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Alexandra Hendry

NIHR Advanced Fellow

My research centres on the development of ‘executive functions’; those skills that help us control our attention and behaviour in order to achieve goals. These skills include the ability to stop ourselves from doing something (‘inhibitory control’), to keep some information in mind whilst also adding to or changing it (‘working memory’) and the ability to switch our actions or attention during a changing situation (‘cognitive flexibility’). Strong executive function skills are linked to better performance at school and higher levels of health, wealth and happiness in later life. The long-term aim of my research is to find out why some children go on to develop strong executive function skills and not others. This information will be useful for identifying which children may need early support to nudge their development towards a more positive outcome.

I completed my PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London where I investigated the early development of Executive Functions and attentional control skills in infants with an increased likelihood of developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), because they have an older sibling already with a diagnosis. This work was part of the ongoing STAARS project ( Both ASD and ADHD have been linked to increased difficulties with executive functions but little is understood about the early development of executive functions in these populations, in part because it is so difficult to measure in very young children. A core part of my research was developing new ways of measuring executive functions in toddlers, who are limited in terms of their ability to understand complex instructions. My measures include ‘eye-tracking’ tasks which enable us to record exactly where, and for how long, toddlers look at different images on a screen, problem-solving games and touchscreen tasks.

In January 2018, I joined the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford to work on a project investigating executive functions from infancy into early childhood, led by Dr Karla Holmboe. In this project we are developing new games and tasks to measure executive functions in infants as young as 10 months.