Understanding individual behaviours: Exploratory network

About the project

The project ran from July 2009 to September 2010.

Investigating the genetic, social and neuropsychological influences on individual differences in impulsivity and in memory using a lifecourse approach.

The initial aims of the network were to investigate the genetic, social and neuropsychological influences on i) individual differences in impulsivity and ii) individual differences in memory using a lifecourse approach.  However, the work conducted focused primarily on mid-life memory and how this relates to experiences and behaviour earlier in the lifecourse.

The network brought together researchers from a number of disciplines within the social sciences, as well as experts from behavioural genetics, neuropsychology and neuroimaging, and those with an established interest in research ethics and sought to apply ideas and techniques at the cutting edge of behavioural genetics and to capitalize on the research resource represented by the longitudinal British Birth Cohort Studies.

The network included researchers from the Department of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge University, the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King's College London and the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.

The network’s most significant achievement was to successfully complete a pilot study which sought to investigate the potential of conducting neuropsychological assessments with purposive subsamples of the British Birth Cohort Studies.  A sub-sample of 133 National Child Development Study members living in and around Cambridge who achieved a range of scores on the cognitive assessments included in the age 50 survey in 2008 were invited to a research centre at the University of Cambridge to complete a 90 minute session involving the repetition of the assessments completed at age 50, a battery of 5 CANTAB (Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery) assessments and a short questionnaire.  Assessments were conducted with 45 individuals who, in general, were very positive about their experience of taking part.

Conducting this type of study raised a number of ethical issues, for example, whether participants should be provided with feedback about their performance in assessments which could potentially identify them as being at heightened risk of developing dementia. The network provided an opportunity to discuss these issues fully and one of the network’s outputs is a full ethical review of the use of fMRI and DNA analysis in birth cohort studies which will be available shortly.  Consideration was given to including fMRI scanning in the pilot study but this did not prove feasible.  Pilot study participants were however asked about their attitudes towards participating in this kind of research, particulalry in terms of the feedback they would expect to receive.  A paper examining these attitudes is available here.

Finally members of the network were also been involved in analysing the data already collected by the National Child Development Study to investigate factors which might influence cognitive performance and decline in mid-age.  Some of this work was presented at the Understanding Ageing Conference organised by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies in Oxford in April 2010.

Principal Investigator:

Prof Jane Elliott

Other researchers:


A descriptive paper discussing the results of the pilot study and  a ‘technical report’ describing how the study was conducted is available on this page.


The project is funded under the Understanding Individual Behaviours - Exploratory Network (UIBEN) cross council programme.