• Room 06.306 - Medical Biology Centre

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Dr Perra is open to PhD applications in the fields of: - Charting, monitoring, and understanding the development of learning and behaviour of term and pre-term infants - Interventions to improve term and pre-term infants’ learning and social learning skills - Developmental outcomes of Cerebral Palsy children


Research activity per year

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Personal profile

Research Focus

My research revolves around the early experiences that explain differences in children’s adaptation and socio-cognitive abilities. I approach these issues applying a transactional approach: this allows to investigate how interactions between children's characteristics and modifiable environmental factors can affect children's developmental pathways.

I have worked on longitudinal studies of childhood (the Cardiff Child Development Study) and adolescence (the Belfast Youth Development Study), investigating the association between exposure to maternal depression and children’s learning abilities; early signs of aggressive behaviour in childhood; risk factors for ADHD; family and school-level factors affecting adolescent’s substance use and offending behaviour.

I have expertise in advanced quantitative methods applied to longitudinal studies and RCTs.

Since 2014 I have led a population register of children with Cerebral Palsy (CP), the Northern Ireland CP Register and gained expertise in population studies of children with disability and developmental problems. In this capacity, I have led a study investigating changes in risk factors for CP disabilities across Europe (Perra et al., Archives of Childhood Disability).

Working in inter-disciplinary research centres I have gained expertise in implementing and evaluating child- and family-friendly interventions for at-risk children. I have successfully completed an externally funded feasibility study of an early computerised cognitive training programme: This is the first ever cognitive training programme targeting early cognitive abilities of infants born very preterm.


Leadership roles

Chair of the School Research Ethics Committee, School of Nursing & Midwifery, between 2014 and 2018.


Currently funded research projects:

Perra O. & Kerr C. (2014-2021). The Northern Ireland Cerebral Palsy Register. Public Health Agency

Perra O., Alderdice F., Wass S., Clarke M., McNulty A., Sweet D., & Papageorgiou K. (2018-2021). A feasibility study of the Attention Control Training (ACT) intervention amongst very preterm (VP) infants. Enabling Research Award, Public Health Agency - HSC Research & Development Division.




Completed research projects:

 G. Macdonald, F. Alderdice, M.Clarke, O.Perra, F.Lynn (2016-2018). Right from the start: A pilot study for a randomised trial of the New Baby Programme for improving outcomes for children born to socially vulnerable mothers. Opportunity-led research reseach funded by Public Health Agency.

   Garcia-Jalon, G., Perra, O., Thurston, A., Gavin, A., & O’Reilly, D. (2016). Exploring the problem of pain in the Cerebral Palsy population: Piloting a big data approach. Improving Children’s Lives small grant scheme.  Queen’s University Belfast.

    Kathryn Higgins, Oliver Perra, Mark McCann, Claire McCartan, Aisling McLaughlin (2012-2015). Offending behaviour amongst young people in Northern Ireland: A study of neighbourhood, family, school and peer processes. Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) grant (£ 265,253) awarded to Queen’s University Belfast.

  Aisling McLaughlin, Kathryn Higgins, Andrew Percy, & Oliver Perra (2012-2014). Parental alcohol use and resilience. Health and Social Care Northern Ireland grant (£ 191,921) awarded to Queen’s University Belfast.

   Kathryn Higgins, Oliver Perra, Mark McCann, Claire McCartan, & Aisling McLaughlin (2012). Parenting and school level effects: Secondary analysis examining alcohol use trajectories in the context of parental monitoring and school environment. Alcohol Research UK small research grant (£ 35,000) awarded to Queen’s University Belfast.

   Kathryn Higgins, Oliver Perra, Mark McCann, Claire McCartan, & Aisling McLaughlin (2011). lcohol and the affluence paradox: A secondary analysis exploring the health disparities surrounding adolescent alcohol use and alcohol related harm in adulthood. Alcohol Education Research Council. Small Research Grant (£4,700) awarded to Queen’s University.

   Geraldine MacDonald, Laura Dunne, Paula Donaghy, Oliver Perra, et al. (2010). Evaluation of the ready to learn cluster randomised controlled trial. Barnardo’s evaluation project (£ 418,244) awarded to Queen’s University Belfast.

   Oliver Perra (2006-2007). Early social competencies in infancy. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Post-Doctoral Fellowship award (£ 29,926) to Cardiff University.

   Merideth Gattis (PI),  Oliver Perra (co-author), (2001-2003). Early imitation and gaze following. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Research Grant (£37,000) awarded to the University of Sheffield.



My teaching has included convening of modules on child development and atypical child development for master students, as well as research methods and evidence-based practice for undergraduate students. I have teach quantitative methods, e.g. a course on Latent Transition Analysis during the “Training in Latent Variable Modelling” programme supported by the ESRC, and an introductory course on Stata.


Teaching roles

Undergraduate modules:

Evidence-Based Practice Literacy in The Integrated Midwifery Knowledge module, Level 3, BSc Midwifery Sciences (Teaching Evaluations 2019,  score 4.8/5)

Evidence-Based Practice Literacy in The Contemporary Midwife Practitioner module, Level 3, BSc Midwifery Studies (Teaching Evaluations 2018,  score 4.7/5)

Evidence-Based Practice Literacy in The Integrated Midwifery Knowledge module, Level 3, BSc Midwifery Sciences (Teaching Evaluations 2018,  score 5/5)

Evidence-Based Nursing 2 module, Level 2, BSc Nursing


Research Statement

My projects have been funded by grants from the ESRC, Alcohol Research UK, and the Northern Ireland government (OFMDFM), among others.

I am currently running a feasibility study of an attention training programme involving very preterm infants, funded by PHA-R&D Division. The study adapts a programme developed by my collaborator, Sam Wass (UEL), to train preterm infants’ ability to control attention. Attention control may provide these infants with the building blocks for developing further learning skills. 

I am the co-PI of the Northern Ireland Cerebral Palsy Register, a register of all children with this condition in Northern Ireland funded by PHA. I am using this database to develop data-linkage research projects and investigate key risk factors, and the processes that may explain differences in developmental outcomes of these children. 

I have expertise in the application of advanced quantitative methods to longitudinal analyses (e.g. multilevel hierarchical models; latent growth models; etc.) and in the evaluation of Randomised Controlled Trials.

Research Interests

I am a developmental psychologist with expertise in quantitative research methods and advanced statistics. My research interests lie in the mechanisms that explain individual differences in children's and adolescents’ behaviour (e.g. aggressive behaviour), their abilities to learn from others (e.g. the ability to imitate), and the development of early interventions involving at-risk groups (e.g. infants born very preterm).


My research has been consistently published in the top quartile of peer-reviewed journals in my discipline, e.g. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines (SNIP 2.224; SJR 3.305), Addiction (SNIP 2.037; SJR 2.777), Development and Psychopathology (SNIP 1.123; SJR 1.685). My research was returned in the 2014 REF and will be returned in the 2021 REF.

My citation rates (Scopus H-Index = 11; Documents = 26; Total citations = 522) are consistent with the median for UK Professors reported by Watson et al. 2016 (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jan.12924 )

I have also disseminated my research internationally through invited talks and workshops (e.g. MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow; Child Psychiatry Unit, Brotzu Hospital, University of Cagliari, Sardinia Italy; Kore University, Enna, Sicily, Italy).

My conference presentations are to major international audiences in the fields of developmental psychology and public health (e.g.   International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions Meeting; invited talks at the Surveillance of Cerebral Palsy in Europe meeting).


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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