I was awarded a first-class honours undergraduate degree in Applied Psychology in 2001 from University College Cork, followed by a PhD in psychology in 2004 from National University of Ireland Maynooth. I subsequently obtained a wide range of post-doctoral experience – in psychiatry, neurology, and neural engineering – at University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Vermont. I was appointed as Lecturer in the School of Psychology at University College Dublin in mid-2013. In mid-2016 was appointed as Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and the Global Brain Health Institute.
The vast majority of my research is directed towards answering clinically relevant questions, using a variety of methods. For example, Whelan et al., (Neuropsychosocial profiles of current and future adolescent alcohol misusers, Nature, 2014), was a prospective, longitudinal study predicting adolescent binge drinking using data from the IMAGEN study that combined several different types of data (neural, personality, cognitive, life history and genetic) to produce accurate models of the likelihood of future substance misuse. Whelan et al., (Adolescent impulsivity phenotypes characterized by distinct brain networks, Nature Neuroscience,) was a large single fMRI study (n=1,896) that employed factor analysis to relate phenotypes (ADHD symptoms, substance misuse and behavioural inhibition) and genetic information to specific brain networks.
One goal of my research is to combine various data sources to predict outcomes (including treatment outcomes). One on-going study, Towards treatment stratification for successful smoking cessation: Harnessing predictive neurocognitive models – funded by the Health Research Board involves searching for predictors of successful response to a psychological intervention. A separate study (NICotine Abstinence: Genetics, Neuroimaging and Environment, NICAGENE) will utilize genetic information, MRI and EEG data with the aim of identifying the brain processes associated with nicotine abstinence. An ongoing study focusses on EEG and behavioural correlates of binge alcohol consumption. Other current research includes identifying neural predictors of cognitive decline, both in disease (multiple sclerosis) and in aging. The latter work is conducted as part of the Global Brain Health Institute, which aims to target and prevent the causes of dementia.
A second strand of current research investigates the neurocognitive endophenotypes (e.g., impulse control, sensory processing, reward sensitivity) associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To this end, we examine (using both behavioural assays and EEG) relevant cognitive processes in individuals with ADHD, their unaffected first-degree relatives and unrelated control participants. A parallel study focuses on the role of anxiety in ADHD, and the processes that may differ between those individuals with ADHD with and without co-morbid anxiety.
A third focus of my work is on the development of methods, particularly on the development of novel methods for analyzing large data sets. In the past, this has included fully automated signal processing for high-density EEG (the FASTER toolbox, available here) and multimodal machine learning classifiers for functional MRI analysis. Current work in this area aims to better exploit high-dimensional neural and genetic data, and to relate these data to clinically relevant phenotypes. We are beginning to utilize online behavioural tasks, which have the advantage of yielding larger datasets and of reaching relatively large numbers of individuals with particular disorders.