Meet the StaffsPsych Graduates: Nicola Clarke (MSc Health Psychology)

Blog piece written by Nicola Clarke, MSc Health Psychology Graduate 2020

A fantastic experience!! Staffs MSc Health Psychology course has broadened my social network, enhanced my research skills and taught me to apply psychological knowledge in the real world.

About me:

I’m a recent MSc Health Psychology graduate with research interests in experimental psychology and promoting healthy food choices. On completion of my BSc in Psychology at Leeds Beckett, I was keen to continue my studies with the aim of becoming a chartered psychologist. After exploring several career pathways, I decided to apply for the MSc in Health Psychology. Following this, I took a year out to work and save up for the course. I joined Staffs as a new student in September 2019 enrolling as a full-time student living in Shelton, near the Stoke-on-Trent campus.  

My research:

“The Effect of Health Priming on Visual Attention and Food Choice: An Eye-Tracking Experiment”

During recent years, rising rates of obesity have contributed to various health complications such as cancer. This issue could be explained by our current living environment, which constantly advertises unhealthy foods, making it more likely for us to choose and consume them. At present, there are no successful methods for guiding consumers to make healthy, rather than unhealthy food choices. Therefore, it is really important to find new ways to achieve this.

Research suggests that health priming (e.g. showing someone the word ‘healthy’) can increase visual attention towards healthy foods and prompt people to choose them. Studies have also found health priming effects to be more pronounced in dieters because being healthy is more important to them. Therefore, it may be useful to target health priming interventions at this group. However, this is a new area of research. More evidence is needed before health priming can be considered as a tool for reducing obesity.

My project involved students choosing between healthy and unhealthy foods, whilst either being shown a health prime (the words ‘healthy recipe’), a prime unrelated to health (the words ‘new recipe’) and no prime (no words). The primes were shown on a banner like an advert and the task was made to look like an online supermarket. Whilst students were making their food choices, an eye-tracker was used to measure visual attention (how long students looked at the foods). A questionnaire was then used to assess whether students were dieters or non-dieters.

Example of both of the banners and food choices

Two forms of quantitative analysis called ANOVA and mixed ANOVA were used to analyse the food choice, eye-tracking and dieting data collected.

The findings:

  • Health primes did not guide people to make healthy food choices.
  • Health primes did increase visual attention for healthy foods.
  • Health primes guided non-dieters to choose healthy foods, but not dieters (suggesting it may be counterproductive to target health priming interventions at dieters).
  • Health primes did not increase visual attention for healthy foods in dieters or non-dieters.

This research provides a valuable contribution where current knowledge is limited. The key finding that a health prime increased visual attention for healthy foods in an online supermarket has important implications for potential intervention design. For example, health primes could be used to effectively steer consumer attention towards healthy foods.

Future research should investigate health priming in real world settings and its effectiveness over time. The current findings could then combine with future research to provide a tool for guiding consumers to make healthier food choices and reduce obesity.  

  My top tips for students considering the MSc:

  1. Make connections! Get in touch with staff and students. Ask about the university. Ask about the course. Contact me about my experience.
  2. Plan! Prioritise your learning. Having my finances and living arrangements sorted prior to the course start date really helped me to focus on my assignments.
  3. Apply! This course offers you every opportunity for success.
  4. Get involved! Join a society. Attend guest speaker lectures. Try out new research equipment. Explore new topics. Present your 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:

Meet the StaffsPsych Graduates: Victoria Baker (MSc Health Psychology & BSc Psychology)

Written by Victoria Baker MSc Health Psychology Graduate 2020.

Please tell us a little about your background before coming to study at Staffordshire University:

I completed my BSc Psychology undergraduate degree in 2007, and finally returned to complete my MSc in Health Psychology on a part-time basis in 2018 as a mature student. I have been lucky enough to have worked alongside different Psychologists in several different fields in the world of work. Including Forensic Psychologists when I was a Tutor in a Young Offenders Institute, Clinical Addiction Psychiatrists when I was a Drug and Alcohol Practitioner, and Child Psychologists when I worked in family mediation. This varied experience allowed me to ascertain where my interests truly lay, which are predominantly in health promotion and harm reduction work.

In 2017, I decided to move into teaching A Level Psychology. However, I began to feel that my degree was outdated, given that Psychology is an ever changing field and new research is being published all the time. I felt the urge to return to study and update my skillset.

What attracted you to studying your course at Staffordshire University?

When I saw that Staffs offered a part time option for the MSc Health Psychology, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity for me to continue with academia whilst remaining at work and parenting my 2 small children. I went to an open evening and was impressed with their £30 million Science Centre and all the facilities and services it had to offer. As a Staffs Alumni this university always held a special place in my heart, and when I returned as a prospective postgraduate student, I was pleased that I still felt this same sense of belonging.

What are the best parts of your experience at Staffs?

The best part of my experience at Staffs was the lecturers on my course. They are very knowledgeable, friendly and have a varied wealth of expertise that they are willing to share with you. I enjoyed the sessions and being able to talk in great depth and length on the topics that we covered on the course. The lecturers treated me as an equal professional, which was nice as a mature student and fostered a relationship of mutual respect. I certainly had a lot I needed to learn and initially it was a very steep learning curve, but I also had a lot of experience to share. They were always supportive, and when I had a wobble and felt as though I couldn’t do it, they were always there to encourage me.

Why did you choose to study your subject?

I chose to study Health Psychology because my true passion lies with helping people to make positive changes in their life to improve overall quality of life. As a Drug and Alcohol Practitioner, I had to develop collaborative care plans to help people manage stress better, support people to lead a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise and educate young people to make informed choices around alcohol and substance misuse. Therefore, Health Psychology was a “good fit” for me.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue teaching A Level Psychology and to use the knowledge and skills I have gained from the MSc as CPD to support me in the delivery of related content. I think that by obtaining the MSc, it sends an important message out to my students; that it is never too late to set yourself a goal and it also demonstrates my commitment to education. I am in the process of setting up my own company with my husband who carries out adaptations to properties to improve people’s quality of life, for example people with long term conditions, elderly and disabled people. I can apply the knowledge gained from the MSc to allow a more responsive and sensitive approach to be taken when undertaking such work.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about applying to study your course at Staffordshire University?

My best advice to anyone wishing to study an MSc is that you need to have a mature attitude to your studies, organise your study and assignment time wisely and do not leave assignments til the last minute! – You may not achieve your true potential by completing work in this way. Forward planning will ensure that you are able to access support from lecturers should they not be available for last minute questions. Expect ups and downs, highs and lows. Sometimes you’ll feel like you really understand a module and other modules you may find you are not so taken with. This is human nature, its what makes the world go round, we are not all destined to like or be good at the same things!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your time at Staffs?

When I started the course in 2018, no one could have predicted that 2020 would have unfolded the way it did with the Covid pandemic. There were times that I doubted my ability to complete the course. When the schools were closed in March and I found myself at home with two small children to home educate, a teaching job to contend with and I was halfway through my dissertation, there were some overwhelming moments! I can’t thank my supervisor Dr Gemma Hurst enough whose support is what carried me through to the end and for this I will be forever grateful.


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:

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.

The Psychology of Space….in Space

By Dr. Nikki Street, Dr. Gemma Hurst & Dr. Daniel Jolley

Could you live for a year or more in space? What challenges might you face living and working there? What would you miss about earth? These are the question we proposed to over 1500 attendees during the European Researchers Night at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in September 2018.

Psychologists from The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research at Staffordshire University attended the event where our aim was to introduce the guests to the physical environment in space and together discuss the challenges with space travel on people’s wellbeing. Drs Nichola Street, Gemma Hurst and Daniel Jolley, and Dina Grinstead and Darel Cookson were on hand during the night to discuss the Psychology of Space with guests.

The event was split into different parts.  First, guests ‘travelled’ to the International Space Station (ISS) using Virtual Reality equipment to explore the living conditions of space travellers.  We asked guests to consider what they would find most challenging living on the ISS for a year and what they might miss about earth during that time. The ISS that they explored can be termed an ICE environment; those environments which are Isolated, Confined and Extreme. Spending time in these types of environments is a psychological challenge.  For those guests who were a little too young to use the Virtual Reality, they were able to view the space centre on a projected screen.Alongside the VR exploration, we asked what guests would miss the most if they had to live in space for a year. The responses from guests were heart-warming and clear patterns appeared:  People would miss their Family, Friends, Pets, Food (they had tasted space food in another Staffordshire University run activity on the night) and nature. People talked about missing the space to walk the dog or the chance to change where you are.Next, guests entered a ‘psychology relief room’ in which they were exposed to natural imagery and sound. These nature interventions have been trailed in ICE environments as a way to dampen the potentially harmful effects of physical space with success. Evidence shows that even when direct access to nature is not possible (as it would not be in space) nature substitutes can go some way to reduce psychological harm.

While the ‘extreme’ aspect may be missing from many of our experiences on earth we can certainly think of many places that fit into the isolated and confined categories such as hospitals, prisons or even your home or work places. And like our space travellers pointed out, Nature exposure can go some way towards combatting the negative effects.  The research of Drs Nikki Street & Gemma Hurst aims to shed light on the impact of physical environments on an individual’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. To learn more about the exciting research from the department please visit The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research‘s website.


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.

For more information about the Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit the below pages:

MSc Health Psychology students attend the 2018 Midlands Health Psychology Network Conference

Dr Gemma Hurst (Lecturer in Psychology & Co-Course Director MSc in Health Psychology) blogs about a recent conference trip with staff and students from the Health Psychology courses at Staffordshire University.

Staff and students recently attended the Midlands Health Psychology Network Conference. Three members of staff and five current MSc students from Staffordshire University attended the event, held at the Kettering Conference Centre on the 24th May.

A trip to the conference was built into the MSc Health Psychology teaching programme to ensure all current students had the opportunity to attend. One of our MSc students, Jessica, really valued the experience, commenting:

“A really engaging day showcasing many of the innovative ideas happening right now in Health Psychology in the Midlands

Students also valued the opportunity to meet and discuss the PhD research of Staffordshire University MSc Health Psychology Alumni, Lorna (pictured to the right).

The programme included oral and poster presentations covering a wide range of topics and methodologies, including: systematic reviews; quantitative and qualitative research; and intervention development and evaluation. Both staff and students also enthusiastically engaged in a co-creation workshop exploring creative data collection methodologies, including the use of Lego:

‘The MHPN conference provides an opportunity for our MSc students to experience an academic conference in a friendly and supportive environment. Our students took a keen interest in the wide variety of health psychology topics being presented and were able to network with other health psychologists and trainees to discuss their own research and career aspirations. Attendance at this conference will continue to be built into the MSc Health Psychology teaching programme and I look forward to future visits where I can introduce our new students to our graduates”

Dr Gemma Hurst, Co-Director MSc Health Psychology.


The Midlands Health Psychology Network

The MHPN hold a one day conference every year which is attended by around 100 members from across the Midlands and is a forum for health psychologists to share clinical and research experiences, information, knowledge and training. Existing members include MSc students, doctorate students, chartered health psychologists based at local NHS sites and regional universities, third sector employees, senior and early career academics, health practitioners and pharmacists. To learn more about the MHPN please visit their website (www.mhpn.co.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:

Watch: The Reflecting Nature Exhibition Art-Psychology exhibition now visiting Staffs University

The Reflecting Nature Exhibition, a collaboration between Dr Nichola Street (Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) and Mark Ware (Multimedia Artist), is currently on display in the Science Centre at Staffordshire University’s Stoke City Campus. The exhibition is open to the public, and has been extended until the end of November 2016.

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Dr Nichola Street, Mark Ware, and collaborator Dr Gemma Hurst, are featured in the below interview detailing the project:

 

For more information about the exhibition please visit: The Reflecting Nature Tour: Arts and Psychology Collaboration


Staffs-Uni-Hi-Res_45-1024x683The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire Centre. The Centre is home to a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines. The Centre has two overarching research streams, Health and Behaviour Change, and Applied Perception and Cognition.

The Centre provides training for PhD students, Research Masters degrees, as well as Professional Doctorates in Clinical and Health Psychology (click here for more details). The Centre also provides bespoke training to private and public organisations, as well as expertise for consultancy research opportunities. For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).

The Reflecting Nature Tour: Arts and Psychology Collaboration

Dr Nikki Street and Dr Gemma Hurst (both members of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) welcome collaborator, and award winning artist, Mark Ware to Staffordshire University’s Science Centre to exhibition a series of artworks developed as part of the psychology and art collaborative project Reflecting Nature*.

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Reflecting Nature looks at whether beauty really is in the eye of the beholder as well as the impact that art can have on individual wellbeing. Visitors are invited to take part in scientific research investigating how we respond to artwork and different environments.

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Dr Nikki Street, Dr Gemma Hurst, Sara and Mark Ware – members of the Reflecting Nature team

The artwork has been touring the UK at different locations since May 2016 and has been a great way to engage the public in research. We are excited for the project to come to it’s research home and show visitors the great research emerging from the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research.

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The Reflecting Nature Artwork on display at Exeter Cathedral

The exhibition, which includes a series of prints and 3D banners, will be on display from 4th – 16th October 2016 in Staffordshire University’s Science Centre and is available for viewing by the public during normal business opening hours.

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One of the images which form part of the Reflecting Nature artwork

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Some of the activities in use at the Reflecting Nature tour

Mark, and Psychology Lecturers Dr Nikki Street and Dr Gemma Hurst, will also be giving the public an opportunity to engage with workshops associated with the exhibition. Visitors have the chance to get involved in activities using the equipment for exploring human responses including eye tracking, body movement tracking and tasks such as mirror drawing. In addition, Mark Ware is providing exciting photography workshops to enhance your photography skills. Workshops are currently scheduled for Saturday 15th October, drop along and see us in the Science Centre as part of the Big Biology Day with photograph workshops being held between 11:30-12:00 and 14:30-15:30. Contact nichola.street@staffs.ac.uk to book a place.

* The Reflecting Nature exhibition, supported using public funds by Arts Council England, is part of The Wavelength Project, an ongoing arts/science collaboration between Mark Ware and neuroscientists and psychologists at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and Staffordshire University.


Staffs-Uni-Hi-Res_45-1024x683The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire Centre. The Centre is home to a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines. The Centre has two overarching research streams, Health and Behaviour Change, and Applied Perception and Cognition.

The Centre provides training for PhD students, Research Masters degrees, as well as Professional Doctorates in Clinical and Health Psychology (click here for more details). The Centre also provides bespoke training to private and public organisations, as well as expertise for consultancy research opportunities. For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).

Gemma Hurst joins the Psychology Department at Staffordshire University

The Psychology Academic team are pleased to welcome Dr Gemma Hurst, who joined the University as a Lecturer in Psychology in September 2015. Gemma introduces herself below:

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Dr Gemma Hurst

I have made the (small) jump from the Brindley Building to the Science Centre and I am extremely pleased to have joined the Psychology team here at Staffordshire University as a Lecturer. After completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Durham in 2005, my journey at Staffordshire University began. I completed my MSc in Health Psychology here in 2006 before starting my PhD in 2007, under the supervision of Dr Christopher Gidlow, Prof David Clark-Carter, Prof Sarah Grogan and Prof Rachel Davey. My PhD research focused on the use of a multi-component behaviour change intervention to promote physical activity in the area of Sandwell, West Midlands. My PhD was carried out in an applied setting working with Sandwell Primary Care Trust.

Following this, I was involved in the evaluation of a community development project through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Staffordshire University and NHS Stoke-on-Trent. The My Health Matters project focused on addressing the underlying social and environmental determinants of health using a bottom-up, asset-based approach. My role involved investigating the use of community-led interventions to reduce health inequalities relating to physical activity and healthy eating in Stoke-on-Trent using community-based participatory research and a socio-ecological approach. During this time I also began my Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University.

More recently, I was employed as a postdoctoral Research Officer in the Centre for Sport, Health and Exercise Research investigating the links between exposure to natural outdoor environments and human health and well-being across Europe – PHENOTYPE.

Gemma before her Stoke Psychology in the Pub talk on the Phenotype project (April 2015)

Gemma before her Stoke Psychology in the Pub talk on the Phenotype project (April 2015)

Therefore, I have a wide range of research interests in the field of health psychology and beyond, including: the evaluation of health promotion programs using both quantitative and qualitative research methods; reducing health inequalities through community-led interventions and partnership working; the social and environmental determinants of health; and understanding the positive health effects of different environments.

Throughout my time at Staffordshire University, both as a student and a member of staff, I have always found it to be an incredibly supportive and welcoming place to be and the Psychology team has continued this pattern. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the students over the past few weeks, they are a great bunch and I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into teaching. If you’d like to know a little more about me and my research, please follow me on twitter @gemma_hurst.


The School of Psychology, Sport and Exercise at Staffordshire University is a leading School in the UK for Psychology degrees and is situated in the heart of England.  We produce internationally recognized research which is driving knowledge in the area of Psychology forward and we work with a variety of healthcare providers, charities, international sports teams and private sector organisations.