All posts by Ian Hocking

Senior Lecturer in Psychology,

Creative is as creative does: UK Creativity Research Conference

Nobody is sure, quite yet, where ideas comes from, but we know that the idea for the UK Creativity Researchers Conference emerged over burgers in Barcelona, where Lindsey Carruthers, Shelly Kemp and Gillian Hill were attending last year’s BPS Cognitive Section Conference. Their feeling was that a creativity-specific gathering was needed for researchers to bring together their work and ideas. They imagined forty or so people might turn up. There were considerably more than that, and the conference was a great success. The organisers were particularly concerned with generating impact, and judging by the emails I’ve received this morning from potential collaborators, together with some of the emails I fired off yesterday, the impact should be resounding.

Like intelligence and the Cornish pasty, creativity is difficult to define. That was one of the threads running through the talk by the keynote speaker, Giovanni Emanuele Corazza, which also included an impressive array of research projects underway at the Marconi Institute for Creativity. He conjectured that creativity might the single most important research area for the remainder of the century, simply because artificial intelligence is encroaching into so many other domains of human performance; our creativity, and perhaps related higher-level processes, might be last bastions to fall to AI. Parenthetically, one of Giovanni’s papers on eye tracking was suggested to me by a colleague last year when I was presenting similar work at the BPS Cognitive Section Conference, so it was interesting to see where that work is heading (Agnoli et al., 2015); just another example of the links that can be made at such gatherings.

Incubation was a feature of the talks that followed, first by Ken Gilhooly (‘Incubation: Past, Present and Future’) then George Georgiou (‘Incubation: Faciliation of Creative Problem Solving’). Incubation is the idea that people perform better on a problem when given a distracting break, as long as they know that the problem is waiting for them when they get back. One of Ken’s points is that unconscious work can be better than conscious work; from George, I learned that the effect of incubation is larger is the break is taken immediately. Kathryn Friedlander finished off this session with a description of her work on cryptic crosswords as a way of generating insight experiences (‘The Problem with Insight Problems’). Other talks included one from Paul Sowden (‘Exploring and Influencing Creative Thinking Processes’), in which he looked at dual process thinking in garden designers, and another from Alison Pease, which looked at the use of computers to investigate creative solutions to things like mathematical conjectures.

Overall, it was great conference—fun and well organised. It was even worth flying there and back in one day, though waking up at 4:30am and getting to sleep at 1:30am, together with a bit of exotic food (haggis) seems to have given me jet lag. There’s some research suggesting that non-optimal time of day can improve divergent thinking (Wieth & Zacks, 2011), so no complaints; I certainly have plenty of ideas, without even needing a burger.

Agnoli, S., Franchin, L., Rubaltelli, E., & Corazza, G. E. (2015). An Eye-Tracking Analysis of Irrelevance Processing as Moderator of Openness and Creative Performance. Creativity Research Journal, 27(2), 125–132.

Wieth, M. B., & Zacks, R. T. (2011). Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal. Thinking & Reasoning, 17(4), 387-401.

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Breaking Through To The Other Side: Coping With Death

Breaking Through To The Other Side: Coping With Death

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Legacy Headstones, a leading Ohio-based headstone manufacturer and vendor.

The death of a loved one is something that is guaranteed to happen during the course of your life. Yet for many people, that unexpected happening creates a period of grief that can be hard to move past. While coping with death is something that is not easy and requires time, it is the case that there are strategies that you can follow that will help put your mind at ease sooner.

Here are some of the top ways to move past grief when a loved one has passed on:

Use family history to intellectualize

In modern psychology, one of the coping mechanisms that people have in dealing with the loss of a loved one is to intellectualize their feelings. Intellectualization is a coping device in which the person will gather as much information and knowledge as possible in order to analyze the situation leading to the loss. By doing this, an individual detaches emotionally and views the situation as an outside observer instead of being directly affected by it. Sometimes, intellectualization allows for an individual to feel that they more control of the situation.

While that can be a positive process from the standpoint that it creates a layer of insulation, it may help to channel the potential of intellectualization into a process that increases your perspective and helps you cope with grief. Using family history to learn about the lives and deaths of your ancestors can be a good way of adding perspective by creating a complete picture of how your family has died over time. Once you know the totality of the last few hundred years, it should make it easier to understand that your family has been dealing with death for a very long time. It can also help to work on a project like this that your loved one would have been proud of. In Japan, grief cycles tend to be shorter because families use a centralized crypt or grave for several generations of family member, which means that there is holistic perspective regarding the life and death of their family from the onset.

Understand terror management

Terror Management theory is a simple theory that comes from the desire to live but knowing that death is inevitable. This conflict produces terror in humans. It is with culture that humans are able to handle the terror of death because culture gives meaning and value to life. Some psychologists have shown through research that those behaviour changes can include increased zealousness, strengthening of beliefs, and a willingness to go outside our current belief systems–all aspects of culture. Because a lot of these behaviours are unconscious, it is a good idea to go online and look at terror management theory so that you can have a deeper understanding of how grief is or will affect you. Once you know, it will be easier to navigate through your own feelings when the time comes.

Think about past times that you shared with your loved one

Some psychological researchers have shown that using nostalgia to cope with your loss can be a very positive way of helping you through the grief process. In one experiment, it was noted that people exposed to sad news following a recent death tended to think nostalgic thoughts about the happy times that they shared together with their loved ones. That type of response was then shown to make them happier overall.

Honour your loved one's memory

Another positive way of coping with death is to take up a project that honours the memory of your loved one. Whether that project takes the form of a hobby that they loved or is one that helps create a tribute to their life, you still end up forming a sense of completion and an understanding that you are not helpless in the face of grief. Both things can help you to cope with death better.

Don't grieve alone

Depending upon your culture, you may find that after the funeral most people that were close to a loved one tended to grieve for them on their own. If you are able to instead spend time with each other while you are still grieving, it can be a positive way of helping everyone move past the death and back to a focus on your own lives.

Coping with death is something that is important for everyone close to a deceased one to go through. It can be harder for some than others, but by approaching the grief process with strategies that help you both honour the departed loved one and help you to recover your balance, you can break through to the other side of grief.

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Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters!

This summer, I’m looking forward to putting together a new module for 2014/15 on artificial intelligence. What happens when we try to model the mind? Is it even possible to model the mind? These questions, and others, are fascinating, and I can’t wait to discuss them with students.

Meantime, I’ve been discussing them with journalists at the Kent on Sunday about the new Channel 4 drama
Humans. As a psychologist, I’m slightly more interested in operational aspects of AI, i.e. how models can be implemented and what they tell us about the mind, but that won’t stop me flapping my gums about the wider issues.

I agree wholeheartedly with Dominique Chu from the University of Kent, who is quoted as saying:

There will always be so many short-comings with artificial intelligence at a human level. That is because the brain is so complex, we still don’t understand how it all works. Until that has been done, we won’t be able to program robots to that level…I have to ask if really want to go that far.

The human mind is a complex beast, and maybe it can be modelled – but should it be?

That’s the question asked by Humans. I suspect the answer, in good science fiction tradition, is “Probably not”.

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Multimedia Extravaganza

We’re still in the process of building up our research and knowledge exchange mini-sites (check out the widget on the right), but we wanted to flag up two videos to give you a flavour.

The first is brief overview of a study conducted by David Vernon and Ian Hocking in the Creativity and Cognition group. The second shows Nicola Abbott and Amanda Carr of the Learning and Development group in our new observation lab.

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Research and Knowledge Exchange Sites Now Live

If you look carefully, you’ll see a new widget on the right hand side of the blog page. That’s a list of research and knowledge exchange groups within the Psychology Programme. The links will take you through to individual websites where you can read about what we’re doing, sign up for updates on projects that interest you, and discover the results of our studies.

They’re very much ‘work in progress’, but check out, for instance, this the cool video on the Learning and Development site.

Watch this space!

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In-depth: Relative Deprivation and Social Identity Theory as Antecedents of the 2014 NHS Strike

Summer Hubble is a third-year psychology undergraduate. As part of her module on intergroup conflict, she looked into the October 2014 NHS strike.

On 13th October 2014 NHS staff including nurses, midwives and paramedics took part in a four hour strike over pay (Triggle, 2014a). Six trade unions took part with a total of 410,480 union members in England and Northern Ireland potentially striking. The strike was in protest to the refusal of a 1% increase in pay. However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that the proposed increase would result in the loss of 4,000 nurses in the year 2015 and 10,000 nurses in the year 2016 (BBC News Health, 2014). I’d like to examine two social-psychological theories, relative deprivation and social identity theory, in explaining the antecedents for this conflict.

Relative Deprivation (RD) was first proposed by Stouffer et al. in 1949 (Stouffer et al., 1949; as cited in Walker & Smith, 2002). The theory states that if an individual (egoistic RD) or group (fraternal RD) believes they do not have what they deserve in comparison to other groups there will be feelings of anger and resentment (Smith, Pettigrew, Pippin, & Bialosiewicz, 2011). This process occurs in three stages. The first stage is a comparison, the second is a cognitive appraisal leading to the perception that the individual or group is at a disadvantage and the third is the assessment that this disadvantage is unfair. This assessment of fairness is important as an individual or group can be disadvantaged compared to another and perceive it as just, in which case RD does not occur. Walker and Smith (2002) state that “people’s reactions to objective circumstances depend on their subjective comparisons” (p.1).

In the case of the NHS strike, the staff felt that they were disadvantaged in terms of pay compared to the rate of inflation, which was 2% when talks began and 1.2% in September, just before the strike. Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, clearly demonstrated that the experience of RD had occurred, as she stated, “it feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them [MPs] and another rule for everybody else” (Triggle, 2014a, para. 31). This remark refers to the pay rise of 11.5% for MP’s, which was quoted by Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal Collage of Nursing (Triggle, 2014b). Prof. Warwick also stated, “at a time when MPs are set for a 10% pay hike, we’re told that midwives don’t deserve even a below-inflation 1% rise” (Triggle, 2014a, para. 30). This statement demonstrates one of the six preconditions for RD, as proposed by Crosby (1976; as cited in Sweeney, McFarlin & Inderrieden, 1990). Crosby’s (1976; as cited in Sweeney et al., 1990) model of RD has been used by many researchers in organisational behaviour and been found to have many of the same subjective predictors as does satisfaction with income (Sweeney et al., 1990).

Sweeney, McFarlin and Inderrieden (1990) conducted four studies to further investigate if Crosby’s (1976; as cited in Sweeney et al., 1990) preconditions for RD are useful for explaining pay satisfaction. They found empirical evidence in support of this hypothesis and note that social comparisons of similar others are particularly important. This can be seen in the case of the NHS strike, as further to the pay discrepancy between NHS staff and MPs (Triggle, 2014b, para. 13):

data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the RCN shows that the amount spent on executive directors, who sit on the boards of NHS trusts, has grown by an average of 6.1% in the last two years compared to the 1.6% extra nurses, health visitors and midwives have got.

Social identity theory (SIT) could also have played a part as an antecedent for the conflict. SIT states that part of the self-concept is defined by the social groups individuals belong to (Trepte, 2006). Tajfel (1979; as cited in Trepte, 2006) suggested four underlying principles of SIT. These are social categorisation, social comparison, social identity and self-esteem. Social categorisation is a cognitive tool to help us make sense of our surroundings; however, the mere categorisation of social groups is enough to create a bias for one’s own group (Billig & Tajfel, 1973; Tajfel & Billig, 1974; Tajfel et al., 1971; as cited in Gaertner & Insko, 2000). Social comparison between one’s own group and other groups then occurs and social identity is formed from this (Trepte, 2006). An individual’s aim is to achieve positive social identity, which also leads to in-group favouritism (Brown, 2000) and competition for a higher status position in the social order (Brown, 2000; Hogg, Terry & White, 1995).

There is much research into social identity within organisations (Haslam, van Knippenberg, Platow & Ellemers, 2003). Ashforth and Mael (1989) explain that an individual’s social identity may derive from the organisation they belong to, their work group, department, union or even lunch group. Although there is little published evidence specifically on the social identity of NHS workers, research has found that they fit with existing literature on organisational social identity (Edwards, 2003). Edwards (2003) conducted a case study and discovered identification with the NHS is mediated by the support it provides for employees and the distinctiveness and attractiveness of the NHS as a place to work. Lancaster Patient Safety Research Unit conducted an analysis of social identity within healthcare workers and found the notion of being part of a team to be emphasised greatly by participants. They conclude that the healthcare professionals in their study reported strong identification with groups within their workplace.

When balloted regarding their opinions on striking, “some 68% [of Unison members] voted in favour of a strike and 88% for industrial action short of a strike” (Triggle, 2014c, para. 10) and “more than 94% of midwives and maternity support workers taking part in a consultation said they would consider strike action” (Gallagher, 2014). These majority votes demonstrate a group norm within NHS workers, which is a thought, feeling or behaviour shared within a group. SIT states that group norms define the group and become internalised for the individual group members so that they actually influence behaviour (Hogg & Reid, 2006). These majority votes for strike action are an example of when this group behaviour is driven towards gaining a better position in the social order, as SIT predicts (Brown, 2000; Hogg, Terry & White, 1995).

Overall, there are two theories from social psychology which explain the reason for the conflict that arose from the dispute over pay. The first and most prominent theory is relative deprivation. Relative deprivation states that conflict arises when a group feels they are unfairly disadvantaged compared to another group (Stouffer et al., 1949; as cited in Walker & Smith, 2002; Smith, Pettigrew, Pippin, & Bialosiewicz, 2011).The NHS staff felt they deserved a 1% pay increase, however despite the 11.5% pay increase MP’s received (Triggle, 2014b), this request was rejected by the Department of Health. The second social-psychological theory that can explain the strike is social identity theory. Social identity theory states that the self-concept is defined by the groups individuals belong to (Trepte, 2006). NHS workers have a social identity (Edwards, 2003) and group norms which shape behaviour (Hogg & Reid, 2006). By striking the staff engaged in competition for a higher social position and a more positive identity, as predicted by social identity theory (Brown, 2000; Hogg et al., 1995).


Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. The Academy of Management Review, 141, 20-39.

BBC News Business. (2014, October 14). Economy tracker: Inflation. BBC News. Retrieved from

BBC News Politics. (2014, March 13). Fresh squeeze on NHS pay sparks union strike warning. BBC News. Retrieved from

Brown, R. (2000). Social identity theory: Past achievements, current problems and future challenges. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30(6), 745-778.

Edwards, M. R. (2003). Disentangling organisational identification: A case study of an NHS trust. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, King’s College London, England.

Gaertner, L., & Insko, C. A. (2000). Intergroup discrimination in the minimal group paradigm: Categorization, reciprocation, or fear? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 791, 77-94.

Gallagher, J. (2014, June 30). Midwives support strike action. BBC News. Retrieved from

Haslam, S. A., van Knippenberg, D., Platow, M. J., & Ellemers, N. (Eds.). (2003).Social identity at work: Developing theory for organizational practice. Hove, England: Psychology Press.

Hogg, M. A., Terry, D. J., & White, K. M. (1995). A tale of two theories: A critical comparison of identity theory with social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58(4), 255-269.

Hogg, M. A., & Reid, S. A. (2006). Social identity, self‐categorization, and the communication of group norms.Communication Theory,161, 7-30.

Lancaster Patient Safety Research Unit. (2014). Professional identity and communication. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from

Smith, H. J., Pettigrew, T. F., Pippin, G. M., & Bialosiewicz, S. (2011). Relative deprivation: A theoretical and meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 163, 203-232. doi:10.1177/1088868311430825

Sweeney, P. D., McFarlin, D. B., & Inderrieden, E. J. (1990). Using relative deprivation theory to explain satisfaction with income and pay level: A multistudy examination. The Academy of Management Journal, 332, 423-436.

Trepte, S. (2006). Society identity theory. In: J. Bryant & P. Varderer (Eds). Psychology of entertainment (pp. 255–271).New York: Routledge.

Triggle, N. (2014a, October 13). NHS staff staging four-hour strike over pay. BBC News. Retrieved from

Triggle, N. (2014b, June 16). Target MPs over pay – nurse leader. BBC News. Retrieved from

Triggle, N. (2014c, September 18). NHS staff vote in favour for strike action. BBC News. Retrieved from

Walker, I., & Smith, H. J. (2002). Fifty years of relative deprivation research. In I. Walker & H. J. Smith (Eds.). Relative deprivation: Specification, development and integration (pp. 1-12). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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Learning Together @ Home

Parents’ support is especially important for children at the beginning of their school life. However, family members are varied in the way they communicate and interact together, which may influence the process of Learning @ Home and child’s future academic achievement.

The purpose of our project is to observe how parents and children interact with each other when working together on homework, looking specifically at the support the parent provides the child. We will also be looking at what impact the home environment has on how the parent and child interact. The study has an international scope, so we will compare how parents and children from different countries complete homework together.

Would you like to help? We are inviting families to take part in this research study to help us understand what makes family learning interactions so important for children’s achievement.

We are looking for mothers whose children are just at the beginning of their school life (Reception year). In order to participate, you must be the mother of a child between 4 and 5 years old. You and your child will both participate in the project. We are aiming to recruit 100 families from various schools.

If you wish to learn more about Learning Together @ Home project or would like to participate with your child please contact me, Ekaterina Cooper, at Our Facebook page is over at and you can find out more about the project at Learning Together @ Home.

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