Mapping the specific pathways to early-onset mental health disorders: the “Watch Me Grow for REAL” study protocol

Frances L. Doyle*, Antonio Mendoza Diaz, Valsamma Eapen, Paul J. Frick, Eva R. Kimonis, David J. Hawes, Caroline Moul, Jenny L. Richmond, Divya Mehta, Sinia Sareen, Bronte G. Morgan, Mark R. Dadds

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Background: From birth, the human propensity to selectively attend and respond to critical super-stimuli forms the basis of future socio-emotional development and health. In particular, the first super-stimuli to preferentially engage and elicit responses in the healthy newborn are the physical touch, voice and face/eyes of caregivers. From this grows selective attention and responsiveness to emotional expression, scaffolding the development of empathy, social cognition, and other higher human capacities. In this paper, the protocol for a longitudinal, prospective birth-cohort study is presented. The major aim of this study is to map the emergence of individual differences and disturbances in the system of social-Responsiveness, Emotional Attention, and Learning (REAL) through the first 3 years of life to predict the specific emergence of the major childhood mental health problems, as well as social adjustment and impairment more generally. A further aim of this study is to examine how the REAL variables
interact with the quality of environment/caregiver interactions.
Methods/Design: A prospective, longitudinal birth-cohort study will be conducted. Data will be collected from four assessments and mothers' electronic medical records.
Discussion: This study will be the first to test a clear developmental map of both the unique and specific causes of childhood psychopathology and will identify more precise early intervention targets for children with complex comorbid conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number553
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • mental health
  • attention
  • responsiveness
  • learning
  • child
  • eye-tracking
  • infant
  • protocol


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