Personal profile

Research interests

Donna Ewing is a Psychology Lecturer in the School of Applied Social Sciences. Her main research interests relate to children's mental health, with a particular focus on childhood anxiety and mood disorders. Donna's current research interests include understanding more about factors that may exacerbate children's experiences of anxiety, such as poor sleep or sleep problems. Additionally, Donna has a research interest in the inclusion of children with special educational needs within mainstream schooling.


Example projects included:

  • exploring the role of sleep quality on cognitive and behavioural processes of childhood anxiety
  • examining pathways for the intergenerational transmission of anxiety from parents to children
  • investigating how signals from the heart affect emotional processing in individuals with mental health diagnoses
  • considering the effect of sleep quality on interoceptive sensitivity in individuals with mental health diagnoses

Scholarly biography

Fear and anxiety are experiences which most people encounter at some point during their life, making research in this area of great relevance. Because of this, and the wide-range of experiences of fear and anxiety that people encounter, I find this area of research very interesting.


Initially, I was keen to develop a greater understanding about why individuals have such differences in their experiences of fear and anxiety, including the development of, and recovery from, phobias and anxiety disorders. One of my first research projects explored the experiences of individuals who had recovered from phobias without treatment, and considered what had contributed to this. In addition to identifying some key contributing factors (such as regaining control over the situation, having opportunities to face their fears, and availability of social support) it also became apparent that many phobias stemmed from childhood experiences.  This led to my later research interest and work in the area of childhood anxiety.


During my PhD, I was interested in developing an understanding about the role that sleep has on symptoms of anxiety. It is well established that sleep problems and anxiety are highly comorbid, with many people experiencing one difficulty often found to also experience the other. I was interested in how sleep problems affect the cognitive and behavioural processes of anxiety, as well as treatment outcomes, as this knowledge may help to improve the success of these treatments. My PhD explored the impact of sleepiness and sleep problems on children’s interpretation of ambiguous situations, their ability to identify emotion in faces, and their learning of fear from their parents’ reactions towards scary stimuli. In addition, the research explored the role of sleepiness on children’s willingness to approach scary stimuli, and their ability to habituate to the situation.


My current research interests continue along this theme, and I have a particular interest in understanding more about how sleep quality affects anxiety in children. My current work includes:

  • exploring the effect of a mild sleep deprivation on children's approach and avoidance towards fearful stimuli
  • exploring the role of sleep in the development of fears in children through the vicarious learning pathway of fear acquisition

Approach to teaching

In my teaching, I like to identify the learning needs of students and to find effective ways of engaging all students in subject areas, whilst bringing my enthusiasm for a range of psychology topics to the classroom. As an active researcher, I enjoy teaching on current research themes and ideas, and to help students to see the real-world relevance of their studies. My teaching specialisms include mental health, developmental psychology and cognitive psychology.


I like to use creative and varied methods to deliver interactive teaching materials, such as whole group discussions, small group work, debates, critiques, study design, video clips, and quizzes. For this style of learning to work effectively, I have an expectation that students will arrive prepared and willing to engage in the sessions.


I am keen to ensure that my teaching methods work for the students that I teach, and so I appreciate hearing feedback from students about methods that have been successful, as well as hearing their suggestions to implement within future classes.

Supervisory Interests

I am interested in supervising projects within mental health, and I have a particular interest in supporting research projects in the area of anxiety and mood disorders. My specialisms involve understanding these disorders within childhood, including the cognitive, behavioural and physiological expression of children's anxiety and mood symptoms, and the impact of external factors, such as sleep, on these. Please get in touch for an informal discussion if you have a project in mind.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, The role of sleep problems and sleepiness in cognitive and behavioural processes of childhood anxiety, University of Sussex

Oct 2011Sept 2014


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