Postdoctoral Fellow : Dr Marley Willegers

Dr Marley Willegers, Sport and Exercise Science, Bangor University 

Title: Climbing out of crime: An outdoor activity framework for rehabilitating insecure family relationships.   

My PhD research explored how risk-taking in an outdoor activity setting can help people manage challenging emotions. Firstly, our research highlighted that participating in socially accepted forms of risk-taking activities, such as rock climbing, can improve participants’ sense of emotional control in daily life for up to 6 weeks (Willegers et al., 2023). Secondly, we extend Bowlby’s Theory of Social Attachment (1969)  with evidence suggesting that people turn to their sporting activities for emotional comfort when they feel unsupported by others.   

Family breakdown and harmful risk-taking behaviours, such as self-harm, violence, and substance abuse, cost the UK economy an estimated £17 billion annually (Fraser & Atkins, 2022). Thus, there’s an urgent need for cost-effective early interventions to improve struggling family relationships.   

The originality of my work lies in bringing together positive risk-taking and social attachment as a novel approach for rehabilitating untrusting and unsupportive family relationships away from antisocial risk-taking. The aim of the current fellowship is to develop outdoor activity-based interventions to help families and young people change their risk-taking course from negative (for the self and for society) to positive, by allowing them to take risks in a supportive and developmental environment.   

This fellowship is a fundamental steppingstone for me and our partners in Local Council, Family and Youth Services, Outdoor Industry, and Education Services. Together, we intend to develop our understanding into innovative responses to costly societal problems with the aim of securing further research funding, such as the ESRC New Investigator’s Grant, to deliver the aforementioned research. Additionally, I plan to publish our empirically validated Relationship Attachment Support Scales and evidence expanding Bowlby’s Theory of Social Attachment (1969), contributing to the advancement of this research area.     


Research Profile