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?

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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

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).

 

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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.

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

Baby science: Making a theatrical debut

AddymanCasparDr. Caspar Addyman is a Psychology Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a developmental psychologist interested in learning, laughter and behaviour change. The majority of his research is with babies. He has investigated how we acquire our first concepts, the statistical processes that help us get started with learning language and where our sense of time comes from. Before moving to Goldsmiths, he spent 10 years working in Birkbeck Babylab. Here he talks about a recent collaboration with the Polka Theatre. 

Imagine for a moment that you wanted create a piece of theatre to entertain babies or a scientific experiment to test their understanding, how would you go about it? In this article I will give you a handy six step recipe that will help you get started in either situation. And along the way I hope to persuade you why these are both such worthwhile and important undertakings. The surprising thing is that the process is very similar. Despite 10 years of experience running experiments with babies I only discovered this myself very recently.

Over last few months myself and colleagues from Birkbeck Babylab  have been collaborating with the creative team at Polka Theatre. The goal has been to make a piece of theatre for 6 to 18 month old infants based on our research as part of Polka’s upcoming Brain Waves festival (21 Sept – 2 Oct 2016). Brain Waves is a two week long festival of science and theatre that matches artists and neuroscientists to create new theatre productions for children. Supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award the festival features four original works for a range of audiences between 6 months and 16 years old.

To create a show for babies, Polka turned to Sarah Argent, a very experienced theatre director, who in recent years has specialised in creating works for babies and toddlers. In February, Sarah came to Birkbeck Babylab and after speaking to a range of our colleagues she honed in me and my fellow baby scientists Sinead Rocha and Rosy Edey. Rosy studies how we read the social movements of others. Sinead investigates rhythm and dance in babies and I study what makes babies laugh. Dancing babies, social babies, laughing babies. We could see how that makes a good start for a show. Sinead and I have also spent several years studying babies’ sense of time. We were curious how Sarah and her team would work with that.

In fact, at that first meeting, we were very curious about everything…

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Step zero: Why are we at the theatre?

Let’s take a step back, why would you want to create theatre for babies or try to run a psychology study with infant participants? Wouldn’t theatre for babies be limited? Wouldn’t experiments with adults give you clearer answers?

One important first principle that seems to be shared by baby psychologists and baby theatre makers is that we both treat babies as full citizens. Theatre for babies is not theatre for adults but smaller. And science for babies is not science for adults but simpler. Baby psychologists are not simply cataloguing when various abilities come online. For us, babyhood is not merely a way-station to something better. We care about what it is like to be a baby. We try to understand babies from the inside. In theatre for babies, the ambitions seem to be the same.

 

Step one: Why are we at the theatre, today?

Our lofty ambitions and elaborate theory won’t mean a thing to the babies.  To communicate with them we have to be concrete and we have to be focused. We must always start with a very specific question. To get answers from them we must present them with just one thing at a time.

Sarah’s previous show for babies, Scrunch, is a great example of this. It’s set at Christmas and it features just one actor (Sarah’s husband Kevin Lewis). It builds slowly and smoothly, transitioning from event to event at a pace that is often determined by the babies in the audience. Parents coming to our lab are often surprised by how short the actual experiments are. Their baby may spend as little as 3 or 4 minutes doing the task we set them. To get that exactly right, you need to deeply about your goals before you set off. You must consider lots of possible options to find the best way to ask your question.

I think this is somewhere that baby science can learn from baby theatre. In my experience people in science are impatient problem solvers. You start telling them about something and they leap ahead of you second guessing outcomes and jumping to conclusions  The tempo seems very different in theatre. Our first full day of collaboration at Polka, the whole creative team assembled with Rosy, Sinead and I to discuss our work and there was no rush. People work in theatre are a good audience. They really do listen. They absorb, then they ask great questions.

 

Step two: Who is our audience?

A six month old is a very different person from a sixteen month old. A hungry baby is different person from the same baby after a good meal. An overtired toddler can have a lot of angry energy. We have to work with this not against it.

We never expect any given baby to “pass or fail” and results are based on the group not the individual because we might not get a baby at their best. For similar reasons, we rarely attempt to track the development of babies over time, preferring to test a group of 6 month olds and compare them to different groups of 4 or 8 month olds.

We try to make our tasks work with a wide age range. But often babies have other ideas. Sinead and I tried to teach babies about time by playing a game. Seven times in a row, Sinead would lift the babies’ hands every 4 seconds. On the eight time, she’d sit there and see if they babies anticipated. Four, 6 & 8 month olds played the game happily. You can see a video of this here .  But from 10 months and up, babies refused to even let us hold their hands. For them a different game would be required. In baby theatre, there isn’t the luxury of having a narrow age range. The show must have broad appeal.

Babies are fantastic participants for psychological studies because they are both open-minded and honest. They will consider anything we present them with but they won’t hold back their opinions. Translating this to theatre this makes them challenge but rewarding audience.  

 

Step three: The story

I read somewhere that good storytelling is about being simple, truthful, emotional, real and relevant. This would make for a good infant experiment too. An ideal for infant scientists would be to observe babies solving problems in their everyday lives. We can rarely do this but our lab must recreate as much of a natural situation as possible.

And it must be engaging. Infant attention is a precious commodity. After a few minutes in one situation their attention will wander. Everything is interesting to a baby. I’ve lost count of the number of times a baby has found his or her socks more interesting than my experiment. I am very envious when I see Sarah’s shows keeping babies entranced for 20 minutes or more. If I can learn some of her tricks this collaboration will have been invaluable to me.

The final rule is “show, don’t tell.” With preverbal infants, this goes without saying.

 

Step four: Rehearsal

Despite all the handy rules of step three, the mantra for step four is “Easier said than done.” Nothing will work quite as you expect and solving problems is the order of the day. Early rehearsals (or piloting as we call it) are where the real creativity happens

Sarah very wisely invites some babies to those early meetings because as we know well from our babylab, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. In one experiment we had a ball on a stick that swung round for the babies to grab. They greatly enjoyed it. The trouble was they wouldn’t let go. It took a great deal of practice to learn how to distract the babies in just the right way it that wouldn’t provoke a rebellion.

When you get to the actual performance so much is happening at once that you need to have had extensive practice. Technical and dress rehearsal are invaluable in baby science too. In our studies there is often someone hiding behind a curtain jingling bells to get babies looking in the right direction madly pressing buttons to make teddy bears pop up on screen at just the right time and to ensure all the data gets recorded.

 

Step five: Showtime

In a recent ‘manifesto’ on theatre for children   Purni Morrell declared that “Art has to start from a shared position of ignorance.” This holds true for science too. You can’t make up your mind in advance. Or what would be the point?

And this all goes double when you are working with babies. Babies are enigmatic. If you think you know what baby is thinking you are probably wrong. Until we are there on the day with the babies we can’t know what will happen.

I do know that I am really looking forward to the premiere of Shake, Rattle and Roll .


The Festival is supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award.

Brain Waves: Shake, Rattle and Roll, A Polka Theatre Production, runs at the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon. Times vary. Tickets: £12.50 / Concessions and previews £9.00.

Tickets are available from the Polka Theatre website and by calling 020 8543 4888.

Caspar Addyman takes further baby steps on Twitter: @czzpr.

 

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.

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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: www.goldactionlab.co.uk and at www.autismdiagnosis.info

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.

guinea-pig-208438_960_720

“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.

arnstein

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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

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[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).

Working Together is Welcome: Psychology at Goldsmiths

Andy2Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts from the Department of Psychology, where our staff will be lifting the lid, to let you glimpse behind the scenes of life here at Goldsmiths, University of London. We would also love you to get in touch with us via this blog or on social media, to let us know what you think – and to find out more.

Our Head of Department, Prof. Andy Bremner  is starting us off by looking at how we work together, both with each other in the Department, and across Goldsmiths.

Prof. Andy Bremner is on Twitter at @Andy_Bremner

Welcome to the brand new Goldsmiths Psychology Blog. It’s a pleasure to kick off with this first post. In June last year I started as the Head of Department, and I’ve been racing to catch up ever since. There is a huge amount going on here and I want to try to set the scene by giving an idea of the scope of things: What we do, what we stand for and what I think we’re trying to achieve.

The Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, was established at Goldsmiths in the mid-1960s, at a time when Goldsmiths was expanding quite a bit, and making the name it has today for the arts, humanities and social sciences. Today we’re a medium-to-large psychology department for the UK with 45 or so full time academics, and around 800 students across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

Our department’s place at Goldsmiths is important for us. Psychology being the popular degree subject it is, there are hundreds of places to learn about and do research in psychology across the UK. But being at Goldsmiths makes us quite unique. Our research and our teaching covers the full scope of psychology, but we have a strong Goldsmiths flavour. A number of the academics and researchers in the department focus their research on cross-disciplinary topics such as the psychology and neuroscience of music, the psychology of aesthetics, the neuroscience of dance, media research and so on. This makes us the UK specialist for the intersection of psychology and the arts.

This arts flavour makes its way into our teaching also. Our third year BSc students can select optional modules like: “Psychology of the arts, aesthetics and attraction”, “Psychological approaches to music”. We run a very successful MSc in Music, Mind and Brain. But we also cover the full scope of psychology of course. We need to do this in order that our researchers and students can follow their noses, and make the connections that seem right. So we cover the usual things. Brain and cognition, through development, social psychology, to individual differences and psychopathology. The result is that many researchers in the department spend much of their time trying to break down barriers between these traditional sub-disciplines.

There are also lots of us working on making psychology relevant to life outside of university. Here’s the new Forensic Psychology Unit, led by Professor Fiona Gabbert, which specialises in applying psychological theory and methods to eye-witness identification and interviewing of witnesses and victims. Other examples of our research which has direct influence on practice and policy include work on bullying, rehabilitation after brain injury, and consumer use of digital media. Led by Professor Jonny Freeman, a “spin-out” commercial research company in the department, i2 media research, aims to understand the digital media experiences and needs of consumers.

So hopefully I’ve done a decent job of telling you how Psychology at Goldsmiths is flourishing. Something else about this department is important too though, and it’s a bit less tangible. We back each other, and we value each other as students, as academics, and as colleagues. I see this in a few ways. Firstly, I don’t know of any psychology department in the UK whose academics are more collegiate and supportive of each other. Secondly, there is a strong sense to me in which we’re trying to achieve something important in higher education which can so easily get lost. Our academics are teaching students to nurture and develop their own thoughts and opinions. We want students to find out what it is interesting, and to ask questions: of our academics, of themselves and each other, of the (scientific) literature, and of the world. Because we’re psychologists, sooner or later those questions turn into experiments. Personally, I can think of few things more rewarding than working with students to ask and answer interesting questions through research. That’s something I think we do really well.