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The University of Southampton

Professor Jim Stevenson 

Emeritus Professor of Developmental Psychopathology

Professor Jim Stevenson's photo

Professor Jim Stevenson is Emeritus Professor of Developmental Psychopathology within Psychology at the University of Southampton.

During the 1970s and early 1980s my work with colleagues at the Institute of Child Health, UCL on the epidemiology and long term outcome of behaviour problems and language delay in pre-school children represented pioneering research establishing the significance of early emerging behaviour problems in children. The research monograph summarising this work, which was published in 1982, has been cited over 600 times in the Science Citation Index. The twin studies on reading I conducted, along with those from the Colorado Twin Study, established for the first time the extent to which the familial nature of reading disability could be attributed to genetic factors. This laid the ground work for subsequent molecular genetic studies which have resulted in reading being the aspect of cognitive ability where most progress has been made to understand its genetic basis. I have published a number of papers in collaboration with colleagues at the Dept of Psychological Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Cardiff on the molecular genetics culminating in a paper identifying KIAA0319 as a susceptibility gene for reading disability (Cope et al. (2005). American Journal of Human Genetics, 76, 581–591).In a similar vein the papers I published in the late 1980s and early 1990s were the first demonstration of the genetic basis for hyperactivity. In part as a consequence of this work Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder became central to genetic research within child psychiatry.

These genetic studies were extended to include twin studies on asthma, anxiety and dissociation. The studies on the processes reading acquisition have been developed with colleagues for the University of York to examine the relationship between early language acquisition and later reading competence. With colleagues at the Institute of Child Health, UCL studies were undertaken on risk factors associated with the transition to sexual abuse perpetration among boys who were themselves the victims of sexual abuse (Salter et al., (2003). Lancet , 361,471-476 and Skuse et al. (1998). BMJ,317, 175-179.)

The work on hyperactivity led to the funding of two studies on the role of food additives in hyperactivity using double blind placebo controlled food challenges with young children. The Food And Behaviour in Children (FABiC) Study was funded by a £0.75m grant from the Food Standards Agency. It is a replication and extension of our previous work reported in Bateman et al. (2004). Archives of Disease in Childhood, 89, 506-511. It aimed to identify the significance of food additives as an influence on children’s behaviour particularly hyperactivity. The first paper reporting the results has been published (McCann et al. (2007). Lancet, 370, 1560-1567). Further analysis is being carried out investigating the role of genetic polymorphisms in moderating the effect of food additives on behaviour.

I have undertaken a number of studies into aspects of atypical development in children. These included a study of the problems faced by children with spina bifida and or hydrocephalus and a series of studies of the cognitive and behavioural sequelae of extreme prematurity (born before 30 weeks gestation) both at Southampton and with colleagues at Imperial College School of Medicine. With colleagues at Southampton we have completed a follow-up study of the later language, education attainments and behaviour of children screened for permanent hearing loss during the neonatal period. The main results were published in Kennedy et al. (2006) New England Journal Of Medicine, 354: 2131-2141.

A repeated feature of the studies on hyperactivity and reading is the demonstration that the genetic and environmental influences on children at the extreme on dimensions of behaviour or ability are the same as this operating on individual differences in the normal range. This has important theoretical and clinical implications concerning the categorical vs. continuum approach to the definition of psychopathology. It suggests that these “disorders” behaviour are best treated as extremes of normal variation and that findings concerning the aetiology of individual differences can be extrapolated to those with disorders.

I was the founding Editor of the Annual Research Review issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and subsequently Editor then Senior Editor of the journal. In 2008 this journal had an ISI impact factor of 4.43, 2nd out 52 in the ranking of impact factors of developmental psychology journals. I was one of the six editors of the 5th Edition of Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This is the definitive text book in the field and was published by Blackwell in 2008.

Research interests

Research Interests

Behaviour genetics: I study the role of genetic and environmental influences on aspect of behavioural, emotional and cognitive development in children and adolescents. This includes twin research, for example on hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, reading and language development. I have also collaborated in molecular genetic studies with the University of Wales College of Medicine.

Paediatric psychology: I am interested in the impact of illness and disability on psychological development in children and adolescents. This includes the impact of central nervous system involvement in a child's chronic condition on psychological development (e.g. in preterm infants and children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus). I have conducted studies on behaviour, stress and asthma onset and on the impact of neonatal screening for hearing loss on later language and educational attainment.

Developmental psychopathology: I have a particular interest in the developmental origins of behaviour problems in young children. This includes the role of genetic factors (e.g. temperament) and experiences within the family (e.g. teenage parenthood). I have studied the role of dietary factors (specifically food additives) in relation to hyperactivity.

Research group

Developmental Brain-Behaviour Laboratory (DBBL)

Research project(s)

Early parenthood and teenage pregnancy

Projects investigating early parenthood and teenage pregnancy

Outcomes of teenage parenthood for mothers, fathers and children

I have no duties in Psychology.

I am an Adjunct Professor at the Regional Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Bergen.

Professor Jim Stevenson
Building 44 Highfield Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BJ

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