School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Life Course Predictors of Psychological Well-Being

Supervisor: Dr Michael Pluess

Project description

Much of the existing research in developmental psychology has been and is being conducted from a perspective of developmental psychopathology. As a consequence, a lot is known today about the development of maladaptive outcomes, or when things “go wrong”, but it is less clear how development looks like when everything “goes right”. Yet focusing on the development of positive outcomes and competence is of great importance in order to foster and promote well-being across the life-course. This project aims at investigating positive development and predictors of psychological well-being across early childhood through to adulthood using a selection of large-scale longitudinal data sets (secondary data analysis).

The last decade has witnessed a substantial increase in the general interest in psychological well-being, largely stimulated by the recent emergence of Positive Psychology, a subfield of psychology specifically focused on the investigation of aspects related to positive qualities of the individual and human flourishing. As a consequence of this relatively new research effort there has been an impressive surge of empirical and theoretical work related to optimal human functioning. Subsequently, governments and their policy makers (e.g., France, England) have also become interested in questions related to psychological well-being, specifically regarding supplementing economic, social and environmental indicators of national performance with measures of psychological well-being in order to get a fuller picture of how society is doing and whether policies are effective in improving people’s quality of life. The development of policies aimed at promoting psychological well-being requires a thorough understanding of the different components that make up psychological well-being as well as knowledge regarding whether, at what stage in life, to what degree and how these components of well-being can be influenced. Although significant progress in research related to psychological well-being has been made in recent years, some of the most fundamental questions have not yet been fully addressed

The overarching objective of the proposed research project is to explore a wide range of predictors of psychological well-being across the life course in order to create an empirically based and theoretically coherent model of Positive Development. The proposed work will address the following questions:

  • What are life course predictors of psychological well-being?
  • How can the identified predictors and developmental processes be summarised into a model of Positive Development?

The proposed work will include extensive secondary data analysis of selected large-scale longitudinal prospective cohort studies and the conceptual integration of these empirical findings with existing knowledge from the developmental literature in order to create a working model of Positive Development.
It is planned to include the following existing data sets: 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS 1958), 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS), Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (NICHD SECCYD). Psychological well-being will be investigated across multiple domains of psychological functioning (i.e. cognitive, social, emotional, behavioural domains). Analyses will first focus on the hypothesised multidimensional structure of psychological well-being and test for cross-sectional associations between the different domains of psychological functioning at different developmental stages. In a next step life course predictors of these outcomes will be investigated using multiple regression, growth curve analysis and structural equation models.

Eligibility and applying

Given the focus on secondary data analysis, this PhD project requires advanced skills in data management, computer based data analysis, and pronounced ability and motivation to acquire new data analysis skills. Furthermore, this project requires excellent scientific writing skills and the ability to work independently.

Applicants must send a cover letter to Dr Michael Pluess outlining their suitability for the project. Applicants should also include a statement of motivation and CV, which should include the contact details of at least two academic referees, before submitting an application.

Contact/query instructions: Dr Michael Pluess

See also