Dr Megan Birney joins the Psychology Department at Staffordshire University!

The Psychology Academic team are pleased to welcome Dr Megan Birney who joined the University as a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology and Individual Differences in June 2021. Megan introduces herself below:

I am so excited to be joining the vibrant and friendly Psychology Department at Staffordshire University as a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology and Individual Differences.

I am a social psychologist at heart! My research centres around identity processes, intergroup contact, communication, social stigma, obedience, and social exclusion; I love teaching about how these theories can be applied to real-world problems in society and passing some of my passion for these topics on to my students.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies (specialising in International Studies and Business Leadership) from Virginia Tech (USA). I went on to receive an MSc (with distinction) in Social and Organisational Psychology in 2010 and a PhD in Psychology in 2015, both from the University of Exeter. My research during this time focused on understanding how perceptions of non-native accents influence the relationship between immigrants and host country natives. After my PhD, I worked as a Research Fellow at the University of St. Andrews investigating the role that identity processes play within variants of the Milgram paradigm. I am still involved in these projects today.

Prior to coming to Staffordshire, I spent 6 years at the University of Chester helping develop the psychology provision at undergraduate and postgraduate level at their campus in Shrewsbury. I both taught and led modules there in areas related to Social Psychology, Organisational Psychology, and Quantitative Research Methods, and in 2016, I became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Throughout this time, I remained an active researcher. Some highlights include co-editing a special issue in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology and starting as an Associate Editor at the open-access journal, Psychology of Language and Communication.

Currently, I have several ongoing projects with various collaborators and with the community organisation Climbing Out. I’m always keen to get students involved in these projects where I can so if you’re interested do get in touch via email (megan.birney@staffs.ac.uk) or my Twitter account: @meganebirney

My first couple of weeks at Staffordshire have been really exciting; I’ve loved meeting the colleagues I’ll be working with and am looking forward to getting ‘stuck in’ to the modules I’ll be teaching on. Staffordshire University has such an excellent balance between producing innovative research and their value on high-quality teaching. I am truly honoured to be a part of it all!


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.

Meet the StaffsPsych Graduates: Reflections of an Alumni by Chrissie Fitch

Written by Psychology and Child Development graduate Chrissie Fitch BSc (Hons) MSc MBPsS

During secondary school, I had the opportunity of attending a conference where Elizabeth Loftus discussed her work in eyewitness testimony, and Christine Sizemore shared her experiences with multiple personality disorder. At this time, I also became aware of neurodevelopmental and neurogenerative disorders as I babysat for a disabled infant and cared for my grandmother who had dementia. This piqued my interest in psychology as a young teen and caused me to take the subject at A Level. However, it was during my gap year, almost twelve years ago, whilst teaching English to 5-12-year-olds at a charity school in Sri Lanka and studying online courses in child psychology and counselling that I realised my passion of pursuing it as a career – I now do distance learning course authoring and tutoring myself!

During my degree, I volunteered at a local children’s centre and gained experience of working with children of varying needs and abilities; every child I have met has taught me a lot about life. Obtaining an unconditional place on the BSc (Hons) Psychology and Child Development degree with foundation year at Staffordshire University was a dream come true.

Whilst I majored in child psychology, I really enjoyed the other optional modules because it widened my knowledge and revealed links to my chosen specialism.  I would say that the most difficult module was research methods; I tended to get quite frustrated with SPSS and couldn’t get my head around certain qualitative methods. Saying that, I ended up managing to take advanced research methods in final year, which wouldn’t have happened without the help and encouragement of the lecturers and tutors as they made classes interactive and were always on hand to help if we were struggling in any way. My project supervisor helped me with my master’s application, and I am still in contact with her; they really do go above and beyond at Staffs!  

Whilst I have worked as an honourary research assistant for a school interventions project, I struggled with finding paid assistant psychologist posts after my master’s.  Despite this, I have learnt that determination, hard work and perseverance will pay off when the time is right. I’m currently self-employed and work remotely as a distance learning assessor and internal verifier for the psychology and counselling courses. As a graduate member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), I have attended and volunteered at conferences, edited articles for various magazines and have also written reviews for various divisions as well as BPS The Psychologist magazine. I have also been able to get friends and colleagues featured on the website.

Highlights of my learning are researching about adult intuitive eating habits and body image satisfaction for my undergraduate project and predicting that factors like parenting and self-compassion affect these for my master’s dissertation. With the encouragement of my supervisors and alongside some invaluable friends and colleagues, I got a research article based on both studies published by the BPS Division of Health Psychology and also a literature review by the BPS Division of Educational and Child Psychology. As Visiting Research Associate of the Nutrition and Behaviour Unit at the University of Bristol, I am investigating the parental feeding practices and problems of primary school-aged children with and without a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. More recently, I was appointed as associate editor of the Culture section of BPS The Psychologist magazine.

I have done things differently to many of my peers, most of whom worked part-time alongside the degree and are now in assistant psychologist roles or on doctoral programmes, but I wouldn’t change anything. Everyone is different and has their own set of beliefs, goals and dreams; I am content in the knowledge that I am able to help people in the way that I have been helped. I believe I am continuing to hone my skills in order to work with the sensitivity and dedication that is needed for a psychologist. I can’t wait to someday qualify as a chartered psychologist and be able to make contributions to the improvement of educational and socioemotional outcomes of children, young people and their families when they need it most. It all started at Staffs!

If you have any questions about my journey please email or follow me on twitter!


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.

Ambassadors Open Day Staffs Uni

Reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour: the damage on young people during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Alison Owen

Research carried out at Staffordshire University has looked at the impact in young people of a reduction in physical activity and an increase in sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research was carried out by Staffordshire University Health Psychology lecturer, Dr Alison Owen, alongside Dr Kathryn Bould, a lecturer in Psychology at Liverpool John Moores university.

The research involved looking at the results of studies published since the start of the pandemic, to bring together the findings of the pieces of research looking at physical activity and sedentary behaviour in young people during the pandemic. Stockwell et al. (2021) define physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscle that results in energy expenditure, and can include exercising, walking, gardening and doing household chores. Sedentary behaviours can be defined as any waking behaviour with an energy expenditure of ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents while in a sitting or reclining posture, including watching TV, video gaming and computer use (Stockwell et al., 2021).

The studies showed that children’s physical activity behaviours have lessened significantly during these times, while their sedentary behaviours have risen significantly. For example one study (Moore et al., 2020), found that only 4.8% (2.8% girls, 6.5% boys) of children and 0.6% (0.8% girls, 0.5% boys) of youth were meeting combined movement behaviour guidelines during COVID-19 restrictions. They found that children had lower physical activity levels, less outside time, higher sedentary behaviours (including leisure screen time), and more sleep during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In their report, Dr Owen and Dr Bould made some suggestions for ways to encourage and foster physical activity in both children and their families, for example by showing people different ways of staying active and offering other opportunities for physical activity, as well as ensuring the feeling of staying safe and being protected.

The work has been published in the British Journal of Child Health. If you are interested in reading the full article, or have any questions about the study then please contact Dr Alison Owen – alison.owen@staffs.ac.uk

References

Moore, S., Faulkner, G., & Rhodes R (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 virus outbreak on movement and play behaviours of Canadian children and youth: a national survey. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 17(1), 85.

Owen, A. & Bould, K. (2021). Reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour: the damage on young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.British Journal of Child Health, 2(2), 64-68.

Stockwell, S., Trott, M. & Tully, M. (2021). Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviours from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown: a systematic review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine. 7:e000960.


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 @HealthPsyStaffs and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

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

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.

Etched in the skin: Grief on a living canvas, memorial tattoos as expressions of grief

Written by PhD researcher Bee Swann-Thomas.

Bee Swann-Thomas

I am Bee Swann-Thomas and I am currently in my second year of studying for a PhD in Psychology. My research interest is exploring whether having a memorial tattoo has an impact upon the grieving process.

I have previously researched this topic for my MSc in Psychotherapeutic Counselling at Staffordshire University. What sparked my interest was the death of my Dad and having a memorial tattoo in his memory. Memorial tattoos have a very personal meaning to me, and I am pleased to have recently had my paper published in Mortality Journal.

The findings from this research showed that memorial tattoos can be a valuable therapeutic aid in the grieving process. They can serve as a permanent physical reminder of a loved one, help with continuing bonds, allow the deceased a virtual afterlife, help in the adjustment to loss, serve as a tool of communication, and be an embodied representation of change. Memorial tattoos empower the bereaved to emerge from the loss of a loved one with a ‘beautiful scar’.

Conducting my MSc research was really fascinating, and it was an honour to hear peoples’ stories of love and loss. As a result, I have decided to continue my research for my PhD.

I would like to invite you to participate in my research that is being conducted in the Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University. I am interested in the experience of individuals (aged 18 years or over) who have experienced the loss of a loved one and have had a memorial tattoo in their memory. I will be researching five different categories of bereavement: Perinatal loss, Loss through suicide, Military Loss, Cremation ashes tattoos and Loss through Covid-19.

The research will involve a one-to-one interview conducted remotely via the Microsoft Teams platform. The interview will last approximately 1 hour, where you will be asked questions relating to your loved one and your memorial tattoo. You will also be asked to provide a photograph of your memorial tattoo which will be included within the research.

If you are interested in taking part in the research or would like to request further information please contact the me at bee.swann-thomas@research.staffs.ac.uk


If you are affected by any of the bereavements outlined and would like to access a grief support service please contact one of the following:

  • Sands – Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity, Helpline: 0808 164 332, Email: helpline@sands.org.uk
  • Suviviors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), Helpline: 0300 111 5065, Email: support@uksobs.org
  • Supporting the Military Family, Cruse Bereavement Care Helpline: 0808 808 1677, Email: helpline@cruse.org.uk
  • The Lullaby Trust, Helpline: 0808 802 6868, Email: support@lullabytrust.org.uk
  • Covid-19 Bereavement Support, Cruse Bereavement Care Helpline: 0808 808 1677, Email: helpline@cruse.org.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.

Dr Amy Burton contributes to an edited collection of chapters on physical activity and visual impairment

Dr Amy Burton

Dr Amy Burton has contributed to an edited collection of chapters on physical activity and visual impairment. The book, entitled Movement and Visual Impairment: Research across Disciplines has been edited by Dr Justin Haegele and is an in-depth review of research spanning a range of disciplines including biomechanics, physical education and Paralympic sport.

Dr Burton’s chapter reviews the research evidence regarding physical activity interventions for older adults with vision impairment. The chapter includes an over view of her own work highlighting how engaging in physical activity in later-life can be particularly challenging for those with vision loss (Burton et al, 2016) with a number of psychological, social and societal factors contributing to low levels of engagement (Burton et al, 2018).

Visually impaired person walking

The chapter provides a detailed overview and critique of interventions designed to promote physical activity for older adults with sight loss. The majority of these have been dedicated to reducing falls risk and have shown limited success. In the chapter Dr Burton highlights how a focus on functional limitations in research has been at the expense of acknowledging other psychological, cultural, and societal barriers to engagement. The chapter ends with a call for researchers to further engage with the social motivators for exercise in older adults with sight loss and to pay greater attention to the potential for the psychological, in addition to physical, benefits of being more active.

To learn more or purchase a copy of this book visit: https://www.routledge.com/Movement-and-Visual-Impairment-Research-across-Disciplines/Haegele/p/book/9780367434397


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 @HealthPsyStaffs and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

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

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.

Research exploring body image in Female Athletes

Our Dr Alison Owen writes about her research exploring body image in female athletes.

Research carried out at Staffordshire University has looked into body image in a group of British female athletes, to look into how they feel about their appearance, and whether they feel that appearance pressures have impacted on their athletic careers in any way. The research was carried out by Staffordshire University graduate Tess Allen, alongside Staffordshire University Health Psychology lecturer, Dr Alison Owen.

British female athletes were interviewed individually, and asked to discuss their thoughts and feelings about their body. All of the athletes reported feeling the need to maintain a particular appearance. The women also all reported feeling pressure from outside influences, including the media, as well as from the uniforms they had to wear for their sports.

A number of suggestions and recommendations have arisen from the research findings, including a need for interventions to maintain a positive body image in female athletes, as well as considerations for factors such as uniform choice.

The work has been published in the Journal of Qualitative Research in Sports Studies. If you are interested in reading the full article, or have any questions about the study then please contact Dr Alison Owen – alison.owen@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.

Student Stories: Kim Buckless L6 BSc Psychology & Child Development Student – My final year project

Written by Kim Buckless, Psychology and Child Development student

I’m a final year mature student on BSc Psychology and Child Development. I wanted to share my experiences and a few tips from working on my final year project so far.

My experiences leading up to the project

Person looking stressed whilst studying. Image from pixabay.

I have been worried about my final year project throughout my course. Every time the project was mentioned my anxiety levels would be through the roof, thinking about SPSS, word counts, discussions and disseminating my findings. Now I’m in my final year and working on the project it is a little daunting, but I am determined to plough on and work on a project that I am really interested in.

My project

My project title is ‘Investigating the link between Autism and Eating Behaviours in Children and Adolescents’ (yes, it is a mouthful!). I am currently in the recruitment phase, which can be challenging as my project is looking for a specific demographic of participants (I know, haven’t made it easy for myself).

Thinking about your project?

Pages of a book folded up into a heart shape. Image from pixabay.

Read, and read a lot. I recommend having a read around the topics that you are interested in. Some articles include suggestions for future research which can be really useful. The project can be on any topic area in Psychology, this is a great aspect of the Psychology courses at Staffs as it gives you the opportunity to choose the topic area yourself and then work with your supervisor.

In addition to reading in your topic area I highly recommend participating in research projects. This gives you many ideas on different methodologies and other research areas that can help to develop your ideas when you are ready to put your project together. You will see the standard consent and debrief forms that you will adapt for your study. Furthermore, the University library has helpful guides if you are considering using Qualtrics to collect questionnaire responses that are worth checking out!

Working with your supervisor

If you haven’t got a clue about what project you’d like to conduct don’t worry! The lecturers do a pitch on their areas of interest and some potential ideas that you could build on in level 5. This enables you to consider which supervisor’s you might like to work with, and you can have a chat with them about your project ideas. This is a really good way to assess the feasibility of your project and gain feedback on your ideas. You can also chat about what the project will involve e.g. whether the study should be quantitative or qualitative, which may be a big deciding factor on your materials and which supervisor you choose.

Start with arrows off it indicating different directions. Image from pixabay.

If you still can’t decide don’t worry, you can submit multiple ideas to different potential supervisors, ranking them from your most preferred option at the end of level 5. This enables students and supervisors to be matched based on methodology, topic area and your preferences. Your project supervisor needs to be someone that you feel you will get on with because the number of meetings and emails about the project are relentless! In my case my supervisor is always there to support me and offer those much-needed pep talks!

Remember all the little steps count!

Well done written on a Blackboard. Image from pixabay.

Remember every part of the project you complete e.g., handing in your ethics form, is one ticked off your list, so be proud of yourself. Also, when you feel like it becomes overwhelming, take a break, and come back to it when you feel ready. Take advantage of the fact that you are being guided through every stage of your project as most careers in psychology will involve research. But don’t worry about making mistakes, it’s the best way to learn for the future.

Interested in participating?

Finally, I’m going to give my project a cheeky plug, so feel free to take part, share or tweet on your social media. If you have a child with a confirmed diagnosis of Autism, aged between 9 and 16 and fully verbal please do consider participating! The study will involve you and your child answering questions about their behaviours and thoughts around eating. It will also involve your child completing a brief multiple-choice quiz to assess their understanding of language. Thank you so much!

Autism written in jigsaw pieces. Image from pixabay.

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.

PhD Student Sonia publishes her first paper in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice!

Written by Sonia Begum, PhD student, exploring uptake and retention on the Diabetes Prevention Programme.

Sonia Begum

I am really pleased to have my first paper published from my PhD research, a systematic review in an international journal, Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. I am supervised by Dr Rachel Povey, Professor Christopher Gidlow and Dr Naomi Ellis who are also co-authors of this paper.

I am one of several PhD students based in the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research at Staffordshire University.

My PhD programme is funded by the university and my aims are to explore important psychological factors affecting motivation to attend and complete diabetes prevention programmes (DPPs), with a particular focus on the Healthier You NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (NHSDPP). This a national programme consisting of a minimum of 13 group sessions over a 9-month period and aims to encourage those at high risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM), to make healthier lifestyle changes.

Diabetes prevention is currently a key priority both nationally and internationally. By maximising the number of people that start (i.e., uptake) and complete (i.e., retention) DPPs like the NHSDPP, this will ensure these programmes are both clinically effective and financially viable.

The published systematic review is the first to investigate recruitment strategies and behaviour change techniques associated with higher uptake and retention in Diabetes Prevention Programmes. Behaviour change techniques are key active ingredients of behaviour change and are now increasingly considered in behaviour change programmes.

Some of the key review findings were that problem-solving, demonstrating the behaviour, practising the behaviour, reducing negative emotions and using incentives for participation were more commonly found techniques in programmes with a lower number of drop-outs. By clinicians and programme organisers incorporating these techniques into their programmes, this will help towards achieving higher completion rates.

My following studies are currently being analysed and written up and will further explore the individual factors that affect participant motivation to attend and complete programmes like the NHSDPP.

If you would like to read the paper you can access it here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168822720305234


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.

My experience completing the Staffs Psychology research internship and how it helped me!

Written by Matt Kimberley, BSc Psychology 2020 Graduate and Psychology PhD student

My name is Matt and I have just finished my undergraduate degree in Psychology with a first and I started my PhD in psychology in September (also at Staffs). During my time at Staffs I have fallen in love with the research side of psychology and this helped me set my sights on completing a PhD in psychology. To do this I knew research experience would be extremely helpful!  Thanks to the experience gained from completing the research internships (and one terrifying interview!) I have been accepted onto the Psychology PhD course at Staffordshire University and am due to start my research into the barriers people face in the disclosure of their sexual fantasies.

My experience completing two research internship during my undergraduate studies:

The first of these was during the summer of 2019 where I assisted Dr. Jade Elliott and Dr. Erica Lucas with their project which examined the influence of glucose on reasoning. This involved assisting with the transcription and coding of audio recordings of participants. Scores were then inputted into a spreadsheet. This internship really helped me to improve my skills in the management and organisation of data. This was incredibly useful during the data analysis stage of my third-year project which produced a very large database.

This year I applied for a research internship with Dr Sam Jones. This project looks at Digital Literacy. Through this summer, I have been helping Sam to find research into digital literacy and summarise and present this in a clear manner. I have found tables especially helpful for this as a means of presenting all the studies and the key information associated. As this is a new area of research for both myself and Sam, I have particularly enjoyed learning more about the area alongside Sam and sharing our findings through weekly teams meetings. Through this internship and my meetings with Sam, I feel my literature searching skills and the way that I organise research has improved massively. This will be very helpful next year when I am conducting a literature review for my own research! Through my work on this internship, I am being made a named author on the upcoming first journal article.

Through completing both research internships, my skills in literature searching and the management of research and data have improved. This has proved incredibly useful during my studies and will be useful when conducting my own research next year. If anyone is considering doing a research internship next year, I highly recommend it! Especially if you will be completing your third-year project the following year or are considering a career in research. The skills you will gain working alongside the lecturers will be incredibly helpful!


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.

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 @HealthPsyStaffs and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

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