Stuart Ritchie is a psychologist whose work focuses on the development of cognitive abilities. He is interested both in the causes of cognitive differences between people (for example, his research has confirmed that education positively affects intelligence test scores) and also the effects of cognitive differences on people’s lives (for example, he is interested in how cognitive abilities relate to mental health). To address these research questions, Stuart uses a range of techniques from different disciplines including psychometrics, cognitive neuroscience, and behaviour genetics.
My plans for the fellowship period
This is a very auspicious time for research on the development of cognitive abilities. Not only are there a huge number of new, large-scale, detailed, often longitudinal datasets available that include cognitive data, but new methods for analyzing the biological and social foundations of cognitive abilities are appearing all the time. However, we’re also at a point where the reliability of many results from psychological research is being questioned as part of the discipline’s “replication crisis”. My research during the fellowship period will attempt simultaneously to address both of these issues, by using a multi-sample research design that builds in replication studies right from the start, asking about the extent to which results found in one dataset apply to those in others. This will include studies from countries that are not usually included in psychology research. I’ll use this methodology to address questions about exactly how education has its effects on cognitive abilities, about how children might overcome early adversity to reach their cognitive potential, and about the prospects and limitations of genetic prediction of cognitive abilities through development.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Cognitive functions are some of the most complex, important, and controversial constructs in psychology. They are of crucial importance not just in education, but for many other aspects of our lives: for example, for our performance on the labour market, and for our physical and mental health. They go on mattering right into old age, where understanding differences in rates of cognitive ageing is a critical question for ageing societies. The question of the extent to which we might be able to raise children’s cognitive abilities is therefore one that has major implications for many aspects of society. The only way to answer this question is to have high-quality, replicable evidence about precisely what causes, and what results from, people’s cognitive differences. This will involve distilling the knowledge being gained from genomics, as well as understanding the “environmental” influences—such as education—that we might be able to optimize for greater benefits. My interests in helping to tighten up methodology in psychology research—for example, by performing multi-cohort replication studies, and by instituting best practices like pre-registration and online sharing of analytic code—should serve as an example of how research results can be made more reliable, for everyone’s benefit.