Departmental News

Gay rights support improves in Jamaica but anti-gay sentiment grows, new research suggests

Written by  Sarah Cox
Published on 15 August 2016
Three years of intense activism and awareness raising in Jamaica have helped increase support for gay rights and reduce approval for the country’s “buggery law”, new research from Goldsmiths, University of London has found.

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But while support for structural prejudice, including the threat of ten years imprisonment for consensual homosexual sex, has reduced, Dr Keon West (Department of Psychology) found that personal prejudice against LGBT individuals has increased over the same period.

In Kingston, 2012, two male students at the University of Technology were caught engaging in sexual activity. One escaped, while the other was pursued across campus by fellow students calling for his death. Seeking refuge with security guards, the guards then turned on him and beat him themselves.

This was followed by a period of intense debate with many arguing that the gay student should have been killed.

But less than three years later, in August and October 2015 Jamaica’s first Pride events were held in Kingston and Montego Bay respectively. Here persons of all classes, sexualities and gender expressions, including straight allies, could gather in a safe environment.

How did this change happen? Between 2012-15 organisations such as AIDS-Free World, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, the Jamaica Anti-Homophobia Stand and J-FLAG engaged in activities intended to increase LGBT visibility in the country, call attention to prejudice and encourage politicians to take prejudice more seriously.

Social psychologist Dr West – an expert in anti-LGBT prejudice in Jamaica – analysed the results of two surveys from 2012 and 2015 of almost 1,900 people, to see how attitudes have changed.

The surveys show that, over the 3-year period, heterosexual Jamaicans reduced their support for the country’s “buggery law” and became more supportive of gay rights. However, they simultaneously became more likely to say they do not trust or like gay people, or that they would threaten, hurt and insult them.

(Dr Keon West, Lecturer in Psychology)

Dr West’s research into changes in attitudes appears in The Journal of Sex Research.

He explains: “What should we make of these findings? Taken together my conclusion is that these changes in structural and personal prejudice suggest that heterosexual Jamaicans now respect LGBT Jamaicans more, but like them less.”

Dr West believes that this pattern of results could be expected considering the strategies recently used by pro-gay rights groups in Jamaica. These have focused on protest and visibility – strategies that tend to increase support for legal rights and equality.

However, there has been a relative scarcity of strategies involving friendly, cooperative interactions – strategies that promote positive attitudes. Jamaican gays and lesbians continue to be killed, and reactions to some pro-homosexual protests have been negative.

“This does not indicate a failure of Jamaican pro-gay activism,” Dr West adds. “All organisations have limited resources and anti-gay prejudice is a multi-faceted problem. The focus on legal equality is showing some signs of success.

“But it’s also important to achieve more positive attitudes and a reduction in day-to-day violence and negative behaviours. With those goals in mind, it might be time to accompany the closed fist with a bit more of the open palm.”

“Jamaica has been described as the most homophobic place on earth, but consensual gay sex remains also remains illegal in 75 other countries.

“Jamaica can be seen as a testing ground for comparable anti-gay nations; like those in Jamaica, activists in these strongly anti-gay countries must select strategies that best suit their challenging social climate.”

‘Jamaica, 3 years later: Effects of intensified pro-gay activism on severe prejudice against lesbians and gay men’ is published in The Journal of Sex Research.

Read more on Gay Times


Do you want to Get in2science? Read on!

Written by   Maria Cristina Cioffi

Published  12 August, 2016

Disproportionately few students enrol in a university degree from low-income families; 16% of those entitled to free school meals go on to enrol at university compared to 96% of those from independent schools. In 2010, a few people decided to do something about it and founded in2scienceUK. This organization is a charity that gives A-level students from low income backgrounds the opportunity to take part in a summer placement working alongside scientists.

Around 150 research groups in the UK offered placements this year and with over 5000 applications, competition for places is fierce. None more so than for our placement, which is the only psychology department placement across the whole scheme. For the past four years, James Moore and I have been hosting a student from the programme for one week, and this year, like all the others, it’s been a great week.

Cristina with one student on the programme

Each year, we look at the research currently going on in the department and arrange for the student to watch and help out with some of the experiments. We also talk them through our research topic and get them to shadow us in our daily work. Throughout this, the student doesn’t just get involved in the psychology research, but they have the chance to discuss their ideas, aspirations and their future. The students we have hosted have told us that the placement inspired them and the in2scienceUK data speaks to that effect, with 75% of participating students going on to enrol in a university degree and 59% enrolling onto a degree at a Russell group university.

This experience is of great value not only for the students, but also for us hosting them. Each time, I am asked questions that challenge me to reflect and discuss aspects of my work that I tend not think about. Their fresh, naïve look on my work turns out to be very useful.

With such all-round rewarding internships, I hope other researchers, departments and donors will support in2scienceUK. We look forward to continuing our support next year.

If you want further information, go to their website: in2scienceuk.org.

James Moore is on Twitter @Neurocog


Goldsmiths’ Psychology Department collaborates with The International Centre for Research in Human Development.

Written by Tom Bloniewski

Published on 9 August 2016

TomTom’s PhD research investigates the way in which anxiety taxes cognitive resources and the main study is run on a sample of twins. This allows for one of a kind design in which we can address the covariation of different neural responses across twins and to see how the general variation in neural activity is partitioned into genetic and environmental sources. Here he talks about a recent collaboration at the Tomsk State University in Russia.

 

At the beginning of 2016 Professor Yulia Kovas was awarded the Erasmus+ Learning Mobility Grant which gives students and staff the flexibility of collaborating with institutions abroad. Tom Bloniewski, PhD student, was the first one to be awarded a share of this grant to travel to Tomsk State University (TSU, Russia). The exchange program allowed Tom to participate in numerous projects such as the Neural Correlates of Anxiety in Cognitive Performance (in collaboration with Psychological Institute in Moscow), The Spatial Ability Project (in collaboration with King’s College London), and Genetically Informative Longitudinal Investigation of Early Mental Development of Children (in collaboration with Université Laval, Canada).

Tom was involved in large-scale data collection and management, got the opportunity to teach statistics to postgraduate students, and to run the journal article seminars. Collaborating with TSU gave him exposure to cutting-edge research techniques including genetically sensitive neuroimaging data analyses.The grant awarded to Tom resulted in a presentation during the International Society for Intelligence Research 2016 conference organised by Yulia Kovas in Saint Petersburg.

You can ask Tom about his research through his Twitter feed: @AnxCog


BPS Undergraduate Research Assistantship: Ageing with Autism Traits: Examining Ageing in the Broad Autism Phenotype.

Written by: Gavin R. Stewart

Published: 1 July 2016

Over the summer Gavin has been given the opportunity to continue his development as both a researcher and a student. He’s been working with Dr Rebecca Charlton over the past year on a variety of her studies in the GoldAge Lab into both typical and atypical ageing, primarily with a focus on the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP). Now, he has been successful with his application to the British Psychological Society Undergraduate Research Assistantship Scheme, which gives a grant allowing a second year student to design and conduct a full research project over their summer break. Here he says more about it.

The aim of this study is to improve our understanding about how the BAP affects the ageing process. The BAP describes a set of characteristics related to the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. These characteristics are common in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), however they also occur at a subclinical level in the typical population and relatives of those with ASD.

Very little is currently known about the impact of ageing on the BAP/ASD. Previous research conducted by the GoldAge Lab has indicated that some abilities that decline during ageing are also affected in ASD, such as difficulties with memory, organising information and the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. We want to further examine this overlap, which will give us further insight into both typical ageing and ageing with ASD.


 

Time expands after blinking: research explores dopamine and time perception link

Written by Sarah Cox

Published on 6 Jun 2016

One of the first studies to explore moment-to-moment fluctuations in individuals’ perception of time found that time is perceived to last longer after we spontaneously blink.

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Researchers in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London found that temporary increases and decreases in dopamine levels within the striatum (a brain region known to be involved in time perception) are associated with moment-to-moment changes in how we perceive time.

Previous studies have demonstrated that spontaneous eye blinking is a reliable biomarker of dopamine levels in the striatum, and in the Goldsmiths study led by Dr Devin Terhune participants had a tendency to overestimate the length of short intervals after they had blinked.

The effect was present for short intervals of half a second, and longer intervals of two seconds, and occurred with both auditory and visual intervals. These short intervals are important as they are closely tied with a range of psychological and motor functions including fluctuations in conscious states.

Evidence from pharmacology, neuroimaging and genetics indicates that striatal dopamine – a neurochemical that plays an important role in a range of cognitive functions – influences time perception.

But the study by Dr Terhune and colleagues is one of the first to explore the way individuals’ perception of time changes from one moment to the next – a characteristic that could influence how we perform in contexts requiring precise timing of the environment.

The researchers say that increases in dopamine availability may speed up dopaminergic pulses in the brain that are triggered when we start to time an event. As a consequence, there is an earlier onset of the timing mechanism, or more frequent accumulation of timing-related information, resulting in the relative overestimation of time.

Fluctuations in dopamine availability may underlie variations in the characteristics of the dopaminergic pulse and introduce variability in the perceived duration of time, the researchers explain.

As is the case with time perception, spontaneous blinking is altered in clinical conditions characterised by dopamine levels below or above normal levels, such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. Drugs designed to manipulate dopamine levels can also affect blinking.

Dr Terhune, an expert in consciousness, hypnosis and time perception, concludes: “Relating dopamine to interval timing within individuals helps clarify why our perception of time varies from one moment to the next and may provide insights into fluctuations in consciousness more broadly.”

‘Time dilates after spontaneous blinking’ by Devin Terhune, Jake Sullivan and Jaana Simola was published in Current Biology on 6 June 2016.


Study shows drawing and maths ability link in children is down to general intelligence

Written by Sarah Cox
Published on 18 Apr 2016

Behavioural geneticists from Goldsmiths, University of London have published new research exploring the link between a young child’s ability to draw a human figure and their skills in maths later in life.

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Drawing is an activity enjoyed by children worldwide, but it reflects more than artistic talent: researchers have found that early drawing expresses a child’s cognitive competence, and predicts children’s later mathematical achievement and cognitive abilities.

Four-year-olds who performed well in a ‘draw a person’ test appeared to be better at maths at age 12 than four-year-olds whose drawings weren’t as accurate. This ability to draw the human figure predicted mathematics achievement eight years later, when the children were 12.

Young children show large differences in their ability to draw the human figure, with some children drawing all the human features very accurately and others only scribbling marks on a page.

Genes or environment?

Because the children who produced the drawings were twins, researchers were able to explore to what extent genes and environments explained differences in drawing ability between children.

They found that while genes partly explained these differences in drawing ability between young children, environmental factors were the main source of influence on young children’s drawing performance.

The researchers had originally predicted that four-year-olds who scored highly in drawing an accurate human figure might also demonstrate higher achievement in mathematics eight years later because of several features that maths shares with figure drawing – such as proportionality, appropriate use of space, and symmetry.This association between early drawing and school mathematics achievement was mostly explained by genetic factors (82%).

The same factors influence general intelligence

Contrary to expectations, researchers found that the relationship between drawing a human figure at four and how good you are at mathematics at 12 isn’t specific.

While a genetic link between early drawing ability and later maths ability was found, it can be explained by genetic and shared environmental factors that also influence general intelligence – not just maths.

However, the researchers found a small specific genetic link between early human figure drawing ability and teachers’ ratings of children’s mathematics ability.

About 20% of the genes that contributed to the relation between preschool drawing ability and mathematical ability when the same children were 12 were not shared with general intelligence.  This shows that some of the genes that are responsible for differences between children’s drawing performance at four years of age are also implicated in mathematical skills later on in life.

The specific genetic link between drawing and mathematics was not found when mathematical ability at age 12 was measured using formal online tests of mathematical ability.

Lead author Margherita Malanchini (Department of Psychology) suggests that the more positive teacher-ratings in maths for children good at drawing might have more to do with specific characteristics like the child’s creativity and motivation.

The study’s results are consistent with previous findings demonstrating that the link between drawing ability and general intelligence 10 years later is largely explained by genetic factors.

The study supports the “generalist genes” theory, which proposes that most genes associated with common learning abilities and disabilities are general, rather than specific to each domain. Genes that influence one area of learning (for example, drawing an accurate human) are largely the same as those that influence other areas (such as maths ability and intelligence).

Gender difference and stability in ability

The researchers also found that at age four, girls performed only marginally better than boys at drawing a human. The study also found stability in drawing ability between ages four and four and a half – a six month period that seems short but is a large portion of a child’s life at this key developmental stage.

Children who showed good drawing skills at four were also good in their drawing production when they produced another drawing six months later, at four and a half.

The study used data from 4,999 monozygotic and 9,581 dizygotic twins from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), based at King’s College London. The human figure drawings were assessed both with the established McCarthy scale, and the researchers’ own criteria: the newly developed Drawing Maturity Scale, which taps into a number of different factors such as maturity of lines, realism and aspects of spatial cognition.

“The links we’ve observed between drawing, mathematics and general intelligence could to some extent also be related to motor development,” the authors explain.

“For example, drawing scores may reflect maturity of lines that in turn depend on motor skills. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that partly overlapping cortical and subcortical brain regions are associated with the development of both general cognitive ability and motor skills.”

‘Preschool Drawing and School Mathematics: The Nature of the Association’ was published in Child Development on Sunday 17 April.


Social perception expert wins Spearman Medal for outstanding research

Written bySarah Cox
Published on: 15 Apr 2016

Goldsmiths University of London’s Dr Michael Banissy has been awarded this year’s Spearman Medal from the British Psychological Society in recognition of his outstanding body of published work.

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Reader in Psychology Dr Banissy is a leader in the study of conscious vicarious perception – where individuals consciously experience the same sensation they see another feeling.

He has led developments in our understanding of these experiences by conducting pioneering studies on mirror-touch synaesthesia (where individuals experience touch on their own body when seeing touch to others) and developing the existing neurocognitive model.

He has also used this understanding to explore the general mechanisms of interpersonal representation and social processing we all use.

Additionally, he has made significant contributions to other areas of psychology, including face perception, emotion processing, social cognition, and memory.

Dr Banissy said: “I am delighted to have been awarded the Spearman Medal and feel extremely honoured to be amongst the list of winners. I’d like to thank the BPS for the award and Professor Andrew Bremner for nominating me.

“This achievement would not have been possible without the help of some excellent colleagues, collaborators, and lab members. I am very grateful to them all. I would particularly like to thank my mentors, Professors Vincent Walsh and Jamie Ward, for their insight and support from the start.

 

My lab is currently working on a number projects that seek to determine mechanisms that contribute to our ability to determine social signals displayed by others, how these abilities vary between us, and means by which they can be improved.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the Society, said: “The Spearman Medal is one of the British Psychological Society’s most prestigious awards and is given to early career researchers, such as Dr Banissy, whose work is excellent in quality and influential in nature. Dr Banissy receives my wholehearted congratulations.”

The Spearman Medal is awarded annually by the Society’s Research Board to recognise a body of outstanding published work produced by a psychologist within eight years of the completion of his or her PhD.

The British Psychological Society is the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK. It is responsible for the development, promotion and application of psychology for the public good.


Urban living and access to schooling shapes how kids perceive size, research indicates

Written by: Sarah Cox

Published on: 7 Apr 2016

Children who have grown up in urban environments fall for a well-known optical illusion more often than kids from remote cultures – because access to schooling has changed the way we look at pictures, a Goldsmiths, University of London study suggests.

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Researchers from the Department of Psychology showed children from 3-years-of age the Ebbinghaus illusion on a computer screen.

Participants were from remote Himba villages in Northern Namibia, or from a town called Opuwo – the nearest urban development to the Himba. Data from UK residents, collected in an earlier study, was also analysed.

The illusion shows two circles placed near to each other, with one surrounded by large circles and the other surrounded by small circles. For many people, the central circle surrounded by large circles will appear smaller than the central circle surrounded by small circles, even when this is not actually the case.

In UK children this illusion develops in early childhood. When judging which of the target circles was larger, 9-10 year-old UK kids were fooled by the illusion and made more mistakes than younger UK children.

But the Himba children were not much fooled at all until they were of secondary school age.

From 9-10 years, traditional Himba children were much more immune to the illusion than British kids, correctly stating more often which circle was larger. This age group of Himba children also beat the illusion more often than the urban Namibian children who had received formal schooling.

In fact, the study authors found that the number of years urban Namibian children were at school was the main factor predicting how much children were fooled by the illusion.

The 50 Himba children who took part (from a total of 336 participants) were from a community of semi-nomadic herders who have limited contact with Western culture and artefacts. Their ages had to be estimated, as the community does not usually keep birth records.

Why does this happen?

The researchers believe that Western children have developed to process visual context (in this case, the circles surrounding the central circle) differently to Himba children because of the way they’ve engaged with pictures and print as they’ve grown.

The study showed that while UK children are processing context by the age of 9 or 10, Himba children are completely unaffected by it.

It’s likely that cluttered urban environments impact on the development of a child early in life, but pictorial and printed materials become particularly relevant in middle-childhood around the age of 9-10 – the same point at which a divergence between Himba and UK children was observed in the Ebbinghaus illusion test.

Lead researcher Professor Andy Bremner, Head of Psychology at Goldsmiths, explains:

We believe that living in a cluttered urban environment and going through formal schooling plays a role in changing the way we involve context in our visual perceptions.

“There are some well-known differences in the way different cultures perceive visual shapes and patterns, but our study goes further in providing an account of how these differences emerge through the interaction of nature and nurture in early development.

“We found that development of differences between the cultural groups was complete by about 10-years of age, which helps us hone in on one particular explanation.

“Rather than being due to differences in how we focus our attention – something that continues to develop in later childhood – we believe that cross-cultural differences in the Ebbinghaus illusion are due to how we take context into account when we look at the world.

“Perceiving and understanding context isn’t a universal human feature, but something that develops quite differently depending on where or how you grow up.”

‘Effects of Culture and the Urban Environment on the Development of the Ebbinghaus Illusion’ by Andrew J. Bremner, Jan de Fockert, Karina J. Linnell, Jules Davidoff (Goldsmiths), Martin Doherty (University of East Anglia) and Serge Caparos (Universite de Nimes) is published in the journal ‘Child Development’.


Big Data and Open Access projects win British Academy Rising Star Engagement awards for Goldsmiths psychologists

Written by: Sarah Cox

Published on: 30 Mar 2016

Goldsmiths, University of London psychologists Dr Sophie von Stumm and Dr Caspar Addyman have been awarded Rising Star Engagement research awards 2016 by the British Academy.

Now in its second year, the British Academy’s Rising Star Engagement (BARSEA) Scheme provides funding of up to £15,000 to 29 distinguished Early Career Researchers to assist their career development through organising interdisciplinary events for other Early Career Researchers.

Dr Caspar Addyman is a developmental psychologist with research interests in learning, laughter and behaviour change in infants. A member of the Department of Psychology’s InfantLab, he joined Goldsmiths in 2015 from Birkbeck.

Open Access is one step in a bigger journey that researchers have been slow to take, Dr Addyman explains. His award of £10,682 will allow him to organise a one-day workshop with a strong practical element that will inspire and educate researchers across all social sciences disciplines on how to do better.

“Our research is publically funded and is supposed to have an impact on the world,” he explains. “I strongly believe that the whole process should be open to more scrutiny and outputs shared more freely. Open Access is just one small part of this. It also requires sharing code, data and materials to improve reproducibility.

There should be greater public engagement before, during and after research is conducted. And we should write and communicate without jargon in venues beyond traditional journals and monographs.

“The workshop will be led by experts already doing these things. The support of the British Academy and of Goldsmiths as hosts is hugely important in getting these ideas out beyond STEM into the wider research community. It is, of course, free and open to everyone.”

As a lecturer in psychology and head of the Hungry Mind Lab, Dr Sophie von Stumm’s research focuses on individual differences in cognitive ability and personality traits. She has received £14,801 from the British Academy for work empowering early career researchers to collect ‘big data’ with innovative assessment tools.

Recent technological advances have led to a vast number of research tools that enable collecting ‘big’ high-quality data. However, many early career researchers lack expertise and resources to apply these tools in their own studies, which creates a loss for their individual careers and for science in general.

Dr von Stumm and her Hungry Mind Lab team will organise a showcase event at which established scientists, technology companies, and media and crowd-sourcing experts will introduce early career researchers to the latest assessment tools from different scientific disciplines.

She explains that it’s an exciting time for early career researchers in the social and behavioural sciences: “Modern technology has opened an unprecedented wealth of possibilities to produce innovative and high-quality research – but this also comes with challenges. What are the latest methods available for collecting ‘big data’? How do we best engage the public to participate in research? And who can we consult on modern assessment technology?”

Find out more about this year’s BARSEA award winners on the British Academywebsite.


New research to explore intentionality biases in interpreting human behaviour.

Written by Siân Jones
Published on 17 Mar 2016

The Leverhulme Trust has offered Goldsmiths, University of London a research project grant for  three years, for £164,459. The project will be directed by Dr James Moore,  and will look at why we seem to prefer intentional over unintential accounts of human action.

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“The ability to distinguish between intentional and unintentional movements is integral to our social lives. Judging someone else’s action to be intentional carries with it the assumption that they are also responsible. Not only is this important in terms of the day-to-day navigation of our social world, it is also important in our systems of law, where criminal responsibility rests on judgements of intentionality”, explains Dr. Moore.

“Interestingly, recent evidence suggests that people usually prefer intentional explanations to unintentional or situational ones. This inclination towards intentional attributions has been termed “the intentionality bias”.

“Our project will investigate this bias, looking at the psychological and neural processes responsible for it. In doing so I hope to shed more light on the nature of intention attribution in humans”.


Isolation and poor mental health in over-60s with elevated autistic traits is cause for concern, research suggests

Written by: Sarah Cox

Published on 11 Mar 2016

Older adults with mild autistic traits are much more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and difficulty ‘getting things done’ than adults without such traits, research by Goldsmiths, University of London indicates.

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With autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the elderly an under-explored area, and older individuals with ASD difficult to recruit to studies, the psychologists believe that studying people who have mild autistic traits could inform our knowledge on aging and autism.

Previous research shows that 20-50% of family members of an individual with ASD display behaviours characteristic of ASD; these traits also exist in the general population and are known as the broad autism phenotype (BAP).

About the study

Adults aged 61-88 years were asked to report traits common in ASD such as social problems, ‘aloofness’, appropriate use of language in social situations, as well as ‘executive functions’ – including the ability to plan and organise behaviour.

The 66 participants were then categorised into two groups: 20 adults with the BAP and 46 adults without the BAP.

Individuals in the BAP group, even after controlling for age, education, sex and health problems, exhibited more real world ‘executive function’ problems, and reported lower levels of social support, and higher rates of depression and anxiety than the control group.

Older adults in the BAP group were likely to have a smaller social network, fewer close friends, and less frequent social interactions than those in the control group.

The study was led by Dr Rebecca Charlton with MSc student Jessica Budgett (Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths) and Dr Gregory Wallace (Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, The George Washington University), and is the first investigation into the BAP in the context of older adulthood, and its association with mental health difficulties.

Why is this important?

“Only recently has there been a focus on adulthood and aging in ASD so the knowledge on it is woefully small,” explains Dr Charlton.

“The first individuals diagnosed with ASD in the 1940s are now reaching old age so we hope there will be more opportunities for study.

“But there have long been difficulties in recruiting older individuals with ASD to take part in research. Studies such as ours – which utilises individuals with BAP traits instead – may be less impeded by difficulties, but can still inform knowledge on aging and ASD.

“A combination of a rapidly growing elderly population, and increases in adulthood ASD diagnoses poses a growing social and financial challenge. Greater knowledge is important for identifying risk factors that might affect the management and planning of services for this elderly population.

A survey by the National Autistic Society conducted in 2008 found that only 8% of individuals with ASD had most of their support from professionals, with 46% having most support provided by their families.

“With an aging ASD population, as individuals start to lose family members, we could begin to see more devastating isolation, loneliness and depression, an increased risk for dementia and the onset of both physical and social impairments.”

Participants were recruited via the University of the Third Age in Ealing, two West London GP surgeries, and by posting information on online forums for older adults and relatives of those with an ASD diagnosis, such astalkaboutautism.org.uk.

Aging and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence from the Broad Autism Phenotype will be published in the journal Autism Research on Friday 11 March.


 

New research to ask if toys work best in helping UK and immigrant kids’ friendships

Written by Sarah Cox

Published on 10 Mar 2016

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Psychologists at Goldsmiths, University of London will start new research this year to find out whether just three minutes of play with diverse Playmobil toys could encourage friendly interaction between UK-born children and recent arrivals from overseas.

A study led by the same researcher indicates that wheelchair-using Playmobil™ models can help children better imagine friendships with wheelchair-using peers.

Dr Sian Jones and Professor Adam Rutland (Department of Psychology) will test whether British children are better at imagining a friendship with an immigrant child if Playmobil™ is used, compared with other methods that don’t use physical stimuli, and simply ask them to imagine friendly contact.
With a small grant scheme award from the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, the researchers will work, over a year, with 5-9 year olds in London’s culturally diverse schools.
By bringing imagined contact with kids from other cultures into a 3D realm, where children use Playmobil ™ children in a Playmobil ™ school to imagine interacting in a physical space, it’s hoped that their ideas about friendship will be better stimulated, and this will then transfer into a real-life setting.
The toys are expected to increase the ease by which children imagine positive interactions and then significantly improve their reactions to immigrants when they interact in the classroom or playground

Participants will be asked to play with the toys just once, for three minutes.

To confirm the toys’ effectiveness, the children will then be tested on their interaction with the profiles of immigrant children online, and whether they would fairly distribute resources, such as stickers, in a game with them.

Dr Jones’ research over the past few years has suggested that interacting in a Playmobil ™ playground improves friendship intentions towards disabled children. Kids get used to a Playmobil ™ toy figure in a wheelchair and see that model to be as socially important and capable of playing as the other models who do not use wheelchairs.

“A government drive towards inclusion in schools opens up opportunities for dialogue and engagement between groups, yet at the same time presents schools with new challenges, including dealing with bullying on the grounds of disability or ethnicity,” explains lead researcher Dr Jones.
“Everyone knows that encouraging interaction between different social groups improves children’s attitudes about others who they might see as ‘different’ to themselves. What we’ve shown, and hope to show with our new study, is that an intervention as cheap and simple as diverse plastic toys could be a great way to encourage that interaction, and really benefit school cohesion.”
Read reports on the BBC News website and TES online.