Psychobiology of cognitive development

Main researchers: Prof. Bruce Hood, Prof. Peter Rogers

Collaborators: Prof. Alan Slater (Exeter University) and Milk Direct Ltd.

Ph.D. Student: Alice Wilson (Bristol University)

There is a growing consensus that UK population intakes of omega-3 fatty acids (the main dietary source of which is fish and particularly oily fish) are less than optimum for a variety of health outcomes.

A recent placebo-controlled study (Richardson & Montgomery, 2005) reported improvements on tests of reading, spelling and teacher-rated behaviour & attention in children with developmental coordination disorder who were receiving dietary supplements containing the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.

Much further work is required to investigate the cognitive processes underlying these observed global effects on behaviour. To date, there has been no systematic investigation of the role of omega-3 fatty acids and executive function in cognitive development.

Our research programme aims to investigate whether diets supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids can produce significant improvements in cognitive development for typically developing children. There are many food products and food supplements already available (and marketed to children or parents) but we are unaware of any published, randomised controlled trials investigating the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cognition in typically developing children.

Having completed one, relatively small, randomised controlled trial we have some interesting results and we are about to embark on a much larger trial thanks to the kind cooperation of a local Bristol school and the families there. We are particularly interested in the potential effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the various aspects of executive function and we will be looking at attention, working memory, inhibitory control, and school performance.