Research

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 research. He did his PhD at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, 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 how attention and stress inter-relate during infancy and early childhood. In particular, he is interested in understanding how young children's stress, attention and learning capacities are influenced by the environment, and people around them. Sam works with typically developing children, children from particularly low socio-economic status backgrounds, children born prematurely, and children in early stages of developing conditions such as Autism Spectrum disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Sam has held postdoctoral 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, the Rett Syndrome Research Trust 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), Bart Boets (Leuven, Belgium), Jukka Leppanen (Tampere, Finland), Stefanie Hoehl (Vienna, Austria), Aleksandra Djukic and Susan Rose (Albert Einstein, New York), Noa Gueron Sela (Ben Gurion, Israel) and Lonnie Zwaigenbaum and Susan Bryson (Alberta, Canada).

In addition, Sam is very active in the public communication of science. He 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. He appears regularly on television (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky) and radio (all channels), and in all national newspapers. Sam has acted as media spokesperson for public campaigns by Public Health England, Save the Children, Nickelodeon, Ikea, Dulux and more.

Read more about lab members here. Sam's academic publications are listed on his page on Google Scholar, and he is active on Twitter.

Key publications

Interpersonal influences on early attention and stress

Wass, S.V., Whitehorn, M., Marriot Haresign, I., Phillips, E., Leong, V. (2020) Interpersonal neural entrainment during early social interaction. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2020.01.006

Wass., S.V., Smith, C.G., Clackson, K., Gibb, C., Eitzenberger, J., Mirza, F. U. (2019). Parents mimic and influence their infant’s autonomic state through dynamic affective state matching. Current Biology 29(14), 2415-2422.

Wass, S.V., Noreika, V., Georgieva, S., Clackson, K., Brightman, L., Nutbrown, R., Santamaria, L., Leong, V. (2018) Parental neural responsivity to infants’ visual attention: how mature brains scaffold immature brains during social interaction. PLoS Biology. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2006328

Leong, V., Byrne, E., Clackson, K., Lam, S. & Wass, S.V. (2017). Speaker gaze increases information coupling between infant and adult brains. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. 114 (50), 13290–13295, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1702493114


Below is a talk that summarises some of this research, entitled 'Interpersonal neural entrainment during early social interaction', from a recent Zoom conference in China:

Environmental influences on early attention and stress

Wass, S.V., Smith, C.G., Daubney, K.R., Suata, Z.M., Clackson, K., Begum, A., Mirza, F.U. (2019) Influences of household noise on autonomic function in 12-month-old infants: understanding early common pathways to atypical emotion regulation and cognitive performance. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 60(12):1323-1333 doi: 10.1111/jcpp.13084

Wass, S.V. (2018). How orchids concentrate? The relationship between physiological stress reactivity and cognitive performance during infancy and early childhood. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 90, 34-49.


Below is a talk that summarises some of this research, entitled, 'How noisy living environments affect early development', from the recent vICIS conference:

Attention training for infants

Wass, S.V., Scerif, G. & Johnson, M.H. (2012). Training attentional control and working memory – is younger, better? Developmental Review 32 (4), 360–387.

Wass, S.V., Porayska-Pomsta, K. & Johnson, M.H. (2011). Training attentional control in infancy. Current Biology 21(18), 1543-1547.