Category Archives: Research

How can psychology help you win the lottery?

So, how do you win the lottery? …Well, you pick the winning numbers, of course. OK so how do you go about picking the winning numbers? Well, perhaps what you should do is practice learning the numbers that come up so that this information can have a reverse time effect enabling you to literally precall the winning numbers. This might sound bizarre, even impossible (though you should always be wary of any scientist who bandies around the word impossible) but there are some intriguing findings that suggest such effects may be possible.

Precall is an aspect of precognition, also referred to as presentiment, all of which suggest that some future event can have an effect on behaviour in the here and now. Whilst this may sound impossible, researchers have found some very interesting effects. For instance, Dean Radin found that people can exhibit a physiological response prior to the exposure of an emotionally charged picture. More recently Daryl Bem caused a stir by reporting a suite of nine experiments focusing on what he called ‘retroactive influence’. Eight of these experiments showed that some future event was capable of influencing present behaviour.

These findings intrigued me and I wanted to test them for myself. So, I managed to convince the Society for Psychical Research to part-fund a small project that would look at precognition using a repetition priming paradigm. Repetition priming is a nice way of measuring memory that doesn’t rely on conscious recall. You simply present a stimulus (in this instance a word) and the participant responds to it. Later, you present the same stimulus in between other words not seen before and what you find is that people respond faster and more accurately to the repeated word despite the fact that they don’t need to consciously think about it.

I found that repeatedly presenting a word in the future did not influence the speed of people’s responses in the past but did influence their accuracy. That is, people were more accurate to respond to words that they would see again in the future compared those they wouldn’t see again. You can read about these results in my forthcoming paper published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (Exploring precognition using a repetition priming paradigm).

So, does this mean that it’s possible to see into the future? Well, a good scientist remains open minded and critical, and this result could simply be a random blip in the data. However, I don’t want to be accused of using Occam’s broom to sweep aside inconvenient findings, so it’s back to the drawing board for me to devise another experiment to test for such effects. Meanwhile, if you find memorising lottery numbers leads to a win don’t forget where you heard it first – funding scientific research is always such a worthy cause… 

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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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Plotted sustainability: For Mind, Body and the Environment

To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves

Mahatma Gandhi

It is becoming increasingly recognized that the natural environment, in its many forms, may provide health and wellbeing benefits to people who have some degree of contact with it.

Dig for Plenty

Allotments have been an integral part of working communities for many years, providing social, economic and ecological benefits.

While there has been a recent trend towards greater interest in allotments, there is a paucity of empirical research exploring the value of gardening for enhancing wellbeing in non-clinical populations. Generally, the wellbeing benefits and social influences on such activities are not well known, albeit with some notable and recent exceptions showing that allotment gardeners are significantly more active and report higher levels of life satisfaction than their non-allotment holding neighbours.

Recent research is beginning to uncover the range of benefits derived from the experiential nature of gardening. In one case, these benefits mirror the psychological needs espoused by Maslow in his hierarchy of human needs – from food as basic physiological requirement through to those higher needs involving transpersonal interactions.

In a forthcoming paper, appearing in the Journal Ecopsychology this month, a mixed methodological study has determined that allotment gardeners’ wellbeing and quality of life were significantly higher than other people’s. (The wellbeing of allotment gardeners: A mixed methodological study) Importantly, analysis showed that the amount of time gardeners spent on their allotment during summer predicted a particular type of wellbeing called eudemonic wellbeing – one that entails some degree of meaning. This relationship was fully mediated by feelings of connectedness to nature. Essentially, it suggests that wellbeing is achievable through the activity of gardening via developing a sense of meaningful connection to the environment.

In addition, four themes emerged from the qualitative data. Allotments provided: a space of one’s own, meaningful activity, increased feelings of connectedness, and improved physical and mental health. Further development of a broad evidence base for the psychological benefits of allotment gardening have great potential to provide both a justifiable argument to increase, for instance, sustainability through provision of ‘green space’ (particularly within urban areas) and the provision of a low-cost community based intervention to tackle a range of psychological health issues – two birds with one stone.

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Young children using technology

Has a toddler got your iPad?

Touchscreen technology has become ever-present in our daily lives. As adults, our smartphones and tablets are constant companions that we use for communicating with others, accessing information, organising our commitments and, of course, having fun and relaxing. The [digital] world is literally at our fingertips.

Touchscreens are also very appealing to young children. Toddlers and pre-schoolers can find traditional technologies frustrating and difficult to use. For example, using a mouse and keyboard requires an understanding of cause and effect; that an action initiated in one place (e.g., on keyboard) causes an effect to take place in another (on screen). This type of understanding, or mental representation, is lacking in children under the age of about 2 or 3 years old.

In comparison, touchscreen interaction does not require this same level of understanding; the effect of one’s action can be seen in the same location it takes place. There is an immediate action-feedback sequence – arguably the same type of feedback children get when playing with real objects.

So, if a toddler you know won’t give up your iPad it is likely because they are experiencing a sense of mastery within the digital world. After all, one of the primary ways in which infants learn about the world around them is through sensory exploration – in this case using touch to explore their surroundings.

But how does this affect development?

Of course just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. Understanding why young children enjoy using touchscreen technology is interesting, but perhaps a more important question is what effect does ‘screentime’ have on longer term development?

An article published last month in the journal Pediatrics undertook a review of all published research which addressed this question. In particular, the authors examined the effects of using interactive media on young children’s educational, social and emotional development. Although the article resulted in some sensational reporting (see Telegraph and Guardian articles) the overwhelming conclusion was that there simply isn’t enough research to provide definitive answers. In fact the article only cited seven published studies in the area and urgently called for more research.

Current research at Christ Church

My own research here at Christ Church is addressing some of these very issues. I have been working in collaboration with CBeebies Interactive looking at how children under the age of 3 years use touchscreens and in particular what effect touchscreen play might have on focused attention. I measured children’s attention span before and after they played with a touchscreen tablet, and also before and after they played with toys and then compared this to a baseline measure of attention. Children were divided into two groups; one group played with the tablet first and the other played with toys first.

Across 18 children (aged 10 months to 3 years old) there was no immediate difference in the attention shown between the two groups (tablet versus toy play). In other words, playing with interactive media on iPads did not have a negative effect on immediate focused attention within this sample of children.

Alone we cannot draw too many conclusions from just a single study; larger scale research is needed. Also, this study looked at the immediate effect straight after playing with iPads or toys; future research is needed to look at the possible long-term effects. However, it is a first step in gathering evidence that can begin to address the question of the effects of interactive media on young children’s development.

Follow @CCCUPsych for further updates on this research.

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Psychology Research Seminar Series

We are running a series of research seminars over the next two terms which feature both invited speakers as well as presentations from staff and our postgraduate research students.

We are pleased to announce our first seminar will be taking place on Wednesday 4th February from 1-2pm in Lg39.

Dr Alaster Yoxall from the Sheffield Hallam University will be talking about his research using eye tracking as a tool to enhance packaging design.

Seeing the Detail: The use of eye tracking to aid the co-design of packaging for an ageing population

This will be the first of several seminars on eye tracking. This first seminar has been organised by our Health and Well-Being research group.

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Research Excellence Framework: Measuring Our Success

So what is the REF?

Recently the new REF results were published. “What is the REF?” I hear some of you say. Well, unless you work in a University, then the chances are that you have not heard of the REF, or if you have, you don’t really know much about it. This post will hopefully make things a little clearer for you!

The REF stands for the Research Excellence Framework and it is a national review of the research conducted at UK Universities. This recent review was newsworthy because, for the first time, the research was also judged on its impact.

This leads us to a further question: What is impact? The Research Councils UK (RCUK) defines research impact as “the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy”. So although research can have an “impact” in the academic world, what is really key here is the impact outside of academia, e.g. has it made a difference in the real world?

Why is the REF important?

The government allocates a substantial amount of public funding for research conducted at Universities. Therefore, it is understandable that they want to ensure that this research is of a high quality and that is of benefit to society. So the REF assesses each University in the UK and then later in the year the results from this assessment are used to calculate how much funding that University will receive. It is important to note that this kind of review is not completely new; in fact, national reviews of this kind have been conducted roughly every five years since 1986. However, what was is new this year is the inclusion of impact.

Arguably, the inclusion of impact into the criteria can only be a good thing for the future of research. The main reason that I pursued a career in Psychology was to try to understand issues within society. In my case, I research bullying within schools. I think it is extremely important that what I find in my research feeds back into schools in order to help try and tackle this problem.

What were our results?

81-98% of research undertaken and submitted to the 2014 REF by staff in Psychology across a range of units of assessment has been recognised as world leading or internationally significant. CCCU’s submissions to the REF 2014 improved upon the results from the previous RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) review. This represents growth in our established research areas as well as new, emerging areas of research excellence. Well done to all staff involved!

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MSc Psychology (conversion course) Coming Soon!

From September 2015, we will be expanding our taught provision with a brand new master’s level conversion course for those who would like to pursue a career in psychology but don’t yet hold a BPS-accredited psychology degree.

Currently in the process of validation and accreditation, this programme will confer eligibility for the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) with the British Psychological Society (BPS). Graduate Basis is a requirement for vocational training in psychology (e.g. Clinical Psychology; Forensic Psychology).

This conversion course can also be used as a stepping stone onto postgraduate research in psychology (e.g. PhD). However, the MSc Psychology (conversion course) at CCCU goes well beyond the core areas of psychology. The training in research methods will offer students the opportunity to engage in sophisticated, postgraduate level-research under the themes of our team: Society & Environment; Learning & Development; Cognition & Creativity; Health & Wellbeing. These modules will immerse students in current research by the Psychology Team and, together with their project, offer them the chance to actively contribute to that research.

In addition, students will receive career-orientated sessions, led by qualified practitioners, to help them along their chosen career path. To learn more about this course, please visit: www.canterbury.ac.uk/psychology

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Carols, Folk and Community

At this time of year, as the school’s resident music psychologist, life is normally all about singing and playing carols. Sheffield is my adopted northern home, having trained, worked and lived there for 13 years. “Oooop” north, as those down here say, we have a lot of local traditions; Sheffield carols has being going on since the 18th century—it is one of Yorkshire’s best.

For a few hundred years, Sheffielders have gathered in local pubs (particularly in the North West of the city down into Derbyshire) and sung Christmas Carols. ‘So what?’ you might say, ‘I sing Christmas Carols at home whilst prepping the brussels.’ But these, dear southerners, are a very special, quite magical and an entirely different community experience.

Sometimes these carols are a cappella, sometimes accompanied by a brass band or the pub’s organ, but they are always complemented by a pint or two. Carol sessions begin in November and are mostly riotous, boozy and packed into the back room of a pub. Done this way, they aren’t really for listening to; they are for experiencing, joining in, and they are a life-loving event (remember that when you look at the clips!). As a psychologist interested in how we can enhance health and wellbeing through music, it is the sense of community, shared meaning, and the physicality of singing and engaging in that experience that interests me. It is quite amazing, unique, and makes me proud to be a northerner (as I’m sure it does for everyone who attends these events).

The music, however, is not your traditional ‘While Shepherds Watched’, or ‘Ding-Dong Merrily’. It has often been created locally, over hundreds of years. By locally, I mean tiny enclaves of Sheffield: Bradfield, Stannington, Loxely, Dungworth, Oughtibridge. Many of these areas will vary their words, melody, tempo and harmony depending on which location, or indeed which pub you attend. Local compositions and ancient Christmas songs are standard and our sanitised contemporary ‘standards’ are shelved, for the love of communal singing.

Sometimes songs work in a sort of fuge, or call and response manner:

Sometimes words to a known carol (e.g. While Shepherds Watched) are placed over a known tune (e.g. Cranbrook/On Ilkley Moor):

My personal favourite is Diadem: (yes there are elements of harmony, but by a this time of night, they are simply forgotten)

So many elements of this experience are fascinating as a music psychologist: How has this tradition continued and remained part of the South Yorkshire culture? How do the energy and connections (sense of group cohesion and group bonding) enable you to feel pride in being a Sheffielder or northerner? Why is it that, when the majority of traditional choirs or singing groups are made of women, these events contain the whole spectrum of the family, and particularly middle aged men?

There is something wonderful and unexpected about an unlikely, hearty bunch of folk singing the lines ‘behold the grace appears! The promise is fulfilled’ or ‘Hail hail hail, smiling morn, smiling morn.’

Happy Christmas everyone!

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