childhood adversity. I am particularly interested in the development of mental health problems in children and adolescents, and how we can identify trans-diagnostic mechanisms to inform effective prevention and early intervention strategies.

Research Assistants

Harriet Phillips


I returned to the DRRU as a research assistant in September 2018 after graduating from the University of Bath with a BSc in Psychology in July. During the penultimate year of my undergraduate degree, I completed a placement year at the DRRU. I am currently involved with both projects at the lab, using both fMRI and behavioural measures. The first is investigating reward processing in children with behavioural difficulties and the second is exploring how childhood adversity may later affect emotional and cognitive functioning, in terms of both psychological resilience and vulnerability. I am also completing my MSc in Forensic Mental Health at King’s College London. I am particularly interested in investigating empathy and psychopathy in terms of neural activity and how their development can be influenced by certain risk factors.

Zoe Freeman


I began working as a research assistant at the DRRU in September 2019. I am working on a longitudinal project, which is investigating neurocognitive mechanisms underlying mental health risk and resilience following early life adversity. Prior to this, I received a BSc in Psychology from the University of Bath in 2017 and subsequently completed a 2-year Research MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at Leiden University in 2019. During my undergraduate placement year I worked as a research assistant on the Studying Autism and ADHD Risks project at Birkbeck University, using behavioural and neurocognitive measures to investigate early detection of traits associated with ASD and ADHD. I am particularly interested in longitudinal approaches to how repeated adversity during development gradually shapes brain structure and function. I also have a strong interest in how a mechanism-driven approach can be used to develop preventative mental health care.

Katy Packer


I recently joined the DRRU having graduated from UCL with an MSc in Child Development. Prior to this, I completed a BSc in Psychology at the University of Nottingham. I am currently involved in the second stage of a longitudinal project, exploring the impact of childhood adversity on emotional and cognitive functioning. I am especially interested in how our research can inform the development of preventative interventions and promote resilience in children who have experienced early adversity.

Placement Students

Emma Crenol


I joined the DRRU in June 2020 on my placement year as part of my BSc degree in Psychology at the University of Bath. Over the past two years of my degree, I have discovered an interest in developmental psychology and psychopathology areas particularly relevant to children, and so I am excited to gain useful experience and contribute to research in these areas. I am currently involved in a longitudinal project investigating how childhood adversity may impact later emotional and cognitive functioning and the mechanisms underlying mental health vulnerability and resiliency following this adversity.


Dr. Ruth Roberts

Dr. Vanessa Puetz

Prof. Eleanor Maguire

Prof. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Dr. Geoff Bird

Dr. Jon Roiser

Dr. Fruhling Rijsdijk

Prof. Craig Neuman

Prof. Mark Dadds

Prof. Peter Fonagy

Prof. Norah Frederickson

Prof. Paul Frick

Prof. Ahmad Hariri

Prof. Linda Mayes

Dr. Andrea Mechelli

Prof. Robert Plomin

Dr. Philip Shaw

Dr. Gregory L. Wallace