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Professor Peter Hepper

Photo of Peter Hepper




Room 02.512, David Keir Building
School of Psychology
Queen's University Belfast
Belfast, BT7 1NN
Northern Ireland, UK


+44 (0)28 9097 4230


I undertook a BSc(Hons) in Psychology at the University of Exeter and then moved to the psychology department in Durham to complete a PhD on "Kin Recognition in the Rat" supervised by Prof MJ Morgan. I then came to Queen’s Belfast and was appointed as Professor in 1993. I am a chartered psychologist and Fellow of the British Psychological Society. In 2007 I was awarded The Thomas R. Verny Award for Outstanding Contributions to Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health by the American Association of Pre- and Perinatal Psychology & Health.

School of Psychology Administrative Roles

Member of the Behaviour Development and Welfare Research Cluster

My research interests are concentrated around the following general themes:

Behavioural development and health

Prenatal development of human fetal behaviour: The use of fetal behaviour as a diagnostic tool to detect handicap; quantitative analysis of the development of behaviour and behavioural states in the human fetus; learning and sensory development in the human fetus and its relation to the developing CNS; assessing neural effects of environmental teratogens, including drugs of abuse, in utero; maternal effects on the developing fetus; fetal behaviour in fetuses with neural abnormalities.

Comparative behavioural development: comparison of embryonic and neonatal neurobehavioural development in amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals to explore common and unique aspects of early development; fetal development in the dog and fading puppy syndrome as a model for SIDS in human infants; fetal and neonatal development in the sheep and its relation to neonatal mortalilty and vigour.

Animal behaviour

Kin recognition: the development and mechanisms of kin recognition; the influence of kinship on the social behaviour of animals; developmental mechanisms of kin recognition. Olfaction: olfactory detection in dogs; primate olfaction; comparative olfactory acuity. Animal Welfare: study of behaviour in zoo animals, in particular behaviour in endangered species undergoing breeding programmes for species survival; enrichment programmes for 'captive' animals; welfare in captive reptiles; welfare in rescue shelter animals.

Psychosocial outcome of facial disfigurement

The effect of cleft lip and palate on health, psychological and social well-being; features of dentition and mandible growth and their role in determining attractiveness; psychological impact of orthodontic surgery; factors determining patient willingness to undergo orthodontic surgery.

Publications (selected)

Hepper, P.G., Dornan, J.C. & McKenna, D. 2007. Fetal well-being: monitoring and assessment. In Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health & Medicine, 2nd Ed. Ayers, S., Baum, A., McManus., C, Newman., S, Wallston., K, Weinman., J and West, R. (eds), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp.711-714.

Hepper, P.G. (2007) The effect of maternal consumption of alcohol on the behavior of the human fetus: A review. International Journal of Disabilities and Human Development, 6, 153-159.

Wells, D.L., Hepper, P.G., Coleman, D. & Challis, M.G. (2007) A note on the effect of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour and welfare of zoo-housed gorillas. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 106, 155-160.

McCorry, N.K. & Hepper, P.G. (2007) Fetal habituation performance: gestational age and sex effects. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 25, 277-292.

Hepper, P.G. (2007). Prenatal development. In Introduction to Infant Development. 2nd edition. Slater, A., & Lewis, M. (eds), Oxford University Press: Oxford, pp. 41-62.

Hepper, P.G. & Wells, D.L. 2006. Perinatal olfactory learning in the domestic dog. Chemical Senses, 31, 207-212.

Hunt, O., Burden D., Hepper, PG., Stevenson, M. & Johnston, C. (2006) Self-reports of psychosocial functioning among children and young adults with cleft lip and palate. The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal, 43, 598-605.

Wells, D.L. & Hepper, P.G.2006. Prenatal olfactory learning in the domestic dog. Animal Behaviour, 72, 681-686.

Wells, D.L., Irwin, R.M. & Hepper, P.G. 2006. Lateralised swimming behaviour in the California sea lion. Behavioural Processes, 73, 121-123.

Current External Funding

Can peer mentoring to first time mothers from socially deprived areas, during pregnancy and the first year of the infant’s life, have sustained effects on child growth, health and development and maternal well-being?HSS R&D Office £217,884 (with Prof H Halliday, Dr M Stewart, RVH, Dr M Cupples, General Practice, QUB)

A longitudinal investigation of teasing/bullying among children with cleft lip and/or palateNHS R&D Office £321,007 (with Dr D Burden, C Johnstone, O Hunt, Dentistry, QUB)

Environmental influences on fetal auditory processingMedical Research Council, Canada £25,000 (International Opportunities/Development Programme - with Prof B Kisilevsky, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada)

A longitudinal study of the benefit, outcome and cost of orthodontic treatment Health Education Authority, Dublin (North/South Research Programme) €286,000 (with Dr D Burden, Dentistry, QUB)

Fetal habituation in normal and abnormal foetuses NHS R&D Office £595,740

External Links

Fetal behaviour (with Prof. B. Kisilevsky, Queens University, Canada) Olfaction in the chick (with Prof. R. Porter, INRA, France) Habituation in the human fetus (with Dr. L. Leader, Royal Hospital for Women, Sydney, Australia) Eye movements in the human fetus (with Prof. T. Koyanagi, N. Horimoto Kyushu University, Japan)