Professor Sam Wass
Department of Psychological Sciences , School of Psychology
Sam's research examines how stress and emotional arousal influence concentration and learning capacities during early childhood. At UEL, he is the leader of the BabyDevLab and the Developmental Group.
- 1999-2001 BA, Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford. First class
- 2009-2012 PhD, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London
- 2013-2015 British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, MRC Cognition and Brain Unit, Cambridge
- 2016-2018 ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow, University of East London
- 2019-2025 ERC Starter Grant Fellow, University of East London
I am a developmental cognitive neuroscientist who leads the BabyDevLab at the University of East London.
I am a previous holder of research fellowships from the British Academy and the Economic and Social Research Council, and a current holder of a 5-year research fellowship from the European Research Council. My research examines stress and attention during early life.
I am also active in running training for Early Years practitioners, and as a media spokesperson with expertise in early childhood.
More details can be found on Sam Wass's website, and he is also
Sam Wass gained a first-class undergraduate degree in Experimental Psychology at Oxford University. He spent his twenties working as an opera director, in opera houses in London, Glyndebourne, Berlin, Vienna, Bregenz, Geneva and others, before returning to academia. He did his PhD at the , Birkbeck, and his postdoctoral research in Cambridge, at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. He is currently leader of the BabyDevLab at the University of East London.
Sam's research examines stress, concentration and learning during infancy and early childhood. He uses methods including eyetracking, autonomic monitoring and neuroimaging (EEG) to understand how stress influences children's concentration and learning, and how young children's stress, concentration and learning capacities are influenced by the environment, and people around them. Sam works with typically developing children, children being raised in low socio-economic status backgrounds, and children in early stages of developing conditions such as Autism Spectrum disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and anxiety.
Sam has held research fellowships from the British Academy and Economic and Social Research Council, and is a current holder of a €1.5 million research fellowship from the European Research Council. In addition, he has received funding as a Principal Investigator from the Medical Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council, and others, and as a co-Investigator from the National Institute of Health Research, the Nuffield Foundation, the MQ Mental Health charity and others.
Sam has active research collaborations with a range of researchers including: Vicky Leong (Cambridge/NTU Singapore), Mark Johnson (Cambridge/Birkbeck), Emily Jones (Birkbeck), Edmund Sonuga-Barke and Tony Charman (IoPPN, London), Oliver Perra (Queen's Belfast) Jukka Leppanen (Tampere, Finland), Stefanie Hoehl (Vienna, Austria), Aleksandra Djukic and Susan Rose (Albert Einstein, New York), Noa Gueron Sela (Ben Gurion, Israel), Bart Boets (KU Leuven) and Lonnie Zwaigenbaum and Susan Bryson (Alberta, Canada).
In addition, Sam is very active in the public communication of science. He appears regularly as an early years expert on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky television channels and on all the UK's radio channels and newspapers. He acted as a media spokesperson for public campaigns for the Department of Education, Public Health England, Save the Children, LEGO, Nickelodeon and more.
He also appeared as a psychologist in the multi-award Channel 4 series The Secret Life of 4-, 5- and 6-Year-Olds, produced by Teresa Watkins for RDF Television, supported by the Wellcome Trust.
How stress influences attention and learning in children
My research has investigated relationships between physiological stress and early attention and learning. Recently, I have been working on new techniques to model how children's stress states spontaneously fluctuate in real-world naturalistic settings.
- The origins of effortful control: how early development within arousal/regulatory systems influences cognitive and affective control. Wass, S.V. (2021). Developmental Review 61, 100978.
- How orchids concentrate? The relationship between physiological stress reactivity and cognitive performance during infancy and early childhood. Wass, S.V. (2018). 2018. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 90, 34-49.
How children's stress, attention and learning are influenced by people around them
I investigate how stress and attention emerge as shared states during parent-child interaction by recording brain activity and physiology in parents and children concurrently during free-flowing interactions.
- Interpersonal neural entrainment during early social interaction. Wass, S.V., Whitehorn, M., Marriot Haresign, I., Phillips, E., Leong, V. (2020). Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24 (4), 329-342.
- Parents Mimic and Influence Their Infants Autonomic State through Dynamic Affective State Matching. Wass., S.V., Smith, C.G., Clackson, K., Gibb, C., Eitzenberger, J., Mirza, F. U. (2019). Current Biology 29(14), 2415-2422.
- Parental neural responsivity to infants' visual attention: how mature brains scaffold immature brains during social interaction. Wass, S.V., Noreika, V., Georgieva, S., Clackson, K., Brightman, L., Nutbrown, R., Santamaria, L., Leong, V. (2018). PLoS Biology.
- Speaker gaze increases information coupling between infant and adult brains. Leong, V., Byrne, E., Clackson, K., Lam, S. and Wass, S.V. (2017). Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. 114 (50), 13290–13295.
How children's stress, attention and learning are influenced by their environment.
These papers examine how noisy and unpredictable early-life environments can affect the early development of cognitive and affective control.
- Influences of household noise on autonomic function in 12-month-old infants: understanding early common pathways to atypical emotion regulation and cognitive performance. Wass, S.V., Smith, C.G., Daubney, K.R., Suata, Z.M., Clackson, K., Begum, A., Mirza, F.U. (2019). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 60(12):1323-1333.
- Physiological stress, sustained attention, emotion regulation, and cognitive engagement in 12-month-old infants from urban environments. Wass, S.V., Smith, C.G., Stubbs, L., Clackson, K., Mirza, F.U. (2021). Developmental Psychology 57(8), 1179-1194.
Attention training for children
The research evaluates the use of gaze-contingent attention training paradigms in infants.
- Training basic visual attention leads to changes in responsiveness to social-communicative cues in 9-month- old infants. Forssman, L. and Wass, S.V. (2017). Child Development. 89 (3) 199-213.
- Training Attentional Control in Infancy. Wass, S.V., Porayska-Pomsta, K. and Johnson, M.H. (2011). Current Biology. 21(18), 1543-1547.
Attention and stress in atypical children
In addition to examining the relationship between physiological stress and attention in typical children, we also study atypical populations, such as children with ADHD and Rett Syndrome.
- Shorter spontaneous fixation durations in infants with later emerging autism. (2015). Scientific Reports. 5 (8284), 1-8.
I am always happy to receive research proposals from students in any of my areas of interest.
MEDIA and PR WORK
Sam is very active in the public communication of science. He appears regularly as an early years expert on television (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky) and radio (all channels), and in all national newspapers.
He has acted as media spokesperson for public campaigns by the Department of Education, Public Health England, Save the Children, Lego, Nickelodeon, and more. He also appeared as one of the psychologists in the multi-award-winning Channel 4 series The Secret Life of 4-, 5- and 6-Year-Olds, produced by Teresa Watkins for RDF Television and supported by the Wellcome Trust.
Visiting Scientist at Cambridge University and Visiting Scientist at King's College, London