Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care


Saoirse Finn

Saoirse Finn photo

Title: The interplay between social connections, leisure engagement and mental health: exploring the role of genetic propensity for psychological and neurological traits in older adults

Summary: There is a wealth of evidence on the interplay between an individual’s mental health, social connections (the structural, functional, and qualitative aspects of relationships), and leisure behaviours (activities engaged in one’s free time). This includes how social connections and leisure engagement affect mental health and, bidirectionally, how mental health influences perceptions of social connections and patterns of leisure engagement. However, the role of genetics within these relationships remains less clear and is currently under-researched. Therefore, this PhD will utilise advances in genome-wide association studies (GWASs) that have led to the development of polygenic scores (PGS), which are aggregate measures of an individual’s genetic propensity for complex traits. Analyses will investigate the relationships between PGSs for psychological and neurological traits, social connections, leisure engagement, and mental health outcomes in older adults using the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Overall, this research aims to understand the role of genetic propensity for mental health traits within the complex interplay between social connections, leisure engagement, and mental health. This PhD is funded by the ESRC-BBSRC Soc-B CDT for Biosocial Research.

Biography: Since completing her MSc in Music, Mind & Brain from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2016, Saoirse has worked on several projects exploring the role of leisure engagement (e.g., the arts) and social connections (e.g., loneliness) on health, utilising psychological and biological data. Previous roles include research coordinator for an NIHR-Portfolio study exploring the impact of group singing on individuals with lived experience of cancer and co-authoring the 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) scoping review on the evidence base for the role of arts in health. Alongside her PhD, Saoirse jointly coordinates the Arts Health Early Career Research Network and is a Co-Investigator on Dance/Connect, a project exploring whether online group dance affects the mental and social wellbeing of young people living with anxiety. Follow Saoirse’s updates on Twitter: @Saoirsefinn

Supervisors: Dr Daisy Fancourt, Dr Olesya Ajnakina, Dr Feifei Bu