Developmental trajectories of the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity in relation to mental health and well-being in children (or adolescents)

Supervisor: Dr Dusana Dorjee

A) Rationale for the project

Mental health and well-being of children and adolescents has been highlighted as an increasing concern by policy makers, educators and health-care professionals. The focus of well-being interventions delivered in schools has been so far mostly on physical health (such as diet and nutrition) rather than on mental health. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of clarity regarding determinants of mental well-being and limited understanding of developmental trajectories of well-being and their evaluation. This PhD project builds on previous work in Dr Dorjee’s lab and particularly her latest theoretical research on the core determinants of well-being development (Dorjee, 2017; Dorjee, in prep.; also see https://theconversation.com/schools-need-to-teach-pupils-skills-to-maintain-good-mental-health-heres-how-95885). One of the two core determinants is the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity (MSRC). The MSRC enables us to notice thoughts, feelings etc. in our mind and to effectively manage these in support of our well-being (Dorjee, in prep.). The MSRC involves metacognition, attention control, emotion regulation and regulation of negative rumination. Previous research on related psychological constructs shows that self-regulation and self-control (involving metacognition, attention control and emotion regulation) in childhood predict health in adulthood (e.g., Moffitt et al., 2010). We also know that negative rumination is strongly associated with psychopathology (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008).

B) References that should be read (if you do not have access to these, please email dusana.dorjee@york.ac.uk)

Dorjee, D. (2016). Defining contemplative science: The metacognitive self-regulatory capacity of the mind, context of meditation practice and modes of existential awareness. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1788.

Dorjee, D. (2017). Psychology and Neuroscience of Meditation in Everyday Life. London, UK: Routledge. (Chapter 1)

Dorjee, D. (2018, September 5). Schools need to teach pupils skills to maintain good mental health – here’s how. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/schools-need-to-teach-pupils-skills-to-maintain-good-mental-health-heres-how-95885 

Kaunhoven, R. J., & Dorjee, D. (2017). How does mindfulness modulate self-regulation in pre-adolescent children? An integrative neurocognitive review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 74, 163-184.

Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., ... & Sears, M. R. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 2693-2698.

Pandey, A., Hale, D., Das, S., Goddings, A. L., Blakemore, S. J., & Viner, R. M. (2018). Effectiveness of universal self-regulation–based interventions in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA pediatrics, 172(6), 566-575.

C) Research aims / questions

The aim of this project is to contribute to our understanding of how the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity develops in children or adolescents and how it relates to their mental health and overall well-being. There is scope for the project to be extended to include other unique angles such as the relationship between the development of the MSCR, well-being and academic performance. The PhD student can choose, in discussion with the supervisor, the particular child or adolescent age-group she/he would like to work with in the project. 

D) Methods

This will be a longitudinal project that will use a new self-report measure of the metacognitive self-regulatory capacity which is part of the Comprehensive Cognitive Well-being Inventory for children and adolescents (CCWI-CA) development by Dr. Dorjee. In addition, the project will use one or two of the following methods – experiential sampling, EEG/ERP methods, HRV assessments or innovative qualitative assessments in which children/adolescents self-interpret their narratives. The final selection of the methods will be decided in discussion with the supervisor and will also depend on the PhD student’s research training and experience. It is expected that the PhD student will have strong quantitative research skills.