My project is titled Longitudinal study on the effect of alcohol and stress on prefrontal cortex activity and cognitive performance in undergraduate students.
The aim of this longitudinal study is to contribute to the understanding of the detrimental influences that alcohol intake and stress exposure can have upon prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity and cognitive performance in undergraduate students aged 18-30. These measures will be carried out during the first, second and third year of their studies. Cross-sectional examination will also be included to assess differences in stress levels and alcohol consumption and their effects on executive function (EF) between first, second and third year undergraduate students. The effects of stress and alcohol exposure across the years will be investigated both as predictor of PFC activity and EF under stress, and in relationship with alcohol drinking behaviours.
The implications from this study may contribute to the development of screening tools to help to identify undergraduate students at risk and facilitate the implementation of early stage interventions, in turn reducing the potential of developing a substance abuse problem or dependency at a later age.
Substance related problems are a predominant issue in society. Negative drinking habits are thought to be heightened particularly under stressful situations or events in life, often acting as a coping mechanism for some individuals. This could particularly be the case amongst a student population, where research has shown there to be heightened stress levels and binge drinking activities, as well as the possibility of alcohol becoming an outlet to relieve stress for some individuals which may continue into later life. During adolescence, the brain development is particularly vulnerable, while the prefrontal cortex can continue development even into adulthood. This area is important for everyday processes such as decision making, planning, emotion regulation and appropriate social responses, which is why this particular area is a focus in my current research.
I am interested in the long term effects that alcohol consumption and stress can have upon the developing brain. Previous research has shown that both alcohol and stress can hinder cognitive processes, while prolonged stress can even change how the brain is structured. What mostly inspires me is research in itself as I find this exciting, fulfilling and rewarding and I love learning new things. What is even more rewarding is when the research holds real life value in that it can be used to improve the lives of others.
Why a PhD?
I am interested in the clinical, health and cognitive aspects of psychology and I wanted to satisfy my curiosity more through conducting research. I also have an interest to train further concerning neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques and the analysis of these methods. I am interested in attempting to uncover the internal processes which are involved in day to day activities and encounters, which we may not usually pay attention to, especially if we are able to detect potentially detrimental changes early on in an individual’s functioning and development so that the findings may help those to obtain a better quality of life and improved health.
I chose Manchester Met because they have a great focus on mental health and promote access to mental health support for their community and are conscious about sustainable living and impact on our environment. I also found that the university is full of great opportunities, lots of fairs, welcome events and things to take part in to get settled in. There is a great student and staff community at Manchester Met which I have found very welcoming and exciting over my first month at the university. After studying for both my undergraduate and master’s studies at a university in Liverpool, Manchester Met was a whole new experience for me, a chance to meet new people and start a whole new adventure with a research degree in Manchester Met and I have really enjoyed my time here so far.