World Breastfeeding Week 2019 – New research understanding mothers’ experiences of breastfeeding

By Dr Sarah Dean (Health Psychologist & Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology).

Dr Sarah Dean

A large amount of research has shown that breastfeeding has several health benefits for both the parent and the child. For example, mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop conditions such as ovarian cancer, breast cancer and diabetes, and breastfeeding protects infants from a range of health problems and illness. Benefits can continue across the lifespan with breastfed individuals having lower rates of obesity and diabetes when they are adolescents and adults (WHO, NHS).

Breastfeeding can also help with bonding and attachment and when women have positive experiences with breastfeeding it can support their mental health.

Lots of people are surprised to learn that the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and that breastfeeding continues alongside appropriate complementary food until the child is aged 2 years and beyond!

Unfortunately, even though a lot of new mums would like to breastfeed their babies, many find it difficult. There are various different things that can make breastfeeding hard, for example, finding it painful, being unsure if baby is getting enough milk, not wanting to breastfeed in public, having a lack of support, feeling worried that other people might have negative views towards breastfeeding and not being able to carry on breastfeeding when going back to work.

At the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, here at Staffordshire University, we are carrying out research to try and understand more about people’s experiences of feeding their children so that we can work towards removing some of these barriers. This will hopefully mean that more women, who want to, can breastfeed for longer and more women could consider breastfeeding as a realistic option.

Staffordshire University Psychology Breastfeeding Research:

We have a growing number of staff and students carrying out research into breastfeeding.

Dr. Amy Burton, Dr. Jenny Taylor, Dr. Alison Owen and myself are currently involved in a study exploring the experiences of mums who are breastfeeding a child over the age of 1 year. In this exciting research mums took pictures of their breastfeeding experiences and were then interviewed about these. So many people wanted to take part that we are also collecting additional pictures and information online! We are currently planning the next phase of the research, where we will develop and evaluate an intervention to help change and improve people’s attitudes towards breastfeeding.

Images taken by mothers for our breastfeeding research

Sarah is working on a joint project with Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology graduate Dr Sarah Thurgood, to explore the experiences that new Mums in Stoke have of feeding their babies. This research is important because the UK has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world and Stoke-on-Trent has low rates compared to other areas of the country. Sarah Thurgood is also working with Jenny and Amy to publish her doctorate research that explored the breastfeeding support experiences of first time mothers.

Alison and MSc by Applied Research Graduate Alex Morley-Hewitt recently published a paper that reviewed research into body image and breastfeeding (click here to view the published paper). They found that women who had negative feelings towards their bodies were less likely to start breastfeeding and those who did were less likely to carry on breastfeeding compared to women with more positive feelings towards their bodies.

Another Masters student, on our MSc Foundations of Clinical Psychology course, Lucy Pudsey, is working with Sarah and Jenny to write up her dissertation research that explored the experiences of women who breastfeed a child for over 12 months.

We are keen for more of our UG and PG students to join us in researching breastfeeding!


World Breastfeeding Week 2019

For more information about this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, which runs each year from 1st to 7th August 2019, please visit the WHO website (click here).


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Staffs Health Psychology team visit the 2019 Midlands Health Psychology Network Conference

By Dr Sarah Dean & Dr Gemma Hurst (Senior Lecturers in Health Psychology)

Staff and students once again enjoyed their trip to the Midlands Health Psychology Network Conference which this year was held in Derby. A mixture of students from our MSc in Health Psychology and Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology attended the MHPN Conference, with MSc graduate Jessica Boot delivering an excellent poster presentation on her dissertation research. There was an interesting programme of posters and presentations and some great interactive workshops too!

Part time MSc student Vicky says:

“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!”

Health Psychology staff and students at this year’s MHPN conference

“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

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Body Image & Love Island: Dr Alison Owen discusses on BBC Radio Stoke

Dr Alison Owen

Dr Alison Owen (Lecturer in Health Psychology; Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s Lucas Yeoman’s evening show discussing her body image research ahead of the new series of Love Island.

Love Island, a reality TV series, has attracted controversy over its suggested negative effects on body image amongst men and women, as well as media reports of poor mental health and deaths by suicide amongst former contestants.

Dr Owen discussed what body image is, how it may be influenced by social media and representations of body shapes presented on popular media, and discussed some of her ongoing studies researching the effects of positive and negative body image ideals on a variety of health-related behaviours.

You can listen to Dr Owen’s interview via the BBC Sounds website and app – a link to the programme can be found below:

BBC Sounds: Lucas Yeomans – BBC Radio Stoke (3.6.2019)


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019: New research into masculinity and men’s help seeking behaviours

A new study by Dr Robert Dempsey (Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Mental Health, Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) and Jessie Rocton, a student on the MSc Psychology (Conversion) course, is seeking to understand the psychological factors associated with men’s help-seeking intentions. This research coincides with the Mental Health Foundation‘s 2019 Mental Health Awareness Week, a week-long series of events which aim to improve knowledge of various mental health experiences, reduce stigma, and promote help-seeking amongst those experiencing significant health challenges.

It is well known that men are less likely to seek professional help for a range of health related issues, inclusive of mental and physical health (e.g. Men’s Health Forum), but the reasons for this disparity is not well known. Dr Dempsey’s research focuses on how individual’s perceptions of the social environment influence their mental and physical wellbeing, and he has conducted a number of studies into mental health, experiences of living with diagnoses of various mental health conditions (particularly bipolar disorder), the role of appraisals of the social environment on experiences of suicidality, predictors of substance use behaviours, and how individuals live with and ‘make sense’ of living with complex long-term health conditions. Dr Dempsey’s research is starting to focus on men’s experiences of mental health issues, starting with understanding the factors associated with men’s accessing (or not) of support for ongoing health issues.


Men aged 18 years and above sought for a new study!

The new study by Jessie and Dr Dempsey aims to address a gap in the literature by identifying the role of masculine social norms, self-perceptions and personality traits in the likelihood of seeking help from a variety of sources (ranging from healthcare professions to friends). The researchers are seeking volunteers, men aged 18 years and above, to take part in an anonymous online survey study, and answer a series of validated questionnaires measuring perceptions of masculinity, personality and help-seeking. A summary of the findings from this initial study will be posted on the InPsych once the findings have been published (check back for more details later this year!).

For further details about this online study, please visit the study’s website (click here).


The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire University. The Centre is home to a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines.

For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).

Dr Alison Owen discusses her body image research on BBC Radio Stoke for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

Dr Alison Owen

Dr Alison Owen (Lecturer in Health Psychology; Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s Breakfast Show with John Acres on Monday 13th May discussing body image as part of 2019’s Mental Health Awareness Week. For the 2019 Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation has focused on people’s experience of body image in relation to their psychological wellbeing.

Dr Owen has conducted a number of studies into people’s experiences of positive and negative body image, the impact of appearance-focus on health-related behaviours (e.g. smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol), and the relationship between social media use and body image esteem. You can listen to Dr Owen’s interview via the below BBC Sounds link:

BBC Sounds: BBC Radio Stoke – John Acres Breakfast Show (13.5.2019 – from 52 mins, 45 seconds in)


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

MSc Health Psychology Graduate Wins National Prize for their Dissertation!

By Dr Sarah Dean & Dr Gemma Hurst (Co-Directors, MSc Health Psychology)

As the course directors for the MSc Health Psychology, we are delighted to announce that former Staffordshire University student Sophie Phillips has been awarded the Division of Health Psychology’s MSc Research Project Prize for the best MSc dissertation in the UK!

Her dissertation titled “Do Physical Activity Calorie Expenditure (PACE) Food Labels Help Increase Healthier Food Choices? An Eye-Tracking Investigation” beat off strong competition from candidates at other institutions. Sophie’s prize is £200 toward the registration fee for this year’s Division of Health Psychology Conference and an oral presentation to be delivered at the conference in July at Manchester.

It is really exciting that Sophie has won because our graduate Sarah Higgins was a recipient of this prize in 2016 (click here for details of Sarah’s prize). Having two wins in the past four years is brilliant and really highlights the high quality of work that our students are able to achieve!

Supervisor Dr. Heather Semper commented:

“working with Sophie on her dissertation has been an absolute pleasure, her study was interesting and used novel innovative methodology. The findings of her study have real world implications and could be used to influence decisions about food label content. I am sure she is a rising star – one to watch in the health psychology research field”

Sophie says:

“I am delighted to have been awarded the DHP MSc research project prize. I am very grateful to the Health Psychology team at Staffordshire University for their support throughout the whole of the masters, and for providing me with this wonderful opportunity. I am really looking forward to attending and presenting my work at the DHP conference!”

Sophie is currently carrying out her PhD research at Durham University. This primarily involves exploring options for the measurement of movement-related behaviours (physical activity, sedentary behaviours and sleep) of pre-school children from socio-economically deprived communities. The aim of this research is to develop and evaluate a measurement tool that can be used to assess the movement related behaviours of pre-school children at a population/public health level. As part of her research, Sophie is working alongside the ‘A Better Start’ team, a programme and evaluation with a focus on reducing inequalities and improving the outcomes of children from low socio-economic status backgrounds.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

“Oh, I’m really sorry, the jacket potato took ages to arrive…” Do you feel guilty about taking a lunch break?

By Mike Oliver, Trainee Health Psychologist.

What has the length of time it takes to queue up for a jacket potato got to do with taking breaks at work? For some people, it turns out that it’s a handy way to explain to their colleagues why they’re “late” back from lunch. And by “late”, I don’t mean “late”. All they’ve done is taken a bit longer than they feel comfortable in taking for their lunch break.

How have we got to the point where some people feel guilty about taking their legally allowable break?

Taking a break is good for your health isn’t it? So taking breaks is just common sense isn’t it? It’s certainly not common practice. At the place I work, our latest staff survey told us that 42% of our workforce, either don’t take a lunch break at all or take less than the legally required minimum time of 20 minutes. (Yes, that’s right – it is the law for your employer to allow most workers to take a 20 minute, uninterrupted break, at some point during the day). There appears to be a growing trend nationally for large numbers of people not to take breaks at work, with surveys reporting that between 66% and 82% of workers do not always take their breaks (Bupa, 2015; Mastercard/Ipsos Mori, 2016).

In my research into the psychological and social benefits of taking breaks during the working day (in office settings), I uncovered an amazing set of thoughts and behaviours linked to taking breaks (or not) during the working day. As well as review and meta-analysis of literature in the field, I was curious to find out how people thought about taking breaks.  Putting it simply, I asked groups of office workers at a large employer, the following, deeply insightful, questions:

  • “Do you take your lunch breaks?”
  • “Why?” Or: “Why not?”

Using a combination of my curiosity and a structured way of analysing what people said, I found that:

  • Lots of people feel anxious and guilty about taking breaks
  • Work “wins”. Faced with a choice when they’re really busy, even if someone wants to take a break, then work “wins”
  • If you’ve got a great set of colleagues who all want to take lunch breaks, then guess what… you’ll take your breaks!  And if you don’t have a great set of colleagues, then guess what…?
  • If you choose to take your break at your desk, then people acknowledge that they are “fair game” for being given work to do!
  • It’s not  as simple as 2 groups emerging (those who do, and those who don’t take breaks) – people move from group to group depending on lots of situational factors

I’m now trying to work with these themes to look for ways to change the culture to one where people at least feel more comfortable to take a break if they want to. Clearly, if you have a job, the culture at your workplace will almost certainly be different to the one where I work, but perhaps, this blog might make you think a bit differently. Go on, stop reading this, move away from your screen… and take a break!


Mike will be sharing more about his research into the consequences of taking breaks (or not) during the working day at Psychologist in the Pub on Wednesday 1st May at The Glebe in Stoke.

Mike currently in his third year studies in his Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University, which he combines with working in the Public Health team in a Local Authority. Mike can be contacted via: m.oliver@student.staffs.ac.uk


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

New body image study seeking beauticians and beauty therapists!

Do you work as a beautician or beauty therapist?

Researchers Dr Alison Owen and Dr Jennifer Taylor at the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, Staffordshire University, are carrying out research looking at body image in beauticians and beauty therapists.

Both researchers have a background in research looking at body image and peoples’ thoughts and feelings about their appearance, for example Dr Owen has carried out work looking at body image in Girl Guides (click here for further information), and Dr Taylor has carried out work exploring peoples’ views on sun tanning and their appearance (click here).

Dr Owen and Dr Taylor are expanding their body image research and exploring what beauty therapists/beauticians think and feel about their appearance, as well as how working within the beauty industry may impact upon these thoughts and feelings. Their study involves an online questionnaire that will ask participants about their feelings about their appearance and their work.

If you currently work as a beautician then please click on the following link to complete the questionnaire and take part in the study: https://tinyurl.com/ybbx8aro

If you have any questions about the research then please contact Dr Alison Owen on alison.owen@staffs.ac.uk or Dr Jennifer Taylor on jennifer.taylor@staffs.ac.uk


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

New research published into the impact of an appearance-focused facial ageing intervention on adolescents’ sun protection

By Dr Alison Owen (Lecturer in Health Psychology, Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research)

It has been suggested that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including exposure to the sun and sunbeds, are the primary causes of all melanomas, leading to skin cancer (World Health Organization, 2018). Malignant melanoma is the second most common cancer in 15-34-year olds, and at least two young people in Britain receive this diagnosis every day (Cancer Research UK, 2018).

As a group, adolescents have been found to have poor sun protection practises, with research suggesting that as children progress into adolescence they are less under observation by their parents, so they need to take additional responsibility for their UV protective behaviours, a task that was left to their parents before this. It is therefore really important to come up with ways of informing adolescents about the impact that the sun and sunbeds can have on their skin, and the importance of protecting themselves form harmful UV rays.

Staffordshire University lecturers Dr Alison Owen, Professor David Clark-Carter and Dr Emily Buckley, along with Professor Sarah Grogan from Manchester Metropolitan University, decided to carry out an intervention aimed specifically at young people aged between 11 and 14 years of age, to show them the impact that UV exposure can have on their skin, in the hope that it would encourage them to think differently about protecting themselves from UV exposure.

The participants in their study were 237 adolescents, 60 of whom were randomly allocated to participate in the appearance-focused intervention condition and 176 to a control condition, who simply completed the questionnaires and did not receive an intervention. The researchers used a piece of computer software called AprilAge, which showed the young people projected images of themselves from their current age up to the age of 72 years, and allowed them to compare images of how they may look in the future if they did not protect their skin from the sun and sunbeds, in comparison to how their skin would look if they did protect it.

The adolescents who had participated in the intervention had significantly greater intentions to use sun protection, significantly more negative sun risk beliefs, lower sun benefit attitudes and higher perceived sun damage susceptibility after viewing the information given than participants in the control group, suggesting that this type of intervention is a really effective way to get young people thinking more positively about protecting their skin from the sun.

The research has recently been published in the British Journal of School Nursing, and the researchers hope that school nurses will be able to take the findings further, and use software such as the APRIL intervention in sessions with their young students, to get them thinking about the sun and the impact it can have on their skin. Please contact Dr Alison Owen at alison.owen@staffs.ac.uk if you have any questions about the research.


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Dr Rachel Povey featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s The Takeaway discussing the psychology of eating behaviours

Dr Rachel Povey (Associate Professor of Health Psychology, Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s The Takeaway programme on Thursday 24th January 2019 discussing the psychology of chlidren’s eating behaviours.

Dr Povey was interviewed for the programme and discussed her ongoing research into understanding the influences on children’s eating behaviours, including understanding food preferences amongst younger children and recent work on the social influences and the role of perceived peer norms on snacking behaviours amongst high school students. Dr Povey’s interview can be heard via the BBC Sounds website (see below):

BBC Radio Stoke – The Takeaway (from 1 hour, 18 minutes, 20 seconds into the programme)


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages: