The eyes have it….

It is increasingly recognised that ‘culture’ shapes our thoughts and behaviours. For example, cultural differences have been reported in eye movement behaviour during complex scene processing; whilst Americans fixate more upon focal objects East-Asians make more eye movements to the background, attentional biases which are fostered by individualistic vs collectivistic modes of thinking.

Recently however, Dr Felicity Wolohan and colleagues at Univeristy of Liverpool have identified distinct eye-movement characteristics that may play a role in contributing to these ‘cultural’ differences. In particular,  approximately 5% of UK participants make “express saccades” (very fast eye movements) compared to approximately 30% of individuals from China. In a recent project Dr Wolohan and colleagues demonstrated that British-born Chinese participants, who are culturally similar to a Caucasian control group, are identical to Chinese–born participants in oculomotor terms. Suggesting culture can’t explain this difference. What if these distinct eye-movement characteristics were contributing or underlying these ‘cultural’ differences reported in other aspects of behaviour, such as scene processing?

These questions will be investigated as part of a project, funded by the Experimental Psychology Society. Dr Wolohan with her undergraduate research intern, Isabelle Ingle will be running a series of experiments to assess this, as well as other aspects of oculomotor control in express saccade makers.

Virtual worlds can have positive impacts on well-being for individuals with physical disabilities

Research conducted within the Department of Psychology has revealed the positive psycho-social outcomes of the virtual world, Second Life, for individuals with physical disabilities. The research, conducted by Dr Linda Kaye and a former EHU Psychology student Camilla Kleban, revealed that the virtual world aided processes such as users’ self-discovery and perceptions of equality, which were found to promote self-esteem and well-being.

The research has just been published in Computers in Human Behavior, and available to view here.

Scholarship for disability awareness champion Shannen

Shannen Dabson

Shannen Dabson

Educational Psychology student Shannen Dabson has refused to let a medical condition dictate her future. Now her commitment to helping others and raising awareness of ‘hidden disabilities’, both locally and nationally, has earned her a Chancellor’s Scholarship from Edge Hill University.

Shannen was a bright, energetic child with a love of sport and a dream to compete in the Olympic Games. Then, aged eight, she was taken ill and within a week her life had changed. She was bed bound and diagnosed with ME, an illness characterised by chronic and debilitating fatigue.

Unable to attend school regularly, Shannen was home schooled by her mother and, aged 12, passed GCSE Maths. With typical determination, Shannen had accumulated 14 GCSEs by the age of 16, only six of which had been achieved in a school environment.

It was her experience during one exam that triggered Shannen’s desire to raise awareness of ‘hidden disabilities’ such as ME.

“I was about to take my GCSE Science exam,” explains Shannen. “I was in a wheelchair at that time, and a teacher wheeled me to the bottom of a flight of steps. She told me that if I couldn’t get myself up the stairs I couldn’t sit the exam. I got a ‘U’.

“The problem is that people with ME, or autism, or a range of other severe conditions, often don’t look disabled so are more likely to experience discrimination. A person with an obvious physical disability would never have been put in that situation and it made me want to do something to stop it happening to other people.”

Shannen has been involved with Tymes Trust, an organisation that supports young ME sufferers, for many years and, aged 11, she was asked to be the Trust’s Young Advocate. She has given talks at numerous events and conferences, presented to medical professionals at the Royal Society of Medicine and regularly represents young people at the House of Lords.

“Being part of the group gave me the courage to face my own problems,” says Shannen. “It also helped me gain a better understanding of what other people are struggling with and ways that I could try and help them.”

Her successful campaign to get schools to admit home schooled children for exams has made it easier and cheaper for children with hidden disabilities, who often have to travel long distances to an exam centre, to gain qualifications. This, and other campaigns, led to Shannen receiving a Jack Petchy award for outstanding service in 2012.

During her A levels, Shannen was extremely ill and had to stop attending Sixth Form. She didn’t let this stop her ambitions and taught herself at home, sitting her exams with a paramedic in attendance. She lost half her body weight and was hospitalised, missing her final exam. Despite these extraordinary circumstances, Shannen passed two A levels, receiving the highest marks in her class, and was accepted onto the Educational Psychology programme at Edge Hill University.

“I’ve loved every second at Edge Hill and I’m constantly grateful for the opportunity to study here,” says Shannen.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard I’d been awarded a scholarship. I didn’t think I’d done enough to deserve it. The other nominees had done so much – I felt like all I’d done was sit at home and be ill. It’s such an honour. ”

Now in her second year, Shannen has just been voted Disabled Students’ Officer in the Students’ Union elections, and is determined to change the way hidden disabilities are perceived at University and beyond.

“I want to use my own experience to help others,” says Shannen. “At the moment doctors diagnose you then basically leave you to fend for yourself. I want to establish a network of support for sufferers that will fill the void between diagnosis and the rest of their lives.

“Being awarded this scholarship has given me the confidence to take this ambition forward, and hopefully, make a difference to other students’ lives.”

Professor Beattie discusses the psychological impact of terrorism

Professor Geoff Beattie was on BBC Breakfast on the 25th November 2014 discussing the psychological response of the public to the rise in the terror threat to a “severe level”. He discussed the long-term psychological impact of 9/11 on level of concern about terrorist attack. Professor Beattie then talked about the way in which people appraise risk generally, through which both emotional and cognitive factors are intimately connected in the perception of any risk. Within this, he made reference to the various strategies that people use when they appraise a fear threat as severe but they cannot personally do that much to prevent it, except be vigilant. Prof Beattie then made the point that they often use a variety of defence mechanisms to deal with the fear itself, to differentiate national threat from personal threat, and this seems to work for many.

The discussion will be soon available to view on BBC iplayer here

Watch: highlights from the 2014 Chancellor’s Lecture

Is there a reason why teenagers take more risks, and are more influenced by their peers, than adults? Is the adolescent brain different to that of an adult? Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, answewred these questions and more at this year’s Chancellor’s Lecture The Teenage Brain.

The annual Chancellor’s Lecture is one of the major events in the University’s calendar. Chancellor Professor Tanya Byron, a chartered clinical psychologist, journalist, author and broadcaster introduced lecture and chaired the Q&A session.

Interviews with Professors Blakemore and Byron, along with some highlights from the lecture, can be seen in the video:

Implicit bias in job recruitment- what are the issues?

Professor Geoff Beattie recently gave an invited keynote address to the Asian Fire Service Association annual conference held in Stoke-on-Trent.  The subject of his talk was implicit bias in job recruitment linked to the ethnicity of applicants, and how to combat it.  Here Professor Beattie outlined some of his research covered in ‘Our Racist Heart: An Exploration of Unconscious Prejudice in Everyday Life.’ (Routledge, 2013).