Written by Dr Nikki Street and Dr Erica Lucas Recently Psychologists from around the world gathered in Brighton to discuss, debate, and celebrate the impact of psychology on community and society in the European Congress of Psychology co-hosted by the … Continue reading →
Written by Dr Amy Burton, Senior Lecturer in Qualitative Psychological Research Methods
The World Health Organization and UK Policy recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life, followed by breastfeeding alongside complementary foods for up to two years and beyond. However, levels of exclusive breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks are only around 32% in England and Scotland and breastfeeding initiation is particularly low in Stoke on Trent, falling below the England average.
At Staffordshire University we have a group of researchers who are interested in learning about the experience of breastfeeding and finding new ways to develop and improve breastfeeding support. On the 26th May 2022 we held an event to discuss our breastfeeding research and establish new networks with breastfeeding stakeholders.
We then facilitated a guided discussion with two breastfeeding mothers about their own experiences and thoughts about our research.
World Café discussions
Attendees then took part in a World Café. World Café is a collaborative research approach where group discussions are focussed on a series of questions. For our World Café we asked:
What stood out for you in the research and experiences that have been discussed today, and what do you hope to do with this new knowledge?
What do you feel are the immediate breastfeeding research priorities?
What do you feel are the biggest barriers to breastfeeding research influencing policy and practice, and how might we overcome these?
After each question a few attendees from each group moved to another table where the discussions continued. This resulted in further exchange of knowledge and summaries of previous discussions with the aim of reaching a group-led ‘world view’ of each issue. Discussion points were noted on poster paper and audio-recorded.
After the event the attendees were given opportunity to feedback on the key outcomes of these discussions as part of a follow up evaluation survey.
Our World Café highlighted a number of breastfeeding priorities. Some of these include:
Breastfeeding information and support needs to be introduced earlier in pregnancy than is taking place in current practice.
[Breastfeeding is] touched on at booking to have a look at it further down the line, but then, and then at 34 weeks as well when we sort of go through the birth plan it’s briefly touched on, but like yourself, premature deliveries, you’ve missed that conversation, if you’re before 36 weeks you’ve missed that conversation so you’ve missed all that information, and as well if you’re premature obviously you’re encouraged to breastfeed or express and then it’s like but actually you’ve not had any education about that at all, so you’ve missed a lot. I think it needs to be a lot sooner.
If someone’s on the fence, they’re unsure, they don’t know what they wanna do [breastfeed or use formula], you know there’s not much information about it, you’re almost gonna guarantee they are gonna be buying formula as a back-up.
Pregnant women need to be informed, empowered, and prepared to overcome breastfeeding barriers and challenges.
If more women understand, either antenatally or postnatally, you know typical challenges and tips on how to overcome these or they are aware of myths and that you know? For example just giving them a bottle isn’t going to necessarily make a baby sleep longer, or the myth about mastitis. If women know these things then actually when, if a challenge arises, either they know where to seek support from you know? A peer supporter, peer support group or a healthcare professional, and maybe it’s just gonna help their confidence a little bit more if they think actually this isn’t the right information, and we’re just kind of arming these women a little bit better.
Intervention needs to include family members and social contacts who can support or create barriers for breastfeeding.
My mum, even though she breastfed till eighteen months with me and my sister, I think when my son was a couple of months old, she said “oh we’ve got family coming round, family friends coming round, if you want to come round for tea you can but can you just go into the living room if you’re gonna feed” and I said no, and she said “well we’ll have to go out for a meal with them instead and you won’t be able to come”, and it’s like fine, fine […] My mum isn’t bad in general, but I said to her, she said “I know what you’re gonna say because I know how passionate you are about it”, but I was like “I’m not just going into another room because I’m feeding him”.
Education and training about breastfeeding needs to be improved for healthcare professionals.
I’ve heard some absolute horror stories of terrible advice received from various professionals, health visitors, outdated advice, midwives, doctors, I’ve even received terrible advice myself when I needed some antibiotics, I’m allergic to penicillin, “ooh you need to stop breastfeeding cause if we need to give you antibiotics”, “we won’t have very many to give you”, and it’s like well, I don’t plan on needing antibiotics anytime soon, but you know I’ll manage, thanks. And that’s not true anyway, there’s plenty of antibiotics I could receive-
Speaker 2: Yeah, and it’s always so surprising when you hear stories like that-
Speaker 1: I know, I know.
Speaker 2: You just think I don’t understand how people in the medical profession have got all of these wrong ideas. Like where’s the training for them?
Our event helped to inform the work of attendees who were working in breastfeeding services:
“[the event provided] good links to evidence to use in discussion/promotion”
“I am going to think about encouraging pregnant families to Baby Cafe, to help inform them before their baby arrive as early education can help de-bunk some of those myths [about breastfeeding]”
“[I am going to] incorporate [the research findings] as we plan future volunteer peer support training and groups for families”.
In addition, our event helped to establish useful networks within the city of Stoke on Trent and beyond creating new links for future collaborative work to support breastfeeding:
“(I) definitely hope to use this as a springboard to developing new connections and projects”
For the Breastfeeding Network (BfN) in Stoke on Trent our event highlighted a need to improve healthcare professional awareness of their services to increase referral. Attending our event helped to achieve this and BfN have seen an increase in healthcare professionals making contact including some requests from midwives and health visitors to attend their support groups to see how they work.
Our event was very well received by attendees. We are continuing to analyse the data collected to identify themes and priorities for policy and future research. We want to thank everyone who has been involved and are excited about our new connections and networks. We look forward to working with these networks on future projects to enhance breastfeeding support and ultimately improve breastfeeding rates across the city of Stoke on Trent and beyond.
If you are interested in this work or would like to talk more about breastfeeding research, please get in contact with me at amy.burton@Staffs.ac.uk or over on Twitter @DrAmyBurton
Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology
Staffordshire University recently held the Learning and Teaching Festival (LTF [Monday 6 June to Friday 10 June 2022]). The festival provided an opportunity for the University community to share and develop innovative learning and teaching practices from across the University. The day consisted of a variety of different styles of talks (e.g. presentations, simulations, workshops, demonstrations, discussions, and 5-minute pecha kucha) across diverse topic areas. There were also opportunities for networking as people from across the University came together to share practice. The festival talks covered several key themes, including: Learning support; Co-creation between peers, staff, and students; Digital technology; Social mobility and resilience; Innovative pedagogies; Employment; and Addressing differential outcomes for students.
Several talks were provided by members of the Psychology department. Dr Dan Herron and MSc Foundations in Clinical Psychology student, Jack Beardmore, discussed experiences of using a world café to understand student feedback. Dr Jenny Taylor and Dr Nikki Street delivered an interactive session providing attendees with a taster of the mindfulness intervention they recently facilitated for Psychology students which was aimed at improving a range of outcomes including wellbeing, resilience and student experience.
Using a world café to gain a rich understanding of student feedback
By Dr Dan Herron & Jack Beardmore
When I (Dan) saw the abstract call for the LTF I thought my recent experiences of gaining rich feedback from students was an example of good practice which would be useful to share across the University. Jack and I wanted to provide an interactive demonstration of how I gained a deeper understanding of MSc student feedback (mid-course) using a world café technique.
Before jumping into my reflections of the workshop, it is important to reflect on the reasons for why I decided to collect this feedback and in this format. The main driving force was that the previous years end of course feedback did not provide the reasoning behind the student scores. For example, students identify on a scale from definitely agree to definitely disagree with written responses, where students can provide reasons, being optional. Therefore, from my experiences with world cafes, I thought this method would be ideal and provide rich insight, which would allow for informed changes to the course.
It is also important to understand a little bit about what world cafés are and how I applied them. How world cafés are utilised varies based on their purpose- for gaining student feedback, I had two one-hour world cafés (same time and same place but a week apart) because of the availability of students. As illustrated in Diagram 1, world cafés can consist of several tables, and on each table, there is a host who facilitates the discussion, and 4-5 participants. We had one question per round (all students, across all tables, discussed the same question at the same time) and there were seven rounds across the two sessions. After each round, students moved (as randomly as possible) to different tables.
Jack and I worked collaboratively to develop and deliver the workshop. I asked Jack to come along and provide his perspective (as a participant) of world cafés to gain student feedback. We had planned for it to be an interactive workshop, where the audience took part in a mini- world café, but due to the amount of people in the audience (less than needed) we decided to go to plan B and focus more on our experiences of the world café sessions. For different, but interlinked reasons, we both found usefulness in world cafes- for me, they helped to provide rich insight which was developed through collaborative discussion between students; for Jack, it provided the space and opportunity to dive deeper into their issues, share perspectives and give feedback as a community. We shared these views and experiences with the audience.
We had interesting and useful feedback about the content of the talk and suggestions of how it could be used beyond feedback (something I have previously done when teaching thematic analysis). I feel Jack’s perspective, as a participant, really added value to the talk.
Mindful Students: Mindfulness interventions to improve student outcomes
By Dr Jenny Taylor and Dr Nikki Street
This interactive workshop discussed the background research exploring how and why mindfulness interventions may have had a positive impact on student experience as well as providing a taster of a mindfulness intervention in the form of a guided meditation recently delivered to a small group of our undergraduate psychology students. The benefits of mindfulness are well known, particularly in terms of health and wellbeing. The general benefits of engaging in mindfulness for students in a learning context are also well documented but we know less about its impact on specific constructs such as resilience, perceived academic control, and sense of belonging. The research also is lacking more qualitative insight into the impact of mindfulness therefore our study looks at not only quantitative changes across an intervention but also explored students individual experiences in qualitative interviews to offer further understanding of the potential benefits that practice can have.
Both Nikki and Jenny are trained Mindfulness Now practitioners (a version of mindfulness that is approved by the British Psychological Society) and, as academics, are particularly interested in how mindfulness can help our students.
Nikki and Jenny were awarded funding from the Staffordshire Centre of Learning and Pedagogic practice (SCoLLP) to explore the impact of an 8-week mindfulness intervention on a range of student outcomes including wellbeing, resilience, belongingness, perceived academic control, and student experience. The weekly sessions involved Nikki and Jenny facilitating a small group of students to engage with mindfulness in a variety of different formats including meditation, activities, stories and poems, as well as providing space for personal enquiry and reflection. Students were also encouraged to engage in some mindfulness ‘homework’ each week in order to further enhance their practice.
To assess its impact, students were asked to complete a survey pre and post intervention as well as taking part in a follow up interview about their experiences. This data will be analysed in conjunction with data we collect from the additional roll out of the intervention. To date, feedback from the students has been overwhelmingly positive with one student commenting on their general enjoyment of the intervention:
Another student commented specifically on how they felt the intervention had helped them during the examination period:
The workshop delivered for the LTF presented an overview of the project, our reflections so far, as well as a taster of some of the practices that we guide our students through. The workshop led to some interesting discussions around the potential use of mindfulness for students across different contexts and discussion around potential cross discipline applications.
Matthew Kimberly (Psychology PhD student) blogs about the third annual Keele-Staffs psychology postgraduate conference, with postscript from Dr Richard Jolley (PhD psychology course leader)
Following from the success of the first two joint conferences and a forced hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the third joint Keele-Staffs psychology conference was hosted at Keele University in May 2022. The conference was organised by Dr Richard Jolley (Staffordshire University), Dr Sue Sherman (Keele University) with the help of a conference committee. The event offered an ideal opportunity for postgraduate researchers at both universities to network and share their research with an audience. It was also a great opportunity to practice their presentation skills in a supportive environment!
The conference commenced with an introduction from Professor Abigail Locke (Head of School of Psychology, Keele University) and Dr Richard Jolley. The first presenter in the morning session was Krystian Ciesielski from Keele University, who gave an informative overview of his research on whether visual information is used differently in functional and taxonomic scene categorisation. The second presenter was Tanya Schrader from Staffordshire University, who gave a dynamic talk about the dark side of conspiracy theory belief and how this may influence violence towards groups of people. Tanya was followed by Keele University’s Sebastian Nikolas Tustanowski, who discussed a study he was planning on the role of perceptual and cognitive factors (such as salience and consistency) on long-term memory of objects within a scene. Next, Darel Cookson from Staffordshire University discussed how social norm interventions may be used to reduce anti-vaccine conspiracy theory beliefs.
Following the morning presentations there was a short break before the Keynote speaker – Professor Lindsay O’Dell who is the director of the graduate school at the Open University. Lindsay reflected upon her own PhD journey – giving some wise tips for the PhD students – and then discussed some of the challenges she had experienced in a research project on disabled children and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic and how these were addressed.
Following the Keynote speaker, there was time for lunch, poster presentations and a group photo! Posters were presented by Sian Calvert (Staffordshire University), Iwan Dinnick (Keele University), Chloe Fahey (Keele University) and Chloe Pritchard (Keele University). Sian’s poster examined how social norms can be used to reduce unhealthy snacking in secondary school students. Iwan’s poster examined how characteristics of ingroup identity can reduce forgiveness of outgroup members. Chloe Fahey’s poster focused on the experiences of female sexual health services amongst individuals with autism. Chloe Pritchard’s poster examined public perceptions of child witnesses.
The afternoon session started with a presentation by myself discussing a recent study which examined the influence of relationship characteristics on the disclosure of sexual fantasies. The next talk was by Sonia Begum from Staffordshire University, who discussed some of the factors highlighted within her research to affect uptake and completion of Diabetes prevention programmes in the UK. Next Jamie Holmes from Keele University discussed a planned study examining the role of cognitive porousness in identity construction within players and characters within games such as Dungeons and Dragons.
In the final session Shwetha Davis from Keele University examined the experiences of teachers using trauma informed practices within educational settings. Next, Angela Bonner from Staffordshire University discussed how type 2 diabetes risk influences cognition. The final talk of the conference was by Stuart Moore from Keele University, who discussed how dimension switching can impair visual short-term memory resource allocation.
After Stuart’s talk, Professor Abigail Locke presented the prizes to the winners. Warm congratulations to Shwetha Davis for winning best talk presentation, Sian Calvert for winning best poster presentation and Stuart Moore and Iwan Dinnick for winning best open science research!
And finally a trip to the Keele Postgraduate Association (KPA) for a much deserved refreshment (or two!)
Matt Kimberley, PhD researcher
After the covid-enforced break from this joint postgraduate conference with the School of Psychology at Keele University I was delighted to offer this opportunity to our PhD students to present their research and network with fellow PhD students from our neighbouring institution. Furthermore, the talk from our external keynote speaker provided a very useful personal reflection on conducting research.
In the psychology the Staffordshire University we have around 10 PhD students. As a body of research scholars they provide a significant contribution to the Psychology Department’s research output, and more generally to our research culture. If you are reading this blog and are interested in studying for a PhD in the psychology department at Staffordshire University please get in touch with me for further information. We very much welcome applications.
Dr Richard Jolley
Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology and PhD Psychology Course Leader
Susan Fleming, Course Director for Counselling and CBT at Staffordshire University was featured on BBC Radio Derby discussing Blue Monday with Ian Skye’s radio show on 17th January 2022.
During the interview Susan shared some background to Blue Monday, the need for us all to check in with ourselves and with each other to determine whether we need access to support services. She shared insights into cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and how to become a trained CBT therapist. Incase you missed the radio show Susan has summarised the interview to share as part of this years’ university mental health day.
Blue Monday is a term coined in the early 2000s to name the 3rd
Monday in January. The name suggests it’s a low mood Monday however the
scientific evidence behind it is open to critique. A number of factors including
number of daylight hours, financial status after seasonal spending and how many
days there are before the next public holiday are allegedly part of the
equation. There is a question mark over whether it was linked to a travel
firm’s publicity campaign for the new year.
With over 2 years of uncertainty and loss in this global covid-19 pandemic,
it may be that the term Blue Monday has run its course. Haven’t there been more
difficult days that we have collectively endured than just one Monday in
The Samaritans say ‘biscuits’ to the term Blue Monday. They have campaigned to change the term to Brew Monday instead. Let’s turn this into a day to focus on talking to each other and reaching out, maybe over a cuppa and plan more of these days into our calendars every week, not just the 3rd week in January.
It is helpful to talk about mood throughout the year and the opportunity to talk about mental health, mood and how we are feeling can really help people. Therefore, whatever your stance on this nominated day, it provides the opportunity to discuss feelings and mental health.
Checking in with ourselves
Blue Monday provides us all with the opportunity to check in with
ourselves, assess how we are coping and to identify the impact that our mood is
having on our lives. This is a continual process that we should engage with
regularly throughout the year. Checking in with ourselves can help us to assess
whether we can cope on our own, or whether we need to seek help.
You can do this for yourself. Consider your mood on a scale from 0 meaning worst mood to 10 meaning best mood and think about where you are. Over time review your ratings and how they change day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month.
This process of checking in allows us to consider what has had an impact on how we are feeling. This helps us to identify whether we are able to manage on our own, or whether we would benefit from professional help by working with a professional to help us manage.
Susan recommends to not hesitate in reaching out for help as soon as you identify changes towards mental ill health and that this is really important so that things do not continue in the same pattern. Therefore, it is really important to reach out as early as possible to gain access to the support that you may need.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
From a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) perspective, we can use
this calendar day as an opportunity to consider feelings and how our thoughts
and what we are doing might be leading to vicious cycles of increasingly
CBT is a theory that looks at how we think and our behaviour and
how this impacts on our mood. It is used with success in the treatment for
depression, anxiety and other mental ill health conditions.
CBT is based on how a thought can impact on how we feel and then
has an impact on what we do and vice versa. This can become a vicious cycle as
these negative thoughts, behaviours and feelings can continually impact each
other which can lead to feelings of being unable to manage.
CBT focuses on breaking the cycle to help to improve how we feel
and think. These changes can be made with therapeutic support and is one way in
which you can start to move out of the vicious cycle.
Need access to support?
Please do reach out to your GP and they can refer you to support services. There are also mental health charities and organisations who work throughout the UK who can offer mental health support including the Samaritans:
Online services, such as www.getselfhelp.co.uk and apps
can offer you the opportunity to engage in some of the aspects of CBT theory
and track your mood so that you can keep checking in with yourself and see how
your thoughts, feelings and behaviours change over time.
Our University has a range of support, creating an inclusive community for talking about our mental health together.
Help others – CBT training
There has never been a better time to train in therapy, including
CBT, to support mental health services which can struggle to meet the demands. This
is especially critical given the unknown impact the covid pandemic has had on
mental ill health. After being trained you may help in 1-1 or group therapy for
a charity or organisation, or for self-help online or phone support services.
Due to the shortages, there is a growing need for people to join and contribute
to supporting people with their mental ill health.
There has never been a better time to train on our therapy courses with good prospects for future skills demand and an opportunity to contribute to more than 15,000 hours of therapy that we offer to the community through our courses.
Critically, ‘blue’ or ‘brew’ Monday offers us all the opportunity
to keep the conversation open regarding mental health. So please do take the
time to check in with yourself, your family, your friends, your co-workers,
everyone who you know so that we can all support each other. Perhaps this day
can act as a reminder for us all to make contact with support services that we
have been meaning to for some time.
Written by Emily Thornton Psychology Schools and Colleges Champion.
I am very excited to be starting my new job role as the Psychology Department Schools and Colleges Champion.
I first joined Staffordshire University in 2020 to complete my MSc in the Foundations of Clinical psychology, where I completed my dissertation on Womens Lived Experiences of Autism, I am aiming to get this research published. It was during my master’s when I realised how welcoming everyone was. After successfully completing my master’s I found the job role and it felt like the right time to join the University.
I first fell in love with psychology when I completed an access course in social sciences (equivalent to A levels) which had a psychology module. I then went on to complete my BSc in psychology with the University of Chester. Throughout my undergraduate degree I had worked as a support worker with young people and adults in a range of settings.
Some fun facts about me:
I have dissected a human brain in my Undergrad.
I play wheelchair basketball.
I have flown a plane (under supervision!)
Are you a school or college and would like to arrange a talk, workshop, visit? Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Olivia Osborne, level 4 BSc Psychology student
Hello Everyone, I am Olivia Osborne and I am currently in my first year of studying with Staffordshire University on the BSc Psychology degree course.
This march I will be running on behalf of my university, 27 miles in 27 days in solidarity of the 27% of students who report a mental health problem whilst at University.
More students are experiencing mental health than ever before. The number of students reporting a mental health problem is five times greater today than it was 10 years ago.
Any student taking part in the 27 27 challenge wants to send a clear message; It’s time to take our mental health seriously, and won’t give up until everyone with a mental health problem gets the support and respect they deserve.
Any Donation given will be gratefully appreciated! My target began at £100.00 however, with the support I have already received I have now (01.02.21) reached £534.00. So, with high hopes, I aim to reach £1000.00!
Please join this journey with me by donating via the QR code or by visiting my fundraising page (https://givepenny.com/oliviaosborne_27_27)
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: email@example.com
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.