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Sarah O'Neill

Faculty and Staff Profiles

Sarah O'Neill

Assistant Professor


Additional Departments/Affiliated Programs::

North Academic Center 7/114B
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Dr. Sarah O'Neill received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. She worked with Dr. Rachel Zajac to investigate factors that influence children's responses to cross-examination style questioning.  Specifically, she sought to understand the mechanisms that account for children's often inconsistent and inaccurate responding to cross-examination questions; cognitive individual difference factors that may affect children's cross-examination performance; and the effectiveness of an intervention designed to improve children's cross-examination performance.        


In the fall of 2009 Sarah moved from New Zealand to New York to take up a post-doctoral fellowship at Queens College of the City University of New York under the mentorship of Distinguished Professor Jeffrey Halperin.  During her time at Queens College, Sarah worked on two of Dr. Halperin's federally-funded studies, the Queens College Preschool Project (QCPP) and Non-Pharmacological Interventions for Preschoolers with ADHD (NIPA).  One of the key aims of the QCPP study is to understand the relation between children's neuropsychological development and change in their ADHD severity over time.  The NIPA study evaluated the efficacy of two non-pharmacological treatments for young children with ADHD.   


In the fall of 2013 Sarah joined the CCNY faculty as an Assistant Professor where she continues to research ADHD.  Specifically, she is interested in better understanding the mechanisms that drive long-term outcomes in individuals with ADHD and in developing evidence-based interventions for ADHD.


University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand - Ph.D. in Psychology and Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Psychology

Courses Taught

PSY 246: Introduction to Human Development: Infancy and Childhood
PSY 373: Neuropsychology 

Research Interests

Broadly, my research is on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, thus for most individuals, symptoms emerge in early childhood.  Although some children who show elevated symptomatology during preschool do not go on to develop ADHD, many do go on to receive an ADHD diagnosis at school age; for the majority of these children, ADHD persists through adolescence and adulthood with varying degrees of severity.  Given the high prevalence of the disorder, its chronicity, and associated functional impairment, better understanding of the mechanisms driving long-term outcomes is necessary, as is the development of evidence-based interventions.  Currently I am working with students and colleagues on the following topics:

Why are children with ADHD at risk for reading problems? 
The co-occurrence of reading disorder in children with ADHD, and of ADHD in children with reading disorder is around 15-40%, irrespective of whether community or clinical samples are recruited. Several studies to date suggest that the link between reading problems and ADHD is stronger for inattention than for hyperactivity/impulsivity. It has been proposed that attention is necessary for the development of pre-reading skills, and this may be why we see reading difficulties in children with ADHD.  We are investigating the pathways among inattention, language ability, and reading achievement over time to better understand how these variables are related to each other, and how their interplay over time affects academic achievement during school-age. 

What role does executive dysfunction play in ADHD?
Several prominent theories of ADHD emphasize the importance of higher order cognitive dysfunction, such as working memory difficulties and behavioral disinhibition, as central to ADHD etiology.  It is clear, however, that successful performance on putative executive function tasks does not solely depend on the higher-order cognitive ability of interest, but also on many non-executive processes (e.g., processing efficiency, motivation).  We are investigating how these more basic processes impact on an individual's performance on executive function tasks to better understand how and to what extent executive function deficits are manifested in children and adolescents with ADHD.   

How does physical exercise impact cognitive functioning?
There is a robust literature, primarily in animals and in aging human populations, showing that physical exercise positively impacts brain structure and cognitive performance. Less is known, however, about the impact of physical exercise on the cognitive functioning of young adults and children; this is particularly the case for individuals with ADHD.  We are investigating the acute effects of moderate intensity exercise on young adults' working memory and different aspects of attention.  Furthermore, we are also interested in better understanding the factors that may moderate the relation between exercise and cognitive functioning, such as body mass index, fitness level, ADHD symptom severity, and severity of internalizing problems.

  • Halperin, J. M., Berwid, O. G., & O'Neill, S. (in press). Healthy Body, Healthy Mind? The Effectiveness of Physical Activity to Treat ADHD in Children. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America.
  • Halperin, J. M., O'Neill, S., Simone, A., & Bourchtein, E. (in press). Executive functioning in children with ADHD. In J. E. Morgan, S. Koffler, B. Marcopulos, & M. Greiffenstein (Eds.), Neuropsychology Science & Practice: Volume II.
  • O'Neill, S., Schneiderman, R. L., Rajendran, K., Marks, D. J., & Halperin, J. M. (2014). Reliable ratings or reading tea leaves: Can parent, teacher, and clinician behavioral ratings of preschoolers predict ADHD at age six? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 42(4), 623-34. doi: 10.1007/s10802-013-9802-4 [Epub 2013 Oct 2].
  • Rajendran, K., Rindskopf, D., O'Neill, S., Marks, D. J., Nomura, Y., & Halperin, J. M. (2013). Neuropsychological functioning and severity of ADHD in early childhood: A four-year cross-lagged study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology,122 (4), 1179-1188. doi: 10.1037/a0034237
  • Rajendran, K, Trampush, J. W., Rindskopf, D., Marks, D. J., O'Neill, S., & Halperin, J. M. (2013). Change in neuropsychological functioning is associated with the trajectory of ADHD severity and impairment in early childhood. American Journal of Psychiatry, 170, 1205-1211. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12101360. [Epub 2013 Jul 30] 
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