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…

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


Sophie von Stumm


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.


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:



Magic, memory, and making the most of your time at university

chris_french_131168_bill_robinson_smallProf. Chris French founded the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) at Goldsmiths in the year 2000. Research in the APRU can be broadly divided into two categories. The main strand involves research that focuses upon attempting to develop and test non-paranormal explanations for ostensibly paranormal experiences, such as precognition, telepathy, psychokinesis – even alien abduction claims. A secondary, but still important, strand focuses upon attempting to directly test paranormal claims including people claiming to have psychic abilities (to date, no one has been able to demonstrate any such ability in our tests). Here, he talks more about the APRU’s current activities: how you can make the most of them – and of your time – at Goldsmiths.


Another academic year is about to begin and soon all of our students will be hard at work (we hope) attending lectures and tutorials, writing essays and reports, and generally immersing themselves in their chosen subject of psychology. But it is important to remember that being at university is not just about getting a good degree in your chosen subject, important though that is – it is also about becoming an independent thinker with the ability to critically assess claims and ideas of all kinds. One of the best ways to do this is to attend the wide range of talks and other events that are on offer to you throughout the year at Goldsmiths and beyond.

The Psychology Department offers three main invited speaker series: the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) Invited Speaker Series, the Whitehead Lectures in Cognition, Computation and Culture (co-organised with the Department of Computing), and the Psychology Department Seminar Series. Additionally, there are many other one-off events, including conferences, inaugural lectures, and small-group meetings, that you can also attend (often for free).

For example, take the time to have a look at the line-up of speakers for the forthcoming APRU series here.  As you will see, we have an amazing array of talented speakers, including academics from Goldsmiths and other universities, broadcasters, writers and even a magician, covering fascinating topics such as “brainwashing”, urban legends, the psychology of money, delusions, UFOs, and magic. Do come along to the first talk in our new series, Dr Marcia Holmes on “Brainwashing: Fears, fantasies and facts about mind control in the Cold War”.

Keep an eye open too for one-off talks by some of the world’s leading and most influential psychologists (word has it that Professor Elizabeth Loftus, awarded an honorary degree by Goldsmiths in 2015, will be speaking here again next spring). It isn’t just free talks that you can attend either. For example, in January 2016, the Forensic Psychology Unit hosted an evening of immersive theatre where participants played the role of ‘rookie cops’ or ‘investigative reporters’ in a live mock murder investigation.

Goldsmiths often hosts conferences on topics of potential interest. For example, in the last couple of years, I have co-organised one-day multidisciplinary conferences on vampires, possession and exorcism, witchcraft, Satanic abuse claims, and sleep, not to mention the three-day European Skeptics Congress (okay, that list does reflect my own fascination with weird stuff and there are plenty of other conferences on offer too!). We are planning to hold a one-day conference on conspiracies at Goldsmiths on 26 November 2016 (watch this space).


Beyond the walls of Goldsmiths, there are plenty of other interesting events for you to consider attending across London. For example, I run the Greenwich branch of Skeptics in the Pub. I must admit, the phrase “Skeptics in the Pub” always conjures up for me an image of a room full of grumpy old men all sipping warm beer and proclaiming, “Bah! I don’t believe that”, but the reality is much more fun. As you can see, the next speaker at GSitP is our own Ashok Jansari telling us about “neuro-bollocks”. I will be announcing the full 2017 programme very soon but take a look at the “past events” link to get an idea of the wide range of topics that we’ve covered.

Another forthcoming event that you might enjoy (particularly if you like a laugh and/or a drink) is the Goldsmiths Showoff night at the Amersham Arms on the evening of the 3 November 2016:. I’ll be giving you the chance to see if you can hear some “hidden messages” (that aren’t really there) and there will be a host of other Goldsmiths academics talking about everything from dating algorithms to cats and class war.

I urge you to come along to these events where you often not only get to hear great talks but have the opportunity to chat with the speakers (and members of staff, students and the general public) informally in the pub afterwards. A good way to make sure that you hear about forthcoming events is to sign up to the APRU’s (free) email list. In addition to that, regularly check the College’s events calendar. If you do, you’ll see that in addition to talks and conferences, there are numerous concerts, performances and exhibitions on offer for you. Go to some of those too. Make the most of your time at Goldsmiths.

Chris French communicates technomagically via Twitter: @chriscfrench and via his Guardian blog column.

An Academic Abroad: Tales of postgraduate conference attendance


beckyRebecca Wheeler is a PhD student in the Forensic Psychology Unit supervised by Fiona Gabbert and Sian Jones. Her work focuses on adding a new Self-Generated Cue mnemonic to the Cognitive Interview to maximize witness recall.

Rebecca has also begun working alongside Trident (of the Metropolitan Police) and Xcalibre (of Greater Manchester Police) on establishing psychological techniques to encourage reluctant witnesses to engage with the criminal justice system. Here, she discusses her experience as a postgraduate conference attendee…

Conference season is just about over for a year and here at the Forensic Psychology Unit (FPU) it’s been a busy time. Anyone following this blog series will no doubt have enjoyed Ashok Jansari’s post about the challenges of completing an ‘academic marathon’. Here, I wanted to focus on the toned-down (but no less exhausting!) experience postgraduates often face at conferences.

I’ve attended conferences before, both national and international, as part of my Masters and PhD research experience. This summer was the year that I had my most varied conference experiences to date. The first stop for the FPU gang was the annual International Investigative Interviewing Research Group conference. This a quite focused academic-practitioner conference with a great mix of professional interviewers, academics, and policy makers. We also attended the five-yearly (which Google tells me is quinquennial) International Conference on Memory in Budapest. I presented some of my PhD work on self-generated cues as a retrieval aid (coming soon to journal near you!) at both of these conferences, but the experience was quite different in each case.

The IIIRG Annual Conference

This year’s IIIRG was hosted at the beautiful Latimer Place in London (Zone 8, which we weren’t even sure existed!). A small army of FPU staff, PhD students, and Research Assistants attended (it’s great fun and a fantastic source of support when you can attend in a ‘research gang’), and the majority of the attendees were staying at the conference venue, so it had a very residential feel to it. This does mean that it gets even more important to grab down-time when you have a chance! Conferences can be exhausting!

The academic-practitioner nature of the conference was also completely new to me. It made it quite difficult to know how to pitch my talk. This is where supervisor support, and lab group support if you have it, becomes invaluable. Each one of us presenting (and there were a few FPU presenters, including fellow PhD-er Ale Caso for her first ever conference talk – she did amazingly!) had the chance to sit down together and do a few run-throughs and prepare for questions. This meant we could walk into our talks feeling a little more prepared, and having had Fiona’s advice on balancing academic and practitioner expertise. This can be a really daunting side of applied research – for example, how do you talk about improving investigative interviewing to people who interview at a high level for living? For what it’s worth, it’s probably not something to stress about! In my experience the practitioners who attend conferences like this are particularly open to hearing about the contribution academics can make to easing their workload and maximizing their effectiveness. Above all, as an applied researcher I’d say it’s definitely worth approaching the people working in the field you’re trying to have impact in – they bring a unique perspective and can make some really valuable contributions to shaping your research questions.

We had a great time at IIIRG. We had some great chats and heard some amazingly varied talks that sparked some fantastic research ideas (watch this space!). I’m also pleased to note that the FPU PhD students did ourselves proud at the Murder Mystery Social – we were part of the team in second place for solving the ‘whodunnit’. Looks like our experience with Jane Doe paid off…(you can read blogs about our Jane Doe experience here and here).


2016-06-22 21.58.07

Team captain (and fellow FPU PhD student) Laura Oxburgh is pleased as punch with our efforts.


The ICOM Conference

ICOM for me was a very different experience. For starters, it comes around every five years and it was absolutely HUGE! A week-long conference, with two keynotes a day and eight parallel streams of talks. Safe to say it was absolutely exhausting! ICOM this year was held in Budapest, a city I’d never visited before, but would highly recommend. So last month I packed my bags, waved goodbye to the FPU and headed to the airport. IIIRG was the first time I’d been to a conference in a lab group, and I had attended conferences before (usually solo or just with one or two other people), so I didn’t really realize how much I would miss my gang at ICOM! Conferences can be lonely places when you’re flying solo! Fortunately, I had my super-supervisor Fiona, former boss Rob Nash, and a handful of people I’d met at other conferences around to keep me company. Conferences are also a great time to get to know others working in the field. At my first big international conference Fiona told me to befriend the other PhD students, as they’ll likely become my future colleagues. This feels like pretty sound advice.


On Budapest’s Chain Bridge with my future-colleagues!

On Budapest’s Chain Bridge with my future-colleagues!


It’s also worth remembering that people at conferences are usually pretty nice, and almost certainly interested in similar things to you. Watching talks and visiting the poster sessions can be an opportunity to arm yourself with some conversation starters if you’re struggling. It’s also worth approaching the bigger names – say hello, ask how they are enjoying the conference, ask about their current work…or do some acutely embarrassing fan-girling (see below with Roediger and McDermott – the R and M in the DRM paradigm!)


Roediger and McDermott (with a slightly giddy me in the middle). Lovely people!

Roediger and McDermott (with a slightly giddy me in the middle). Lovely people!

Well I’m running out of words and I haven’t said half of what I want to say – this won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me. All in all, conferences can be exhausting and slightly scary places at times, but it’s worth putting yourself out there and chatting with anyone you can. You never know when you’ll strike up a conversation that leads to a great idea, a grant application, a job opportunity, or when you’ll meet the person who will become a close collaborator. Get advice from everyone you can before you go, ask people for introductions while you’re there (a couple of the PhD students I met at ICOM introduced me to people they knew and vice versa – it’s a relatively easy way to grow your network!), and above all enjoy every minute. It’s difficult not to feel incredibly lucky when your work takes you to beautiful places to chat to amazing people…and on that note I’ll leave you with a photo’ of beautiful Budapest. I know the academic life is for me.

2016-07-24 17.05.47

Rebecca tweets at @R_L_Wheeler and as part of the FPU team on @ForensicGold

Stakeholder engagement, Brexit and beyond

As the prospest of a Brexit makes waves across the UK and beyond, this is the first of two posts this week from our Department, focussing on its impact and meaning. 

Elisabeth-Hill-photo-2The first post is from Elisabeth Hill, a Professor of Neurodevelopmental Disorders in the Department of Psychology where she heads up Goldsmiths Action Lab. She is also ProWarden (or elsewhere PVC) Learning Teaching Enhancement at Goldsmiths. Her work focuses on the importance of motor development for the development of cognitive domains and daily life outcomes in those with and without a range of developmental disorders. Here, she takes us from an early foray into stakeholder engagement to Brexit and beyond.


Around 20 years ago, towards the end of my PhD at the MRC Applied Psychology Unit (APU; now the Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit), I gave a talk to a group of professional stakeholders in my field. My focus that day was the motor skills of children with specific language impairment (SLI). One or two children in every school class meet criteria for this condition, which is diagnosed entirely on the basis of language skill. However, my research highlighted that a large proportion of children with SLI struggle with motor development and experience the same difficulties as children diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder (a motor disorder that also affects 1-2 children in every school class). These days we know that motor development has a very significant impact on early and later development of a range of areas including language and social skills. It also has an impact on longer term outcomes – at school, at work and on mental health. However, that’s now. The striking memory that I want to share is that of a speech therapist (let’s call her Joanna) speaking to me after the talk. I remember her exact words:

“your work turned on a light bulb for me. My team will now assess motor skill in every child that comes to us for a detailed language assessment. We’re failing them if we don’t”.

Fast forward a couple of years and Joanna was in another audience that I spoke to where she told me that motor screening had been implemented in her team and, as a result, a great proportion of the children assessed now received occupational therapy as well as language interventions. At the time I was astounded. It turned out that my work as a PhD student was not only well received by stakeholders, but had effected a change. It was needed on the ground and it made a difference, even though it was invisible to the great majority of those who benefitted. I’d like to think that it played a small part in improving the lives of hundreds of children seen in that one service and that those children who are now adults will have had better life outcomes because of it.

Great Britain design with 3d shape of United Kingdom map colored in blue and isolated on white background.

Great Britain design with 3d shape of United Kingdom map colored in blue and isolated on white background.

I was reminded of Joanna on the morning of 24th June 2016, as I sat bleary-eyed watching the results of the EU referendum. I was reminded of her again, later in the day, as I scoured articles and images of the night before and wondered what the Brexit vote meant for the future. I was also reminded of her when thinking about the unusually unified response of universities (coordinated by Universities UK) in their campaign to Remain. And I was further reminded of Joanna when I looked at the Leave/Remain map of the UK. One of the interesting features of this map concerns the disconnect between the pro-EU views of universities and the pro-Brexit views of their local communities. With the odd exception, only universities in London, Cambridge, Oxford and Scotland seem exempt from this. This despite universities making a significant impact on their local communities: employing a significant proportion of their workforce from the local area; providing education and opportunity for the local community; and playing a significant part in advances that make a difference to these communities (in the present and the future). The reason I thought of Joanna was that the referendum results made me realise just how much we – as academics and researchers – need to do to bridge the divide between universities and their local communities. Sitting in Lewisham, a strong Remain voting community in South East London, it is easy to forget this disconnect. Yet we should not forget that we need to engage with our local community – within Lewisham, within London and within the world – and we are in a strong position to do so.

Human head on a blackboard with the word Autism on the brain

Take, for example, the work that my colleagues (Laura Crane, Lorna GoddardLucy Henry) and I have been conducting concerning the diagnosis of autism. Autism is a developmental condition affecting the way a person experiences the world around them, and it affects around 1% of the population. This means that over 700,000 people in the UK have an autism diagnosis, and hundreds of thousands more people will be affected by the condition indirectly (e.g., parents, siblings, carers, colleagues etc). Close to 1300 people participated in our research, which identified long delays in accessing a diagnosis, dissatisfaction with the diagnostic process as a whole, and a shameful lack of support post-diagnosis. As well as publishing this work in academic articles, we have tried to make this work accessible to the broader community. We have achieved this by: writing articles for lay audiences; making short accessible videos about our findings; speaking at conferences for academics and for stakeholders; setting up a project website; and engaging with stakeholders such as the National Autistic Society and Network Autism to ensure our findings are heard. Importantly, we are also preparing a short summary of the project and its findings for the participants that so generously gave up their time to take part in the research. The fact that we had collected comprehensive and high-quality data from three key stakeholder groups (adults, parents, clinicians) allowed the National Autistic Society to run a stronger and successful campaign to reduce autism diagnosis waiting times – the Autism Diagnosis Crisis campaign. A key outcome of this campaign was that it led to the NHS receiving new recommendations to consider waiting times for autism diagnosis as a key measure of how local NHS services perform.


Research can have an impact in different ways. Sometimes the research will be invisible by the time it is fully embedded (as for my PhD research, which most of the families that it benefitted will never have come across). In other cases, we – as researchers – need to find ways to engage with stakeholders, to help them see our work as relevant to them. We must also reflect on how we can ensure that we conduct research in a way that is relevant and accessible to others. One of our many challenges is how we articulate the relevance of our work to a wide array of communities in such a way that they are able to see the value of the work we do and to consider that it contributes to a brighter future. We may not have achieved this regarding Brexit, but perhaps lessons will be learned from this.

Prof. Elisabeth Hill widens the accessibility of her research on Twitter: @ElisabethLHill, and @GoldActionLab

You can also find her research on the web at: and at

One like me! Toying with the Doll Industry


Dr. Sian Jones is a Teaching Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on discrimination and prejudice among children and adults based on membership of a given group – and how friendships may be encouraged between children from different groups. Here, she looks at the Psychology behind the importance of representing disability in the toy industry. 


A lot of attention has focused on the toy industry of late, alongside changes in what is available and who it is targeted at. This ranges from the “let toys be toys” campaign pressuring for non-gendered marketing of products, to a plethora of companies like this one  marketing toys specifically designed to eradicate ethnic bias in dolls. This is coupled with changes to Barbie dolls both to make their shape more realistic, and to represent the careers that women may pursue.

Another avenue of change has been led by the #toylikeme campaign, with a recent petition garnering over 800 000 signatures, pressuring the industry to represent disability in their product line. Watching the video below, one could accuse anyone not able to see the joy of representation of being utterly cold-hearted.


Anecdotally, I know that my mother, and many others, banned Barbies from my toy collection . This only served to make them more attractive to me, in spite of not really being a “doll-playing” child  ( I persuaded a friend to gift me one). And I can’t tell you how I would have reacted to a toy like the one above, because I never had one. But – as a scientist – I know that the plural of anecdote (be it from my own experience, or the video above) is not data – not evidence.  So are the  changes in the toy  industry worhwhile psychologically? Are they grounded in research evidence?  Or should we retire the representative toy box to the attic?

A review of the evidence suggests not. Firstly,  it turns out that what a doll looks like matters. Ditmar (2006) took 162 girls, from age 5 to age 8, and exposed them to images of either Barbie dolls, Emme dolls (U.S. size 16), or no dolls (baseline control). Girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls in the other  conditions. Moreover, the careers that dolls are depicted as having does have a real influence on children’s conceptions of the career paths that are open to them (Coyle, 2010). Coyle took girls aged 4-5 years, and interviewed them, using Barbies dressed in gender traditional and non-traditional career outfits. She found that girls identified more often with the dolls in gender traditional career clothes. However, following exposure to the  dolls with gender non-traditional careers, girls saw themselves being able to engage in a greater proportion of gender non-typical careers as an adult than before exposure. This study has since been replicated (see Sherman & Zubriggen, 2014, for example) with consistent findings.

The Seminal Doll Studies 

Next, let’s look at the question of ethnicity. This is actually where the central debate started, with a study by Clark & Clark (1947) that has become a classic in Psychology.

In what became a series of experiments, Clark and Clark showed Black children between the ages of six and nine years two dolls, one white and one black, and then asked them questions, like “show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,”or “show me the doll that looks ‘bad’.” In these studies,  around 44% said the White doll looked like them. In one version of the study Clark gave the test to 300 children in different parts of the country. He found that Black children who went to segregated schools were more likely to pick the white doll as the nice one. These findings carried considerable weight. They became part of Brown v Board of Education case. And they began the start of a movement towards multiracial education. A study by Powell-Hopson and Hopson (1988) showed that in a post-intervention aimed at tackling negative stereotypes, children chose a black doll. And like the gender / career studies, this one has also been replicated, ad infinitum.  For example, in 2005, Davis asked 21 children and 71% told her that the white doll was the nice one.

Dolls are not us

In spite of the compelling findings above, the eagle-eyed among you may have started to critique them. Recent replications of the Clark doll test have used very small samples, and were not published academically. And, it has also been noted that the contact children had with different ethnicities was not controlled, and the study lacked a control for ethnicity, of both the dolls, and the experimenters. Moreover, children don’t actually play with the dolls, and this is a forced-choice task.

In the most critical appraisal, Bergner (2009) noted that these studies show very little beyond preference: they have been used to make claims about self-esteem, but self-esteem has not actually been measured. Further, since Black children do have commensurate self-esteem to white children these preference studies are just that – about preference – representing the political and capitalist culture of the time. Wanting that to change, requires much more than raising self-esteem among Black children.

In sum, there is little in the ethnicity  “doll studies” to suggest that there is a psychological need for investment in representative toys to boost children’s self-esteem. But that is because there is no evidence – not because the evidence suggests otherwise.

Back to the toy box

Before we grow disilusioned, and throw out the doll with the bath water, let’s return to disability. Here, the  toy box is less replete with resources. The market simply doesn’t prodce so many toys – although Playmobil and Lego are  due to bring out such examples this year. “Doll” study findings are consistent with the above (and the above caveats). For example, Saha et al. (2014)  showed children with Down Syndrome two dolls, one with a “typically developing” appearance and one with the phenotypic features of Downs Syndrome. Fifty four children participated in play sessions with both dolls and were then interviewed. They prefered to play with, and attributed more positive traits to, the typical doll than the doll with Downs Syndrome.

That’s all very well, but, as noted earlier, it takes two to tango. And going back to the market, isn’t it important that toys represent diversity to all  children? In a study by Srinivasan and  Cruzhis (2015) children between 6 and 13 years of age used ethnically diverse dolls to explore and verbalise their knowledge of ‘race’. Children were able to articulate how they related to these dolls. Dolls, it seems, may be an important educational tool, for opening up dialogue. Further studies with such dolls (e.g., Smith, 2013) indicate that such dolls support the development of young children in increasing their empathy and in opening discussion about treatment of stigmatized groups. A project evaluating their use is underway.

Where now?

It seems from this review that – as far as gender is concerned – there is  strong evidence for the psychological impact of (poor) representation on children’s Psychology. There is less evidence of impact from ethnic doll studies – but this is largely because the studies have measured only ethnic preference, and not looked at outcomes like career aspirations or race-related self-esteem. Studies that have, have noted an impact. The research agenda might turn to closing this gap: to measuring the self-image, aspirations, empathy and anxiety (as well as prejudices) of those  from all groups exposed to representative toys. As it stands, in a world of White privilege, it is arguably hardly surprising that a white doll is preferred.

When it comes to disability, unlike with ethnicity, one finds that such research has not been an option until very recently: the toys themselves are, relatively speaking, all-but absent.  We know that children most easily discuss issues in contexts that are familiar to them – such as play (Srinivasan &  Cruzhis, 2015). In this regard, there is growing evidence that representative dolls are a good thing. They open dialogue around prejudice and enable discussion and empathy. If such toys are not there, the opportunity for this discussion is lost. At a broader level, if we do want to change the status quo in our society – we know that acceptance of prejudice and inequality doesn’t magically appear at 18 years of age. When it comes to fairer representation, there might be no better place to start than the toy box.


Schools without sanctions


Alice Jones is a Senior Lecturer, and Director of the Unit of School and Family Studies. Her work focuses on understanding how students with behavioural difficulties can achieve their potential in school, as well as developing methods of promoting social and academic inclusion.

Here, she provides an update on an on-going project that explores one school’s aim to learn without sanctions.


Spring was a busy term for the Unit of School and Family Studies. Two of our current PhD students (Hannah Smith and Dawn Rose) were offered exciting postdoctoral positions, and another (Guilherme Wendt) will represent Goldsmiths at the World Congress of Psychology in Japan in July after being awarded an ‘Emerging Psychologist’ award. Dawn Rose, one of our PhD students, also received a commendation from the Warden in Goldsmiths first Public Engagement Awards for her role in The Happiness Project, a collaboration between theatre, scientists and school students put on at the Edinburgh Festival and the Camden Roundhouse last year.

We’re currently working with schools across the UK, on a range of projects exploring mental health, bullying and behaviour; but we’re particularly interested in working with schools to develop research projects that are timely and contribute to the development of evidence-based practice.


Translational research in action

We can’t carry out the sort of work that we do without working closely with teachers, educational psychologists and other professionals working in schools. Our previous work (Frederickson, Jones, Warren, Deakes & Allen, 2013; authored by academic researchers, educational psychologists and teachers) sets out how we can combine teacher feedback with the most appropriate available research to help provide solutions to school problems. Working in such a way means that we are able to translate the available research into practice quickly, while also carrying out work that we can feed back into that evidence-base.

This project examined the existing research about the differing profiles of social and emotional abilities of children with severe behavioural difficulties, and used it to think about why existing practice wasn’t as effective as it could be, and how we might improve things. For example, some school-based initiatives for behavourial difficulties focus on empathy, but if a child has difficulties empathizing with others (Jones, Happe, Gilbert, Burnett & Viding, 2010), then that strategy might be rather limited in its effectiveness. Similarly, it is important to understand that not all children are motivated by the same outcome – not all students seek social approval and friendship (Warren, Jones & Frederickson, 2014). One group of young people that we are particularly interested in are commonly described as having ‘limited prosocial emotions’ (DSM-V), or ‘callous-unemotional traits’ (Frick, Ray, Thornton & Kahn, 2014). In our 2013 study, we developed and examined a new method of working with students based on our profiling of their abilities and difficulties. After a year, we were able to demonstrate behavioural improvement alongside reductions in fixed-term exclusions from the school and a positive acceptance of the programme by school staff.


Can schools work without sanctions? What we’re doing now

Our current work is interested in how far school sanctions really influence behaviour, and whether schools can exist without them. Working with schools for children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties allowed us insight into how effective traditional methods of classroom behaviour management are for children who find being in school tougher than most. We partnered up with outstanding Kilgarth School in Birkenhead, a secondary school catering for the needs of students with social, emotional and mental health difficulties (a range of difficulties previously labeled as social, emotional and behavioural difficulties). Our collaboration was covered by The Telegraph last year, and you can read about it here. Kilgarth are a brilliant model of reaching out to use research, but also giving back through research and training opportunities for educational and other agencies, including the police and prison service.

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For some children punishment, or more commonly, the threat of punishment is ineffective. Young children who are considered to have a fearless temperament are typically resistant to punishment (Fanti, Panayiotou, Lazarou, Michael & Georgiou, 2016). Similarly, children who have behavioural problems and difficulties with empathy are similarly uninfluenced by sanctions – time out has little effect on their behaviour, and these children don’t seem to be made as sorry or upset by strategies like time-out (Hawes & Dadds, 2005; Miller et al., 2014). More recently, teachers have also reported an association between callous-unemotional traits and insensitivity to punishment (Allen, Morris & Chhoa, 2016). In contrast, it may be the case that certain types of rewards are a useful motivating factor in developing desired behaviour.

We worked with Kilgarth School to develop a whole-school system that was built on the available research relevant to their students, and that met the needs of the students, teachers, governors and everyone else involved with the school. The result is a school system that works to positively exploit and develop strengths. Students report that they feel a greater sense of responsibility, and are motivated by the potential for their behaviour to be rewarded. (This has been an exciting opportunity of seeing earlier research being put into action and is also generating interest in collaboration with partners beyond education) Our evaluation of the evidence-based school system is on-going, but preliminary feedback seems to be positive (not only for the students but also teachers). We’ll let you know once our final results are published…


This work couldn’t happen without excellent student researchers involved in the project; thanks particularly to Bethan Carter (MSc FCP, 2015) and Elizabeth Booker (BSc PCN, 2016) for your involvement.

Alice tweets without sanction @dralicejones

The death of Jane Doe: A mock murder investigation

GRTW1Dr. Gordon Wright, a Teaching Fellow, and member of the Forensic Psychology Unit in the Department, studies the personality and behaviour of liars, manipulators, cheats, scammers and fraudsters. Among his research and analytic methods lie mock-crimes and investigative interview scenarios, linguistic & sentiment analysis, alongside physiological and brain stimulation.  Here he blogs about a mock murder investigation –  an immersive theatre event run by the Forensic Psychology Unit. 

Previously, at Goldsmiths…

Earlier this year, Jane Doe was found dead in Deptford Town Hall, right on the doorstep of Goldsmiths. She had her whole life ahead of her. Fortunately, a team of trainee investigators were on hand for an evening of sleuthing and crime-fighting. The eager recruits received briefings by former police detectives, viewed CCTV footage, examined the crime scene, and had the chance to grill members of the Forensic Psychology Unit and other suspect individuals in their search for clues. Thankfully justice was done, the guilty party apprehended, and the citizens of New Cross could again rest easy in their beds. Case closed.

Tickets sold out in 48 hours, so if you weren’t able to join us, we are sorry, but we’ve put together a short video to give you a taste of the evening. Make sure to join us next-time…


I hope you agree that the event looked fun. We had a great time! The ‘trainees’ certainly enjoyed the night as well. We received some wonderful feedback on the crime scene, the cast of characters presented, and the insights we were able to share as researchers in the field.

Why did we do it?

This little adventure started with a public engagement grant from the Goldsmiths Outreach Team. The event was designed to raise awareness of the research we do in the Forensic Psychology Unit and how it informs police policy and practice. We chose to do this in the context of a ‘live’ murder investigation. We even took the opportunity to test some hypotheses and run mini-experiments, rapidly crunching the numbers, and giving feedback to the attendees on their predictions of ‘WhoDunnit’ – All during the course of the evening. Pretty lofty goals for our first foray over the Arts-Science divide, I think you’ll agree.

A stated aim of the event, and something we are very proud of in retrospect, was to base as much of the event as possible in fact. From small things, like using police issue evidence bags for collecting trace evidence, through to selecting the details of the crime from the archives of the Innocence Project. Now, I’ll admit that the fake blood tasted of raspberry and the corpse wasn’t entirely dead, but here’s the reality… the success of the night and the extent to which the audience ‘bought into’ the production relied on the relationships we built with talented, enthusiastic and creative people from within Goldsmiths. And we were helped by many.

The Communications team filmed and edited the footage you watched earlier, they even helped us film the CCTV of the murder itself in the wee small hours. Students from the Goldsmiths Acting and Filmmaking Society were our suspects, relatives for the witness appeal, security guards, journalists, camera crew, CSI techs… And they gave their expertise and experience freely, and largely saved us from our dramatically inexperienced selves. The Estates & Facilities team mostly kept a straight face while we asked about the risk of blood stains on marble.

And if you ever need a body-bag, there’s a cupboard full in the Theatre & Performance Department prop store… Who’d have guessed?

Plans for our next event are well in hand and we’ve learned some lessons along the way – by far the most important being that such projects are great fun to dream up, plan and execute. We are proud to be part of a very dynamic department, with regular media coverage and with a few jokers in our ranks (make sure to catch the next Science Showoff!)

We encourage you all to embrace the slightly frightening prospect of creative Arts-Science collaborations or immersive theatre-based experimentation. It’s great fun and so very Goldsmiths! To be honest, if your next to-do list doesn’t include ‘borrow body bag – preferably empty’ or ‘google recipes for fake blood’ you’re missing out!

Dr. Wright practices lies and deception on Twitter as @DrDeception. The Forensic Psychology Unit are  @ForensicGold

The next event will be advertised via #FPUevents Early booking is advised!

Community Involvement In Research: Are We Doing Enough?

Laura-Crane-2Dr Laura Crane completed her undergraduate and postgraduate (MSc and PhD) degrees within the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths.  Laura now works as a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Associate Lecturer within the Department.  She is also an Honorary Lecturer at UCL’s Institute of Education, and a Research Fellow at City University London.

Here she talks about what it means to participate in research. 

Recently, I was invited to an event on autism and the criminal justice system (my area of expertise).  The delegate list was impressive, including academics, legal professionals and charity representatives (all with extensive experience in the area).  The day was interesting and varied.  At one particular point in the day, the delegates were asked to work in groups to identify the issues faced by autistic people[1] when encountering the criminal justice system, as well as some potential solutions to these issues.  Each group was busy generating ideas, before I raised what I thought was a very obvious question: ‘If we want to know what the issues people with autism face in the criminal justice system, shouldn’t we start by involving them in these discussions?’

In our inaugural blog post, Prof. Andy Bremner (our Head of Department) discussed how ‘working together is welcome’ at Goldsmiths.  Indeed, working together is welcome, and commonplace…amongst academics.  I should stress that one of the strengths of Goldsmiths’ Psychology Department is that there are several examples of academics working collaboratively with non-academic stakeholders (e.g., police officers, musicians).  However, in this blog post I want to question whether we are really doing all we can to engage the communities that we study in our research.

A few years ago, Pellicano, Dinsmore and Charman (2013) published a thought provoking paper on researcher-community engagement in autism.  They conducted a survey of over 1500 stakeholders interested in autism research – gathering the views and opinions of researchers, professionals (e.g., teachers, therapists), and the autism community (autistic people and their families).  The results revealed that whilst researchers perceived themselves as engaged with the autism community (in terms of dissemination, dialogue and research partnerships), autism community members did not share this view.  In addition, whilst professionals were fairly satisfied with their involvement in research, those on the autism spectrum and their families were not.

Following up these survey results with focus groups and interviews, Pellicano et al. (2013) highlighted the variable nature of autistic community involvement in research.  For example, autism community members expressed dismay about giving up their time to take part in research but not finding out the outcomes, with one participant commenting: “they only want us as guinea pigs”.  Further, community members felt that their contributions were not valued by researchers, and they expressed scepticism about whether their views would have any influence on future research or policy.


“They only want us as guinea pigs”

These issues are not unique to the field of autism.  From recent discussions with colleagues, they also apply to work in other neurodevelopmental conditions (e.g., Developmental Coordination Disorder), as well as psychology more broadly.  Nevertheless, there have been several examples of successful researcher-community partnerships in some research areas, particularly in the field of learning disabilities (e.g., Powers et al., 2007; Richardson, 2000).  ‘Participatory research’, as it is termed, also forms the basis of ‘INVOLVE’ – a government-funded programme aiming to advance public involvement in research, in order to make it an ‘essential’ part of the way in which research priorities are identified, and the way in which research is designed, conducted, and disseminated.

But how does participatory research work?   

There are several different ways in which stakeholders can be involved in the research process, and these are highlighted in Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation.  Arnstein notes that the bottom rungs of the ladder describe levels of ‘non-participation’, in which researchers have control over the participants in the study.  This tends to be the kind of involvement that is commonplace in psychology research studies with clinical groups (e.g., people with autism).  Further up the ladder are varying degrees of ‘tokenism’, in which the participant is given a voice but they are not conferred any power over the research (and there is no change in the status quo).  There has been a move towards this kind of participation in recent years, especially in terms of ‘informing’ participants about research findings; for example, researchers are encouraged to disseminate their findings in outlets for non-academic audiences (e.g., The Conversation), and many academic journals (e.g., Autism) require authors to produce easy-read summaries of research findings to accompany their articles.  Moving even further up the ladder, community members can engage in research partnerships, or even have control over the research process (i.e., having managerial power, or holding the majority of decision-making roles) – these are referred to as instances of ‘citizen control’.  However, these tend to be relatively rare occurrences.


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There are several benefits to adopting a ‘participatory’ research design and involving stakeholders in the research process.  For example, it ensures that the research priorities are valuable and have a genuine impact on the lives of the people being studied.  In addition, the involvement of community members is likely to aid the recruitment of participants and in subsequent dissemination activities.  Community involvement would also provide important insights into the area under study (perhaps ones that are overlooked by researchers who do not have this ‘insider’ knowledge).

Despite my enthusiasm for participatory research, I openly acknowledge that the majority of my current and previous research projects (on autism in the criminal justice system, as well as autism diagnosis) have been researcher-led.  Although my work is often conducted in collaboration with professionals (e.g., police officers, clinicians), the involvement of community members has tended to be limited to the bottom or middle rungs of the ladder.  This is because participatory design is not without its challenges, such as the additional time and effort (and often funding) required to engage in researcher-community partnerships (Pellicano et al., 2013), along with the lack of training opportunities available for early career researchers (during my seven years of study within Goldsmiths’ Psychology Department, I wasn’t even informed of participatory research, yet alone had any opportunities for training!).  As proud as I may be of the research projects I’ve been involved in, and the outcomes of that work, I wholeheartedly feel they could have been improved with greater community input and involvement.

The research projects I’m developing at the moment have a much greater focus on collaboration with community members and I’m really excited to see how they progress.  For example, I’m about to begin an evaluation of an autistic-led post-diagnostic support programme, in collaboration with the (autistic) developer of the programme.  We’ve jointly decided on the focus of the research, and will be working together throughout to achieve the aims of the evaluation.

Partnerships like this take time to come to fruition, and I’m particularly struggling to ‘move up the ladder’ for areas in which I’m only just starting to conduct research (e.g., Developmental Coordination Disorder).  However, I hope this blog post encourages researchers (and students) to reflect on the involvement of the communities they study in their work, and to consider how they might start working their way further up the rungs.

Laura is on Twitter : @lauramaycrane    @GoldActionLab


[1] There is a debate regarding the most appropriate way to refer to individuals on the autism spectrum.  Whilst person-first language (i.e., ‘person with autism’) has typically been advocated, many autistic individuals prefer disability-first language (i.e., ‘autistic person’).  Throughout this blog post, both terms are used, to respect this diversity of views (see Kenny, Hattersley, Molins, Buckley, Povey & Pellicano, 2015, for further discussion of such issues).

Psychology research and impact: What about autism and employment?


Lisa Dockery is a PhD student and Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. She has previously worked within small charities and non-profit organisations as well as the NHS. Her research focuses on social inclusion, mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. 

Here she considers the impact of research for employment for those with autism.

 Impact,  ‘the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy’, (RCUK) is something researchers are continually encouraged to explore in their work. At Goldsmiths, we strive towards demonstrating impact in our work by considering how findings can be applied within a wider economic and societal context. For instance, the Goldsmiths Action Lab (GOAL) has recently been set up to bring together researchers and research users involved in several projects investigating typical and atypical development. Part of this research includes autism and employment.

What about autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by impaired social communication and social interaction; and restrictive or repetitive behaviours, activities or interests (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Individuals with autism may have difficulties interacting with peers or taking turns in conversations and may excessively adhere to routine or have high levels of resistance to change. Around 1% of the population in England has a diagnosis of autism (Brugha et al., 2011) with a male to female ratio of approximately 4:1 (Chakrabarti & Fombonne, 2001). Autism is considered a spectrum with individuals, like everyone else, demonstrating peaks and troughs in abilities (Hill, 2014).

Despite most individuals with autism now being aged 18 years or above, we know very little about life for these adults (Howlin, 2013). This is worrying because adults with autism report feeling socially isolated (Balfe & Tantam, 2010) and may experience poorer mental health than those without autism (Hirvikoski & Blomqvist, 2014; Joshi et al., 2013) with depression commonly reported (Moss et al., 2015). Low levels of employment are also reported for adults with autism (Shattuck et al., 2012). This is an economic issue as the national annual cost for adults with autism in the United Kingdom has been calculated at £25 billion with 36% of this total attributable to lost employment for the individual with autism (Knapp et al., 2009). Individuals with autism often fall into the gaps in-between mental health and learning disability services and may lack specialist support once formal education finishes. This places these adults at risk of social exclusion. However, employment may be a major route to independence and social inclusion – and this has important consequences for quality of life (Parr & Hunter, 2014).


What about impact?

Legislative changes have recently appeared alongside autism and employment research. In 2009, The Autism Act was introduced as the first disability-specific law in England. A duty was placed on the government to produce an Adult Autism Strategy called ‘Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives’ (which emerged in March 2010) and to produce guidance for local councils and health authorities to implement this. The strategy revealed that helping adults with autism into employment is a key priority. However, an independent report in July 2012 (National Audit Office, 2012) claimed the impact of helping adults with autism into work is ‘not clear’. After feedback from adults with autism, parents, carers and professionals, the government published a new strategy (Think Autism) in April 2014. New statutory guidance was published in March 2015 which indicated local authorities and the NHS must now include employment in needs assessments.


What happens next?

Considering autism and employment from a research perspective could have many implications for future research, clinical practice and government legislation. This research could contribute to the current limited knowledge surrounding autism in adulthood. Furthermore, this research aligns with clinical guidelines recommending individual supported employment as a psychosocial intervention for adults with autism (National Institute for Care and Health Excellence, 2012). This also links to funding opportunities for specialist adult autism and employment services. Few of these services exist and evidence-based support from research within autism and employment means adults with autism could benefit from specialist supported employment services. Finally, if local authorities and the NHS are obliged to support adults with autism to gain and maintain employment (for instance, through supported internships and apprenticeships) then research findings could provide a strong basis for the creation of specialist employment services. The impact from this really could support individuals with autism into fulfilling and rewarding lives.

 Find out more here: and on Twitter: @lisadockerygold.