It’s time to change the face of psychology

Worm emerging from an apple - hungrymindlab.comVanessa, Hannah and Sophie are members of the Hungry Mind Lab, which is currently based at Goldsmiths University of London. Their research focuses on the causes and consequences of individual differences for lifespan cognitive development. Vanessa is studying for her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Chemnitz in Germany, but she visited the Hungry Mind Lab last autumn for a placement. Hannah has been working as a research assistant and the lab’s co-ordinator for two years, whilst also doing an MSc in Forensic Psychology at King’s College London. Sophie is the lab’s director and a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths, where she teaches Personality and Individual Differences.

The Research Whisperer

Worm emerging from an apple - hungrymindlab.comVanessa Günther, Hannah Rachel Scott and Sophie von Stumm are a psychological research group at Goldsmiths University of London.

Our lab is called Hungry Mind Lab (@HungryMindLab) and we investigate the complex interplay of various dimensions of individual differences.

We focus on cognitive ability and personality traits and explore how and why these dimensions are interrelated, their causes and consequences for lifespan cognitive development, and their behavioral manifestations. 


Although females outnumber male psychology students at undergraduate levels, senior positions in psychological science are mostly held by men. This disparity has been previously attributed to two principal reasons:

  1. Women’s tendency to prioritise raising a family over pursuing a scientific career, and
  2. Systematic faculty gender biases against hiring and promoting women in academia.

We want to raise awareness of a third crucial issue that hinders women’s progression into the most respected posts in psychological research:

  1. The typical image of the psychological…

View original post 1,028 more words

How science can make your baby sleep better

Alice_Gregory_Oct_2015Alice M. Gregory is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a member of the Advisory Board for a digital parent education endeavor on infant and toddler sleep that is being supported by Johnson’s Baby. She is a Corresponding Editor (Sleep) for the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. She has previously received funding to support her work from multiple sources including the MRC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy. She is a member of the Labour Party. She is currently writing a book (Nodding Off: Sleep from Cradle to Grave) to be published by Bloomsbury Sigma in Spring 2018.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Asleep, but for how long?
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A friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, but within months she was at the end of her tether with sleep deprivation. Like many parents, she was confused by conflicting advice from midwives, nurses and well-meaning friends – not to mention the many books available. But as a professor of psychology who specialises in sleep research, my advice was to consider the science, then make a choice that suits the whole family. This advice is shared by paediatric sleep experts worldwide who have now introduced Baby Sleep Day on March 1. The Conversation

Sleep is important for a child’s development – it has been associated with attention, school performance and emotional regulation which is important in developing social skills and making friends. My own research has focused on sleep problems early in life and indicates that they are associated with later difficulties such as anxiety, depression and behavioural problems.

Learning to sleep better

Research to date also seems to suggest that certain techniques might help support good sleep in young children. There is moderate evidence that behavioural techniques for sleep such as graduated extinction – putting a child to bed and ignoring all negative behaviour, such as crying, until the morning – promote good sleeping habits. This technique includes brief checks to ensure the child is okay.

Tried everything?
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Techniques such as this can improve the time it takes young children to fall asleep, the number of times they wake up at night and the length of time they are awake. However, parents sometimes struggle to implement these techniques, because they feel that ignoring the child will affect the bond they share.

A recent study, however, suggested that such techniques don’t increase stress or lead to long-term attachment or behavioural difficulties in infants. Certain techniques are not recommended for babies under six months of age, however, and safety should always come first, especially when considering the sleep of the very young child.

However, questions about infant sleep go well beyond the effectiveness of behavioural interventions. Researchers have collated a list of the questions most commonly asked by examining queries submitted to an “ask the expert” section of a mobile phone app.

Questions raised by users were about awakenings during the night, sleep schedules, bedtime problems, the sleep environment and sleep training, as well as a whole host of other sleep problems. It is beneficial to understand their concerns for the continued development of resources for caregivers. Research has addressed many of these issues, and advice is available for families, but we must remember that scientific evidence does not necessarily have a bearing on personal preferences.

Personal preferences prevail

Every family is unique. My own bedtime ritual as a young child involved pestering my father for a fireman’s lift up the stairs to bed (not a good technique for the safety conscious). I have also been known to deviate from scientific advice on sleep with my son, who occasionally crawls into my bed during the night. The scientifically correct response to deter this unwanted behaviour is to return him to his own bed. However, my sleep-deprived self is sometimes too tired to bother – as is the case for many parents.

Sleep deprivation is a serious issue.
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But encouraging your child to sleep well can limit the disruption to your own sleep. One study found what many parents feel they already know – that disturbed sleep is as problematic as insufficient sleep. Sufficient sleep is also important to maintain good physical and mental health, as well as optimal brain functioning which allows us to perform well at work and avoid accidents.

However, whether your personal choice leans you towards or away from techniques supported by the science, a baby’s sleep always needs to be considered in your own family’s context. A crying baby can wake other children, and night-time rituals and choices have serious implications for parents. So, while I wouldn’t recommend it, if a fireman’s lift to bed is what suits your family, then that decision is yours.

Alice M. Gregory, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London and Erin S. Leichman, Child Psychologist, St. Joseph’s University

Alice rests on Twitter  @ProfAMGregory

Tricking the brain: how magic works

23_GustavKuhn.jpgGustav Kuhn is a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. The main focus of his research is attention and awareness and in particular how attention and eye movements are influenced by social factors. Related to this, he has a keen interest in the science of magic and use magic to investigate a wide range of cognitive mechanisms, such as attention, memory, illusions, and beliefs. Read on…

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The magician snaps his fingers and a ball disappears right in front of your eyes. How is this possible, you ask yourself? You have a pretty good understanding of how objects behave and you know from experience that objects cannot simply disappear into thin air, yet this is exactly what you see. Magic is one of the oldest art forms and since written records began, magicians have baffled and amazed their audiences by creating illusions of the impossible. While most of their tricks remain precious secrets, scientists, myself among them, have started studying magic to gain insights into how and why our minds are so easily deceived.

Magic allows you to experience the impossible. It creates a conflict between the things you think can happen and the things that you experience. While some magicians would like you to believe that they possess real magical powers, the true secret behind magic lies in clever psychological techniques that exploit limitations in the way our brains work. Many of these limitations are very counter-intuitive which is why we can experience the magical wonder of the impossible.

How? Let’s start with the basics. Vision is our most trusted sense, and influences many of our thoughts and behaviours. In fact, vision is so important that we often don’t believe things until we see them with our own eyes. But it turns out that our visual experiences are far less reliable than we intuitively think. It’s relatively easy to distort your perceptual experience and these distortions become very apparent when we look at visual illusion.

Visual illusions occur when there is a mismatch between your perceptual experience and the true state of the world. In the Müller-Lyer illusion, for example, the top line appears shorter than the bottom, although they are exactly the same length.

Seeing the future

We are often surprised by how these illusions deceive us, but it turns out that pretty much all of our perception is an illusion, whether we’re walking down the street or attempting to suss the latest card trick. Intuitively, we think of our eyes as simply capturing truthful images of the world. But in reality, our visual experience results from complex neuronal processes that make clever estimates about what the world is like. And as with all predictions, they are never 100% correct. This leads to errors, and it is these errors that magicians have mastered and exploit.

For example, the vanishing ball illusion is one trick that colleagues and I have studied. In this trick, a magician throws a ball in the air a couple of times and then makes it seem to disappear by pretending to throw it again when in fact it remains secretly concealed inside his hand. What is surprising about this illusion is that most people – almost two thirds – experience an illusory ball being tossed up in the air at the third throw, even though it never leaves the magician’s hand. We experience this “ghost ball” because we see what we believe is going to happen, rather than what has actually taken place. The illusion shows that people perceive things that they believe will happen in the future, even when this belief is completely unfounded.

Ignoring the present

A further misconception about visual experience relates to the amount of detail that we think we are aware of. Intuitively we feel that we are aware of most of our surroundings, but this vivid and detailed subjective experience turns out to be another powerful illusion, equally counter-intuitive and therefore equally open to exploitation by magicians.

Processing large amounts of information is computationally expensive: if you want to process lots of visual information, you need large brains. But large brains come at a cost, since they require large heads and lots of food to support them. So instead of evolving into creatures with humongous brains, we developed extremely efficient strategies that allow us to prioritise aspects of the environment that are of importance, while ignoring things that are less relevant.

What this means is that unless you are paying close attention to something you simply won’t see it. Phenomena such as inattentional blindness or change blindness result from this, where people fail to spot very obvious changes simply because they don’t attend to them. These very powerful examples illustrate that if people are sufficiently distracted they can fail to see a gorilla even when one is right in front of their eyes.

Magicians frequently exploit these attentional limitations by misdirecting your attention and so preventing you from seeing their secret moves. In some of our research we have shown show how this can be used to prevent you from seeing fully visible events.

In the lighter trick, for example, a magician is seated at a table across from the viewer (a). He picks up the lighter and flicks it on (c–f). He pretends to take the flame away and make it vanish, providing a gaze cue as misdirection away from his other hand. At (f), the lighter is visibly dropped into his lap (g–h). The lighter appears to have vanished. Although the lighter is dropped in full view, half of the viewers completely fail to see this happen because they are distracted.

What this, and other tricks show, is that people often fail to see things even when they are looking straight at them. So don’t be so sure to trust your vision in the future. You never know what’s really happening.

Fight or Flight

lucyDr. Lucy Oldfield is a practising Clinical Psychologist working in a primary care adult mental health setting in the NHS alongside  lecturing at Goldsmiths on the Foundations in Clinical Psychology and Health Services MSc programme. Her clinical work is focused around anxiety and mood disorders with a specialist interest in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Here, in honour of #TimeToTalk Day, she recounts recent work for iCope on specific phobia. 

This piece was originally published here.

 

Jessica* had a lifelong phobia of butterflies but being a new mum she was very conscious of transferring this phobia to her two-year-old son.

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“I’d put myself in dangerous situations before. I had run onto a road of traffic without any control because a butterfly had come near me and I’d never want to be in that kind of a position while I was holding my little boy’s hand. I was also having panic attacks and dealing with stress at work too, so I self-referred to iCope. And, I have family who are based in the Philippines. So although the UK isn’t scattered with butterflies there are large breeds in my home country and it used to really put me off going there.”

iCope is a psychological therapies service, they provide talking therapies and work with a range of conditions including stress, worry, depression and insomnia. Clinical Psychologist, Dr Lucy Oldfield, who worked closely with her, explained: “I met Jessica for a face-to-face assessment to get some more detail about the problem. “Treatment for phobias, anxiety and panic is psychological, and ultimately it is about exposing the person to their fear in gradual steps but to tackle this you need an overarching understanding of their condition. “There was a particular traumatic event in her history which she hadn’t connected to why she had this phobia. It was an important factor in itself because she was feeling very ashamed of being afraid of butterflies and thought most people would think this was a silly fear and that it didn’t make sense. “Jessica was also having panic attacks when there were no butterflies around. On her way into work she would sometimes feel very nervous and think she needed to get off public transport. We realised this was all connected as fear of fear.”

There were a number of stages to her treatment. Jessica explained, “We created the behaviour that someone displays during a panic attack. For me, I would start breathing differently and we experimented with that. This was before we began to look at my phobia.“ The first stage was to outline the most feared outcomes in a gradual order. For example, it was anything from saying the word ‘butterfly’ which was making Jessica feel sick and disgusted, to actually physically seeing the insect. The treatment involved confronting each item in the list head on as quickly as possible. Jessica said: “In the early stages we began by drawing butterflies on paper, we’d cut them out, throw them in the air to simulate their flying which initially made me feel very anxious and panicky but became fun over just a few minutes. After that session I continued doing this at home. I played a game with my son, colouring in and drawing butterflies. I did feel like I was making progress. Then we began looking at photos, still images, colour, black and white. I had control over the computer and was choosing the right image. I was looking at the screen long enough that the physical symptoms actually subsided and I learned that the panic was easing.”

Exposure to these fears allows us to rationalise what is happening at the emotional, ‘felt’ level, so it is powerful to learn that anxiety always drops if we stay in the situation for long enough. Lucy explained: “The session was going well, but at the end a picture jumped out. It was a huge butterfly which looked as if it was on somebody’s face. This was the first time I witnessed the peak of Jessica’s anxiety. She sprang off her chair, onto the other side of the room, cowering, clearly very distressed. She was very embarrassed about it but it was useful for me to see, because if we were outside she may have run into a road – she didn’t have any control over it. These kinds of reactions are useful for me to use as a learning tool.” Jessica went away and decided to look at more pictures on the internet, then she started to watch documentaries.

Before the next step – seeing a real butterfly. “I went to an exhibition at the Natural History Museum and looked at the cases of dead butterflies. I felt like I had learnt to manage my emotions.” But that wasn’t the final step – the final step was to face her fear. “We went to an exhibition where there were real butterflies. Initially, I was very calm but as we got tickets and walked towards it my panic increased. Before we walked in, there were some strips of plastic and I didn’t want to go in but we spend a lot of time recapping what I had learnt. “I knew that the worst thing for me would be coming so far and not being able to actually walk in and face my fear. We began by putting one hand through the gap, one foot and then we were inside. I did jump a few times but after a while I was walking around myself. Although I was feeling panic-stricken it was nowhere near how I felt before the treatment.”

 

*Jessica is not her real name

Dr. Lucy Oldfiewld is on Twitter @oldfieldLucy

 

 

 

What to expect when collective narcissists get political power

a_golecDr. Agnieszka Golec de Zavala is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology. Her research interests and expertise lie in the areas of social and political psychology.  She is  interested in how prejudice is embodied. For example – why do we use a metaphor of cleansing when we mean exterminating others (e.g. ´ethnic cleansing´). She  has examined how intergroup attitudes are shaped by the interaction of ideological orientations – such as political conservatism, nationalism or religious fundamentalism – and epistemic motivations (need for cognitive closure, death anxiety, uncertainty avoidance). She is also particularly interested in predictors of political radicalisation, violence and prejudice, and in  in collective and individual narcissism and their social consequences. It is to this  interest that her post speaks.

Our ongoing research showed that people who agreed with statements like ‘My national group deserves special treatment‘; ‘Not many people seem to fully understand the importance of my group.‘ or ‘I will never be satisfied until my group gets the recognition it deserves.’ voted to Leave the European Union in the referendum in the UK in June 2016. They elected ultraconservative, isolationist government in Poland. They voted for Donald Trump in the US presidential election. These people can be described as collective narcissists and we will face the consequences of their getting to power in the years to come. Thus, we should understand how they think and act.

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Collective narcissism is analogous to individual narcissism: emotional dependence on admiration by others (Rodthewald & Morf, 2001) but collective narcissists seek admiration for groups they belong to. In general, people relate to important groups in similar ways they relate to the self (Scheepers, et al., 2013). Insightfully, Jean-Jacques Rousseau differentiated two types of self-love.  Amour propre (self-love) is a preoccupation to amount to something in the eyes of others. It can be compared to individual narcissism, self-esteem contingent on recognition by others. Amour de soi-même (love for the self) is a need to care for and nourish oneself.  It can be compared to self-acceptance or self-compassion.

Similarly, attachment to groups can take two distinct forms. Collective narcissism is an emotional investment in an exaggerated image of an(y) important group contingent on recognition and admiration of others (analogous to image-cautious self-love). It is characterized by an unrealistic belief in group’s grandiosity and demands for privileged treatment (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2009). Collective narcissism may be contrasted with attachment to a highly valued group expressed as feeling responsible for the group’s welfare (analogous to love for the self). The two forms of group love have distinct consequences for inter-group relations. Collective narcissists are hostile towards groups that they see as a threat to their group’s image. People satisfied with their group but not narcissistic about it hold positive attitudes towards other groups (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2013).

Collective narcissists believe their group is unique but not sufficiently recognized by others. In fact, they themselves unconsciously doubt their group: They do not automatically associate group symbols with positive stimuli. People who are attached to a group believe in its good qualities (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2009). For example, in our ongoing studies collective narcissists voted to Leave the European Union because they feared and rejected immigrants. Those who were proud but not narcissistic about being British, voted to Remain because they saw their country as indispensable in defining the European Union’s identity.

Collective narcissists are determined to get the recognition of others. When they think their group is not sufficiently recognized, they advocate hostile revenge. They attack not only the ‘offenders’ but the whole groups they represent. In our studies, when their group was criticized by one person, collective narcissists responded with aggressive intentions and behaviours towards the whole group (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2016). Collective narcissists are also indirectly hostile. They rejoice in misfortunes of groups or people they hold accountable for offending their group.

Worryingly, collective narcissists can construe almost anything as offence to their group. For example, Polish collective narcissists felt offended by a movie about one of the least laudable aspects of Polish modern history: post-war anti-Semitism. In response, they attacked a celebrity actor who played the protagonist in this movie. They expressed intentions of harming and offending him. They rejoiced in his personal hardships (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2016).

Since they constantly monitor their group image, collective narcissists are prone to conspiracy thinking to explain anything that may undermine their group (Golec de Zavala & Cichocka, 2012; Cichocka, et al., 2015). Consider the catastrophic plane crash in 2010 that killed 96 members of the Polish ruling elite including the President and his wife. Collective narcissists could not believe such monumental national loss might have been caused by something as mundane as human mistake. Especially, not one made by the president himself who ordered the plane to land despite averse atmospheric conditions. Thus, they spread and believed in conspiracy theories about a secretive Russian attack. Our ongoing research shows that national collective narcissism predicts support for political parties that most actively promoted such theories.

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Collective Narcissism Scale

So what can we expect from collective narcissism being now in power and on the rise? Collective narcissistic rulers are likely to make unrealistic demands on other countries. This will result either in increased international tensions or international marginalization, depending on the country’s actual economic and political power.  Their alliances are likely to be short-lived. Collective narcissists look for allies but they quickly get used to their support and make further demands. Conspiracy theories are likely to become more prominent in political rhetoric. In internal affairs, the divide between ruling parties and opposition is likely to increase. Active opposition undermines the image of the governors.  Internal intergroup tensions are likely to increase because collective narcissists rely on a narrow definition of what constitutes a nation. They do not like it when their group is comparable to other groups. We are likely to witness efforts to marginalize minority groups and limit the rights of immigrants and foreign workers. The more immigrants are presented as economically successful (and comparable to hosting nationals), the more threatening they would seem to national collective narcissists. There will be less help for refugees. Refugees who can successfully settle in a host country become comparable to the hosting group. Such prospects are likely to be threatening to national collective narcissists. In short, we will also see more efforts to secure, legitimize, and further legalize group-based privileges.

There is a chance that collective narcissists’ hostile sentiments may become ‘tamed’ by participation in democratic processes and institutions based on transparency and equal rights. However, there is a real danger that democratic institutions and processes may become compromised by collective narcissistic sentiments.

There are also drawbacks to being bilingual

juliaouzia_profilephoto-1Dr. Julia Ouzia is a Teaching Fellow at Goldsmiths.The main objective of her work is to understand the cognitive functioning of individuals who use two or more languages in everyday life. Specifically, her research has focused on the impact of adverse emotional states and traits on cognition, spoken language comprehension in the presence of interference, probabilistic learning abilities, and metacognitive efficiency of bilingual individuals.

From a methodological standpoint, she is interested in using multi-dimensional approaches involving a variety of psychometric and behavioural paradigms, as well as other research methods, such as eye tracking, in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the bilingual mind. Here she, with colleague Tomas Folke, looks at some of the draw backs of bilingualism as researched at Anglia Ruskin University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The ability to speak more than one language certainly has its perks. It enables you to work in another country, for example, interact with people while travelling, or consume foreign media.

Bilingualism is very common – current estimates are that more than half of the world’s population is bilingual and that this prevalence is rising.

Cognitive psychologists have been interested in how bilingualism shapes the mind for almost a century. There are those who suggest that in order to speak in one language, bilinguals have to suppress the influence of the other. Research from the past three decades has argued that this unique form of language processing “trains the brain” in the use of non-verbal abilities known as “executive functions” such as ignoring irrelevant information or shifting attention.

Bilinguals of different ages and cultural backgrounds have been shown to be faster and more accurate than their monolingual peers when performing cognitive tasks demanding these abilities. Furthermore, it has been argued that bilingualism may lead to a delayed onset of symptoms associated with dementia.

But the scientific community recently has become increasingly sceptical of the bilingual advantage hypothesis. One of the main points of criticism is that differences between monolinguals and bilinguals when it comes to executive function are not always apparent. This has generated a heated debate, especially in the Bilingualism Forum of the scientific journal Cortex, about whether bilingualism is associated with cognitive advantages or not.

Fresh challenge

It appears that research on bilingualism is at a turning point. We need to pursue a new approach to understand, beyond those individual examples of executive functions, how the bilingual mind works. We have attempted to address this challenge by testing whether bilinguals and monolinguals differ in terms of how accurately they can assess their own performance.

Might come in handy in parts of Wales.
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This ability is called metacognition and is associated with, but separate from, other areas where bilinguals have been shown to have an advantage. Surprisingly, however, we found that bilinguals had less insight into their performance than their monolingual peers.

Joining the dots

In an effort to find out whether bilinguals also display advantages in other cognitive abilities (beyond executive function), we evaluated metacognitive processing in young adult monolinguals and bilinguals. Metacognition is the ability to evaluate one’s own cognitive performance or simply to have “thoughts about thoughts”.

This ability is a crucial function of everyday life, when we have to make decisions where the outcomes are not immediate. For example, when an entrepreneur reviews their company’s performance, they need to take into account a variety of factors – including, for example, revenues and expenses – in order to evaluate whether the company is doing well. Confidence in their ideas and performance can be the determining factor in whether they decide to keep investing time in their company or give up and apply for another job (the so-called “exploitation exploration trade-off”).

In our research, we presented participants with a situation in which they had to observe two circles on a screen and guess which one contained more dots. Sometimes the difference was obvious, making the decision easy, while at other times the decision was very difficult (for example, one circle contained 50 dots and the other 49). Participants were then asked to determine how confident they were in their decision on a scale from less to more confident than normal.

Illustration of the metacognition paradigm employed by Folke et al., 2016.
Folkes et al, 2016, Author provided

Over the course of two experiments, we found that bilinguals and monolinguals were equally likely to choose the circle containing the highest number of dots. However, monolinguals were better able than bilinguals to discriminate between when they were right and when they were wrong. In other words, bilinguals had less insight into their performance than monolinguals. This went against our initial predictions, as we expected to find a bilingual advantage in metacognitive processing. These results indicate that bilingualism may be associated with cognitive disadvantages as well as benefits.

What’s next?

The Multilanguage & Cognition lab (MULTAC) at Anglia Ruskin University is currently undertaking a three-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust to enhance our understanding of the bilingual mind.

The lab has already published evidence of cognitive advantages associated with bilingualism, suggesting that bilinguals are better at filtering out verbal interference as well as visual attention, specifically spotting the difference in a visuo-spatial working memory task.

This new research indicates that bilingual people may experience a disadvantage in metacognition. We hope that this new direction in bilingualism research will encourage further attention and enable us to resolve theoretical debate through the adoption of open-minded, empirically driven exploration of cognitive effects (both positive and negative) that may be associated with learning more than one language.

Julia tweets monolingually from @JuliaOuzia

Tomas Folke, is a PhD candidate, University of Cambridge

 

Data, data, data — the world is crazy about data. But how do you get it?

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Sophie von Stumm

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Carolina Antunez

Carolina Antunez and Sophie von Stumm  work at the Hungry Mind Lab, based in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths. Their research focuses on empowering early
career researchers to collect ‘big’, high-quality data with new and innovative assessment technologies. Here, they describe how they planned and hosted their Better Data) event that recently took place at SOAS and brought together 130 early career researchers and 25 technology and science experts.

The event was funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award to Sophie. Here, Carolina reflects on the event. 

When I started working at The Hungry Mind Lab, in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths University of London, I was rather sceptical of ‘data’ and ‘quantification’.  As an undergrad in Media & Sociology, I am naturally concerned about the data-fication of our society and the growing power that technology has over our lives. Back then, I could not have imagined the size of the industry behind the development of new technologies for collecting data – and I certainly didn’t know about its academic relevance. But that didn’t stop me from applying for a research assistant job that focused on promoting the use of technology for research.

 

My job was to organise an event that would bring awareness of the latest assessment technologies to early career researchers in the behavioural sciences – but I knew nothing about assessment technologies (and I didn’t understand the behavioural science jargon). To start the event planning, I was asked to interview behavioural science experts about their uses of research technology,  for example, I visited a team of world-leading behaviour geneticists at King’s College London and I talked to a group of virtual reality experts at University College London. Although I felt a little awkward at first to discuss assessment technologies with these very knowledgeable and famous scientists, the interviews soon showed me what all the data fuss was about.

 

I became aware of ground-breaking technologies that will revolutionize our understanding of human individuality. For example, the FaceReader, a new tool by Noldus, now makes it possible study people’s emotions based on subtle expressions in their faces while watching a movie clip or scene. I also learned about portable assessment technologies and wearables, virtual reality equipment, augmented reality valuable tools, and customisable tools, like web-based experiment builders and survey tools. Soon I was persuading the people behind the most pioneering research technologies to contribute to our event, which at that point finally had a name — Better Data: Technologies for Measuring Behaviour — as well as a date – the 26th October 2016.

 

As October approached, I had less and less time to explore gamified cognitive tests or interact with avatars in virtual spaces. Instead, I became immersed with the more mundane aspects of hosting an event, such as advertising, ticketing, catering, and confirming the contributors. It’s the phase in event planning that makes your realise that there’s always more to do and that even more can go wrong. But on the actual day of the event, everything came together perfectly. We had attracted over 130 early career researchers to attend and get hands-on experience with the latest assessment technologies. We showcased overall 20 assessment technologies in the morning of day. After lunch, we heard short presentations about different aspects of measuring behaviour with technology from expert speakers, including scientists, journalists and technology developers.

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The event taught me how important technology has become for research, including the study of behaviour but also all other scientific disciplines. For example, ETHOS is an app for sociologists to conduct field research: It serves as an ethnographic observation system. ETHOS organises and stores the researcher’s oral and written notes, as well as photos and videos from field observations and interviews in real time. The app helps researchers to identify patters in their data entries, minimising the time spent sorting and organising the information.

 

Notwithstanding my new found enthusiasm for collecting data, I am aware that big data come with big challenges, mainly surrounding the ethics of the use and storage of data. It is an important task for today’s researchers — but also policy makers and technology companies — to address these issues in ways that ensure the protection of people’s personal data while producing new scientific insights at the same time. Perhaps a topic for our next event…

All information about the event, including the showcased technologies and videos of the day, can be found here: www.better-data.co.uk.

 

 

Developmental Coordination Disorder in the Classroom

 

Elisabeth-Hill-photo-2Laura-Crane-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elisabeth Hill, Laura Crane and Emma Sumner are based in the Department of Psychology’s Goldsmiths Action Lab.  Their research focuses on a range of neurodevelopmental conditions, particularly autism and developmental coordination disorder. Here, they discuss Developmental Coordination Disorder in the Classroom, which was the topic of a recent ESRC Festival of Social Science event that they organised at Goldsmiths.

 

What did you do in the first five minutes that you were awake this morning?  Perhaps you hit snooze on the alarm? Buried your head into the pillow? Got out of bed and walked to the bathroom? Turned on the lights? Put some clothes on and went downstairs? Whatever you did, it would have involved motor skill (in some way, shape or form) before anything else. For most of us, motor skills are rather effortless. However, for others, motor skills can be a source of constant difficulty, and can have far reaching implications on their everyday lives. In this blog post, we focus specifically on children who have a diagnosed motor difficulty termed Developmental Coordination Disorder.

(c) Serhiy Kobyakov

(c) Serhiy Kobyakov

Developmental Coordination Disorder (abbreviated to ‘DCD’, and often referred to as dyspraxia) is characterised by impairments in motor skill (including coordination problems, poor balance and clumsiness), as well as delays or difficulties in achieving or acquiring motor milestones (such as crawling, walking, and running). DCD is not merely a childhood condition – it persists throughout adolescence into adulthood – and it can have a significant effect on aspects such as quality of life, academic achievement, and self-esteem.

DCD affects between 2-6% of children, which means that at least one child in every classroom (of 30 children) will meet the criteria for a diagnosis of DCD. Recent initiatives have highlighted the need for training to improve teachers’ awareness of the difficulties faced by children with a range of conditions such as  autism spectrum disorder and developmental language disorder, with a focus on how best to support them in the classroom. However, teachers receive very little advice, guidance or input regarding children with motor difficulties such as DCD.

What needs to be done?

It is important for there to be greater awareness of the different ways in which movement difficulties can present themselves in children. For example, children with DCD may have difficulties with one or more of the following:

  • Fine motor (e.g., grasping, pinching, handwriting) or gross motor (e.g., posture, reaching) skills;
  • Locomotive (e.g., walk, run, jump, hop, skip) or non-locomotive (e.g., stretch, curl, pull, balance, swing) movement;
  • Speed (e.g., writing quickly when taking notes) or accuracy (e.g., throwing a ball towards a target);
  • Unilateral tasks (requiring one-handed, e.g., brushing teeth, using a computer mouse) or bilateral tasks (requiring two-hands, e.g., holding a bottle with one hand whilst twisting the lid with the other).

Parents and educators should be aware of all of the potential areas in which children may experience motor difficulties, and who to turn to for help.

(c) Tatyana Gladskih

(c) Tatyana Gladskih

There should also be greater awareness of the fact that difficulties may be apparent very early on in development. Looking at early motor milestones of children with DCD – including crawling, standing unassisted and walking unassisted – our research found that children with DCD were significantly delayed relative to their typically developing peers.  For example, whilst typically developing children tend to crawl at around 8 months of age, children with DCD (on average) tend to crawl for the first time at 10 months, if at all (23% of parents of children with DCD reported that their child never crawled, whereas all children in typically developing comparison group acquired this skill). Whilst there is considerable variation in the age at which all children acquire key motor milestones, parents and caregivers should be astute to possible ‘red flags’ in these areas.

This is particularly important given that poor motor skills may have knock-on effects in other areas of development. Recent research conducted within the Goldsmiths Action Lab has shown that poor motor skills may be linked to both social skills and language abilities in school-aged children. Motor skills have also been linked to broader cognitive skills such as executive functions, which refer to aspects such as planning, mental flexibility, and inhibition. Executive functions are crucial in the classroom; for example, teachers often provide a series of instructions that children have to follow, before the child must decide on an appropriate course of action, and then carry out the tasks. Unsurprisingly, many children with DCD find the classroom environment difficult; due to both motor aspects and related difficulties in broader areas of functioning. This ties in with our preliminary findings suggesting that teachers identify children with poor motor skills as being more anxious and downhearted, and highlights the negative effects poor motor skills can have.

It is important for motor difficulties to be detected and addressed early in development – by both parents and by teachers – so that appropriate support can be given to these children. Studies in adults with DCD have shown that they report significantly lower satisfaction with quality of life and also experience difficulties with aspects such as mood, general health, wellbeing and employment. If DCD is picked up early, and appropriate support given, this will have a positive effect throughout development and into adulthood, allowing those with DCD to better fulfill their true potential.

For more discussion on DCD, look up the authors of this piece on Twitter:

Laura Crane – @LauraMayCrane 

Elisabeth Hill  @ElisabethLHill

Emma Sumner @EmmaJSumner

Why a lack of sleep makes us depressed … and what we can do about it

Alice_Gregory_Oct_2015Alice M. Gregory is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a member of the Advisory Board for a digital parent education endeavor on infant and toddler sleep that is being supported by Johnson’s Baby. She is a Corresponding Editor (Sleep) for the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. She has previously received funding to support her work from multiple sources including the MRC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy. She is a member of the Labour Party. She is currently writing a book (Nodding Off: Sleep from Cradle to Grave) to be published by Bloomsbury Sigma in Spring 2018.

Alice M. Gregory, Goldsmiths, University of London

Historically, insomnia has been thought of as secondary to other disorders such as depression. The idea was that you became depressed – and that your sleep got messed up as a consequence. This might involve difficulty falling asleep, excessive time awake at night or waking up earlier than hoped.

This may make sense to those who have experienced depression and found that thoughts of distressing events such as of a deceased loved one, or previous failures, keep them awake at night. The possibility that depression leads to insomnia is also consistent with research in which I have been involved – where we found that adults with insomnia were more likely than others to have experienced anxiety and depression earlier in life.

But could things really be the other way around? Could poor sleep be making you depressed? Over the past decade or so it has become increasingly clear that disturbed sleep often comes before an episode of depression, not afterwards, helping to do away with the notion that sleep problems are secondary to other disorders.

This is not too hard to relate to either – just think about how you feel after you have slept poorly. Perhaps you feel tearful or snap at those around you. The literature seems to back up the idea that our ability to regulate our emotions is reduced after a bad night’s sleep. Insomnia has also been shown to predict depression defined according to diagnostic criteria.

So why does poor sleep lead to depression? Lots of different mechanisms have been proposed. To give just a few examples, let’s start by thinking about our behaviour. I, for one, am more likely to cancel an evening out with friends or an exercise class after a poor night’s sleep. This could be part of the problem, as such events are exactly those that may help to keep depressive symptoms at bay.

If we think about what happens to the brain when we miss sleep, there are clues as to why sleep and depression are linked. One study on this topic focused on an area of the brain called the amygdala. This is an almond-shaped structure located deep in the brain that is believed to play an important role in our emotions and anxiety levels.

It was found that participants who had been sleep deprived for approximately 35 hours showed a greater amygdala response when presented with emotionally negative pictures when compared to those who had not been sleep deprived. Interestingly, links with parts of the brain that regulate the amygdala seemed weaker, too – meaning that the participants were perhaps less able to control their emotions. Such findings could help to explain how poor sleep may actually cause difficulties such as depression.

Inherited insomnia

Over the years, my own work has taken a behavioural genetic perspective in an attempt to understand the links between poor sleep and depression. From my twin research and work led by others it seems that poor sleep and insomnia symptoms could be, to some extent, part of the same genetic cluster – meaning that if we inherit genes which make us susceptible to insomnia, we may also be vulnerable to depression.

Lonely hours.
Shutterstock

When trying to explain the link between sleep and depression, I’m also intrigued by recent work on the immune system and depression. Studies have found that those suffering from, or at risk of, depression may show high levels of inflammation in their bodies. Their immune systems appear to be in hyper-drive as if they’re fighting infection or healing from injury. When we disturb or restrict sleep we may also experience inflammation, so perhaps inflammation could also help to explain the link between sleep and depression.

So what can we do about it? It has been proposed for some time now that by improving sleep we can perhaps prevent or treat depression. Recently, data have started to emerge from studies suggesting that this may indeed be the case. For example, researchers at the University of Oxford in collaboration with the psychological therapy provider Self Help Manchester evaluated whether an online treatment for insomnia reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. They advised people with these difficulties to take steps such as keeping a consistent wake time, getting out of bed when they can’t sleep, and challenging beliefs that a bad night’s sleep is incapacitating.

They found that both anxiety and depression symptoms were reduced after insomnia treatment. Other groups are currently looking at whether by improving our sleep we can reduce other types of psychiatric difficulties, too. But even before this work is complete, the take-home message from research to date is clear: we need to begin to prioritise our sleep.

The Conversation

Alice tweets about sleep at @ProfAMGregory

Alice M. Gregory, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hallowe’en Special: Anonymous Clowns

lukemLuke is a PhD student, broadly interested in the development of children’s decision-making behaviours within an intergroup context. His work seeks to explore the contexts within which burgeoning morality may act as a primary or secondary influence in comparison to the influence of the peer group. This work draws upon Social Identity Development Theory and Social Domain Theoretical perspectives. In the process of examining this relationship He is also interested in Theory of Mind ability, Group Identification, Status Threat and Social Acumen.

He has recently written for Newsweek on the social psychology behind the anonymous clowns. Read his piece by clicking on the picture below. If you’re brave enough….

clownluke

Luke is less clown-like on Twitter: @LukeMcGuireX