Senior Clinical Lecturer
After graduating from the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Medicine in 1988, I worked in the UK and Australia. Then, during a period of study of infectious disease dynamics, carrying out research into Lyme Disease, I developed an interest in the way that the evolution of brain and behaviour is shaped by selective influences. I commenced collaborating with Andrew Whiten in St Andrews, who pioneered the study of social learning in non-human primates. Our first joint publication was a paper (now widely cited) linking imitation and ‘theory of mind’ problems in autism to impaired ‘mirror neuron’ functioning. In 2000, I was appointed to my current post as a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in Aberdeen, with my time divided between research and clinical practice. The latter involves trying to help young people with the most severe and intractable mental health problems (particularly autism) from across the region. In my research, I seek better routes to implement our rapidly expanding knowledge of neuroscience to improve children’s mental health, particularly using neuroimaging. In recent years I have become especially interested in the assessment of neurodevelopment within epidemiological contexts.
Lay summary of research interests
I am interested in finding better ways to understand the mental health problems which affect young people, especially those that stem from problems with development of the brain, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Developmental Coordination Disorder (previously often known as dyspraxia). In particular, my research is concerned with measuring different sorts of behaviour, especially imitation, coordination abilities and emotional expressions, and sometimes using brain scanning technology, to better help understand what can go wrong in important aspects of development such as empathy and emotional communication. I am also interested in whether there are influences on the developing brain that occur during pregnancy that may subsequently result in mental health problems.
Autism; imitation, social learning, action, emotional communication and development.