Written by Sophia Thomas, Psychology Schools and Colleges Champion.
I joined Staffordshire University in July 2020
as the psychology departments Schools and Colleges Champion.
I graduated from Staffordshire University with BSc (hons) Psychology and Criminology in 2016 and from the University of Gloucestershire MSc Forensic Psychology in 2018. I am now studying at Hartpury University for my MRes Anthrozoology (which is the study of human-animal interactions), and I am about to start my dissertation, looking at the therapeutic effects of interacting with animals in young people/adults.
I worked as a community youth worker between
2016 and 2019 with children aged 5 – 16, supporting on the outdoor education
program and running the community groups, small target groups and holiday
clubs. Between 2017 – 2018 I also worked as a Family Support Worker at HMP
Leyhill and have been working as a community carer and school cover supervisor
from November 2019 until joining Staffordshire University.
I am very excited to start visiting schools and colleges to run sessions on psychology at Staffs!
Fun facts about me:
I have a house rabbit called Tonic, soon to be joined by a Tortoise (yet to be named!).
I have spent several nights with a baby baboon sleeping in my bed when I was volunteering in Namibia at an animal sanctuary (so I now have the very useless knowledge of how to put a nappy on a baboon to make it less messy having one for a sleepover!).
I was an extra in the film The Libertine with Johnny Depp and Johnny Vegas when I was 10. They were filming a scene in a village near where I grew up and we ended up nearby on the day of filming so myself and my brother got to be extras.
Are you a school or college and would like to arrange a talk, workshop, visit? Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Research Assistant position during coronavirus, check!
Who would have thought with all the difficulties of 2020 I would complete my degree and get the chance to be a Research Assistant with Staffs! Coronavirus couldn’t have been a better opportunity really, being able to investigate children’s experiences of the pandemic through collecting their drawings.
This opportunity appeared when my Level 6 Project Supervisor Dr Sarah Rose emailed me to say she was involved in planning some research into children’s experiences of coronavirus and if the ethics and funding were approved would I like to be their Research Assistant? Of course! What an incredible opportunity!
When the project was approved we had our first virtual meeting as a project team, over Microsoft Teams! I got to meet and discuss the project with Dr Richard Jolley, Dr Claire Barlow, Dr Romina Vivaldi and of course Dr Sarah Rose. All of the meetings and communication took place online via email and Microsoft Teams, having always had face-to-face meetings throughout university this was a very odd change! Despite a few device and connectivity issues we managed, and everything worked out.
As the project began I was given responsibility for a number of tasks including background research, recruitment (both sourcing contacts and contacting those contacts), responding to queries and writing up the background research to begin forming the report’s introduction. Recruitment for the project was aimed at the whole of the UK so an important part of my role was to reach out to organisations, schools and social media groups from across the UK. This was difficult due to the varying school term times of the four countries and the general closing down of society due to the pandemic.
Once recruitment was on its way I was able to get into the background research in preparation for the introduction. Having taken the Children’s Drawings module at Level 6 I already had an understanding of how children’s drawings are investigated and analysed and so I could focus on research more specific to the project such as research that focused on children’s drawings of illness, disease outbreaks and trauma. When conducting the background research searching I was able to use all of the literature searching skills I have gained over my 3 years at Staffs. If you are looking for an easy way to gather research with all the key information in one place I recommended putting it into a table, a tip that Dr Sarah Rose shared with me!
If you get the opportunity to do any sort of Research Assistant position, go for it! It’s great work experience, it looks amazing on your CV and it’s fascinating to be able to work alongside the lecturers you see all the time!
I am Sarah Rose, the Course Leader for the BSc Psychology and Child Development Award and while I have been at home with my children, I have been having a go at recreating some classic cognitive psychology experiments with them. Today we had a go at some of the classical Piagetian Tasks. These tasks are particularly suitable for children between the ages of about 4 and 8 years old. We would love to hear how your children got on with these experiments, please tweet us @StaffsPsych or add your comments to this post!
Jean Piaget developed an influential theory of cognitive development, suggesting that as children grow older the way that they understand and think about the world alters. He was one of the first the argue that the way that young children understand the world is not just an immature version of adult understanding, instead he argued that it was fundamentally different. He developed a series of tasks, known as conservation tasks, which demonstrated this. I have had a go at recreating these tasks at home with my 4- and 6-year-old. If you cannot load any of the videos within the blog piece please watch them here.
Task 1: Conservation of quantity
Materials: Traditionally this task is done with water, but to make tidying up easier we used rice. In addition to this some plastic glasses (ideally transparent) of different shapes and sizes, although two of them need to be the same size, are needed.
First, put an approximately equal amount of rice in the two glasses that are the same size.
Ask your child if there is the same amount of rice in both.
If they say ‘no’ encourage them to move a little from one to the other until they are happy that there is the same amount in both.
Once they are happy with this ask them to pour the rice from one of the glasses into another one (ideally one that is noticeably taller and narrower, or fatter and wider).
Now ask them if there is the same amount in both glasses, or if one glass now has more rice in than the other.
You might be surprised by their answer, you could ask them to explain it to you.
Results: According to Piaget, and also my recreation of this experiment with my own children, under the age of about 6-years might struggle with this, and believe that by pouring the rice from one container to another the amount has actually changed. This suggests that their mental representation and understanding of quantity might be quite different to ours. I was interested to see how my 6-year old’s understanding was clearly still shifting and developing as he explained why it looked like there was more in one glass than the other but actually it was the same amount.
This is how my two children got on:
Task 2: Conservation of number
Materials: 14 counters of equal size, we used pennies as I could not find the counters. You might also like a Teddy Bear to act as an assistant!
Place the counters in two rows so that both rows have the same number of counters and they are equally spaced.
Ask your child if both rows have the same number of counters (hopefully, they will agree that they do but if they do not, just remove a counter from both rows until they agree that there is the same number).
Now either you, or that cheeky Teddy assisting you, could move the counters in one of the rows so that they are spaced further apart. This will make one of the rows appear to be longer.
Now ask your child whether there are the same number of counters in both rows, or whether one row has more counters than the other.
Again, you might be surprised by their answer and you could ask them to explain their thinking to you.
Results: Again, children under the age of about 6-years old may struggle with this. It has been found that making slight adaptions to Piaget’s original task, such as having a naughty Teddy assist, can help children of a younger age to pass this task. It was still a bit tricky for my 4-year-old though!
Task 3: Conservation of mass
Materials: Two balls of play dough that are different colours. A surface that you can roll the play dough on.
Instructions: Take the two balls of play dough and roll them into balls. These two balls should be the same size, and you should check with your child to make sure that they think they are the same size too! If they do not adjust the size by removing small amounts from the one that they think is biggest until they are happy that they are both the same size. Now, while your child watches, take one of the balls and roll it so that it becomes more of a cylinder shape. Once you have done this ask your child whether both shapes have the same amount of playdough, or whether one has more than the other. Again, you might be surprised by their answer and you could ask them to explain their thinking to you.
Results: Children younger than about 7-years-old are likely to tell you that the amount has changed. Piaget found that children did not show adult understanding all his conservation tasks at the same point, rather as they developed, they would ‘pass’ some before they passed others. This task involving mass is often passed later than those involving quantity or number. Again I found it really interesting to see the difference in my 4 and 6-year olds understanding.
We would love to hear how your children got on with these experiments. Please tweet us @StaffsPsych!
If you have not been able to view the videos within the blog piece you can find them all here.
Psychology and Me is a fun and interactive evening where you will be given the opportunity to get hands-on with some of our state-of-the-art research resources. You will also be able to hear about the latest research findings from a variety of experts working in psychology.
Katie is a critical social, health and community psychologist. Therefore, Katie draws upon a variety of perspectives when looking into different topic areas.
What kind of approaches does Katie take?
Drawing upon her perspectives
Katie uses social representation theory, qualitative measures and action
research approaches when designing and analysing her research.
But what does this mean?
The foundations to Katie’s
research enable her to:
understanding of the mechanisms behind health and social inequalities;
positive social change.
Katie’s bisexuality and health promotion research:
Katie approaches her research into the LGBTQ+ community with an apolitical stance. Katie worked alongside colleagues from other institutions on the research project she talked about. This was inspiring as it allowed people to work together to design and analyse the research project so that it was considered from many points of view. You can read national reports on bisexuality and health promotion from Stonewalland the Government.
How many participants?
840 individuals from around the globe participated in Katie’s research. This led to over a thousand pages of open-ended survey responses!
Key themes from the research:
Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. This is the process of reading through people’s responses and drawing on commonalities and differences across the data set. These responses are explored to see whether any key messages can be found from within the data.
Katie is continuing to
analyse the dataset. To date she has found that sexual identities mostly hinge
upon the degree of empowerment or oppression experienced within the social
institutions in an individual’s life. She also found a strong theme across
participants that the pursuit of wellbeing was the ultimate goal.
Key messages from the talk:
Bisexuality and health promotion is a key area for research due to the findings from recent reports because:
Lower mental health compared with other LGBTQ+ groups.
Sense of isolation from LGBT and straight communities.
Working in research teams allows Psychologists to conduct research from a range of perspectives and approaches.
Thank you to Katie for sharing her research with us and we look forward to hearing more about the research in the future!
Are you intrigued to find out more about how the Digital World that surrounds all of us might be influencing you? The Psychology Department is excited to be hosting an ESRC Festival of Social Science event ‘Digital World and Me’ on the evening of the 7th November.
There will be three short TED-style talks in which you will discover cutting edge research about the internet, television and gaming. These will be followed by refreshments and a range of interactive demonstrations in which you can find out more about the way that you interact with the digital world and the impact that it may be having on you.
Thursday 7th November, 18.30 – 20.30, Beacon Building, Staffordshire University
The PsyPAG 34th Annual Conference took place from Tuesday 23rd – Friday 26th July 2019 at Sheffield Hallam University. This year, the conference theme was to promote the health and wellbeing of delegates while they had the opportunity to meet, network and share their research with peers. I was lucky enough to attend along with fellow PhD researcher Tanya Schrader where we shared our research on belief in conspiracy theories.
PsyPAG is the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group and is funded by the Research Board of the British Psychological Society. PsyPAG is run purely by postgraduates for the benefit of postgraduate psychology students at UK institutions. Each year PsyPAG organises an annual conference where, across three days, psychology postgraduate students meet, share their work via oral and poster presentations, provide feedback, attend workshops and keynotes, and build support systems and even collaborations! This was my second year attending PsyPAG and it was a fantastic conference where I could share the first few studies of my PhD, receive feedback from peers, and build friendships with fellow postgraduate students.
A highlight of the conference was the keynote presentations, thoughtfully selected by the organisation committee to align with the conference theme of promoting health and wellbeing. The first keynote was from Professor Sir Chris Husbands, who discussed academic careers in the 21st century. We were urged to think about what the big issues were that our research was interested in and to use this to maximise our impact. Cognitive Psychologist, Dr Dan Smith, told the story of their research, detailing a series of elegant experiments probing the relationship between the motor system and cognitive processes.
The second day of the conference began with a keynote from Professor
Madelynne Arden, who discussed their impressive body of work exploring adherence
to medication in Cystic Fibrosis, using a behaviour science approach to
intervention research. Dr Emma Norris then shared her journey from PhD to
postdoctoral researcher and discussed the differences moving from independent
research in a PhD programme to working on a large multi-disciplinary project. The
final keynote was from Dr Jennie Drabble, a Forensic Psychologist who also
discussed life after PhD. Dr Drabble emphasised the importance of taking time
for yourself outside of academia and motivated the room to help change the
culture of academia from within.
A further highlight of PsyPAG 2019 was the workshop; ‘Bringing Reproduceable Science to the People – The Story of Change’ produced and delivered by Olly Robertson and Dr Jon Sutton. This workshop was focussed on how we can best communicate our research to wider audiences in an interesting and accurate way. The onus was put on researchers to take opportunities to communicate their work and we discussed how to do this with both accuracy and elegance. Then we had 5 minutes and no more than 10 sentences to summarise our PhD research and then share it with the group – quite a challenge! I took a lot away from this session and it was so helpful to receive advice from the editor of The Psychologist (albeit a bit daunting!).
Tanya and I shared our research in the ‘Social Psychology’ symposium. Tanya kicked the session off with her fascinating work exploring the darker side of conspiracy theories. Tanya is interested in potential predictors and consequences of conspiracy belief, particularly around violence and crime. Using hierarchical regression analysis, Tanya has found that conspiracy beliefs play a unique role in predicting acceptance of violence. Tanya is clearly passionate about this subject and used several real-life examples of the potential violent consequences of conspiracy beliefs. I then presented the first two studies of my PhD, exploring the role of perceived social norms in motivating conspiracy beliefs. Currently, my research is showing that we over-estimate the extent to which other people endorse conspiracy theories and we are significantly influenced by the perceived beliefs others. My next job is to try to use this knowledge reduce belief in dangerous conspiracy theories – which is proving to be most difficult!
There were several excellent presentations throughout the three days at PsyPAG and it is always exciting to see what your peers are studying. Madeleine Pownall, a first year PhD student from The University of Leeds explained a theory she is currently working on to ask; can positive self-objectification diffuse stereotype threat effects in women? Madeleine has amalgamated three theories in social psychology with sophistication and is now developing a body of research to test these ideas. It was inspiring to see such innovative ideas from your peers! Another stand out presentation was from Ed Noon from Sheffield Hallam University who is investigating how adolescents use social media, particularly Instagram and how this can influence social comparisons and thus identity development.
The organisers from Sheffield Hallam University, Suzy Hodgson, Martine
Lamb and Nikki Dean Marshall, were incredible and did such a fantastic job this
year, so thank you very much! I am very grateful to have attended PsyPAG 2019
and to have the opportunity to share my research.
Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on TRT World’s Roundtable television programme discussing the psychology and consequences of beliefs in conspiracy theories as part of a discussion panel. Dr Jolley discussed some of his recent research into the potential negative effects of believing in conspiracy theories with other leading experts researching why individuals believe in conspiracies.
You can view the Roundtable programme featuring Dr Jolley via the below Youtube video:
“I really enjoyed attending the Midlands Health Psychology Conference in Derby this year and am grateful to the University for providing me with the opportunity. I found the research presentations most beneficial, as they were a great way of demonstrating the breadth of topics covered by Health Psychology and helped me to understand the research process from beginning to end. The presentations gave me some exciting ideas for my own project next year. It was a great opportunity to network with fellow students and Health Psychologists, who offered tips and peer support whilst completing my own professional training. This conference is a must if you are considering a career in Health Psychology. I will look forward to returning again next year hopefully to present some of my own work!”
“We really enjoy attending the MHPN conference each year. For many of our MSc students it is their first experience of an academic conference and they gain a lot from listening to the presentations and chatting to the delegates. This year former MSc student Jess Boot presented a poster of her dissertation work, which was well received and has hopefully encouraged some of our current students to consider presenting their work next year. We are already looking forward to next year’s conference!”
MSc Course Co-Directors Dr Sarah Dean & Dr Gemma HURST
Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology
Dr Rob Dempsey (Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Mental Health, Course Leader – MSc Foundations of Clinical Psychology) took part in June 2019’s‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!’public engagement event for schools and colleges. ‘I’m a Scientist’ is a two-week long online event where scientists working in a variety of fields answer a variety of questions posed to them by students in primary and secondary school through to 6th form. Students and scientists discuss topics in a series of online chats, with students also able to post questions online for scientists to answer.
Dr Dempsey took part in the British Psychological Society sponsored Mental Health Zone in June 2019 and was one of six psychologists working in mental health-related fields who took part in a number of live online chats over a two week period. The second week of the contest takes the form of an X-Factor style knock-out competition, where the scientist with the fewest number of student votes is eliminated each day with the victor announced at the end of the week. In a close contest, Dr Dempsey received the highest number of nominations and was crowned winner of the Mental Health Zone:
I was delighted to win I’m a Scientist’s Mental Health Zone, especially as this is based on nominations from students we chatted to over a two week period. The event is a great way for students of various ages to interact with scientists working in various fields and have their questions answered about our research and work in Mental Health. I hope that we managed to inspire some of the students to pursue careers working in Mental Health, and personally I hope that some will consider studying Psychology at A-Level and Degree level and pursuing careers in Psychology and Mental Health
Dr Rob Dempsey, Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Mental Health
Dr Dempsey wins a prize of £500 to spend on public engagement activities and is planning on producing a free video resource with supporting materials for use by high school and college teachers – the aim being to highlight why psychological approaches to understanding mental health-related issues are needed and how students can pursue careers in this area. Dr Dempsey conducts research focusing on understanding the psychological pathways implicated in the experience of common mental health-related complaints, and is hoping that this resource will help others to pursue similar careers in this area.