Psychology Research Seminar Series

The School of Psychology hosts an exciting international range of visiting speakers from universities across the world, giving students and staff the opportunity to find out about the latest advances. Details of each talk can be viewed in the abstracts below.

Seminars take place on most Wednesday afternoons between September and March, from 16:00 until 17:00, with tea, coffee, and biscuits available from 15:30. A question and answer session will follow immediately after the talk.

These seminars are not open to the general public, but are for staff and students of Plymouth University and associated institutions. 

Forthcoming Seminars: PSQ109 at 4pm (Biscuits from 3.30pm)

22 November 2017 - Prof. Kenny Coventry University of East Anglia Spatial Demonstratives and Perceptual Space: Describing and remembering object location

  • Spatial demonstratives - terms including this and that - are among the most common words across all languages. Yet, there are considerable differences between languages in how demonstratives carve up space and the object characteristics they can refer to, challenging the idea that the mapping between spatial demonstratives and the vision and action systems is universal. Overviewing findings from multiple experiments, I show direct parallels between spatial demonstrative usage in English and (non-linguistic) memory for object location, indicating close connections between the language of space and non-linguistic spatial representation. Spatial demonstrative choice in English and immediate memory for object location are affected by a range of parameters - distance, ownership, visibility and familiarity - that are lexicalized in the demonstrative systems of some other languages. The results support a common set of constraints on language used to talk about space and on (non-linguistic) spatial representation itself. While demonstrative systems are not diagnostic of the parameters that affect demonstrative use in a language, demonstrative systems across languages may emerge from basic distinctions in the representation and memory for object location. In turn, these distinctions offer a building block from which non-spatial uses of demonstratives can develop.

29 November 2017 - Dr Séverin Lemaignan School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics From children's free play to robot's AI


6 December 2017 - Dr Mark Haselgrove, University of Nottingham Making and breaking a cognitive map

  • Human and non-human animals can use information provided by the geometry of the environment to navigate towards hidden goals. Despite a relative paucity of evidence, environmental geometry has been suggested to constitute a key component of global, allocentric representations of space - The cognitive map (e.g.: Gallistel, 1990). Other research, however, has emphasised the role of more local, and egocentric, representations of environmental geometry for navigation (e.g. Pearce, 2009). In this lecture I will present evidence for the use of both of these frames of representation during spatial navigation in virtual environments in human participants. In particular we examined whether navigation based on these two representational frames is susceptible to interference from other spatial information (e.g. landmarks). Our results indicate that both cognitive maps and more local, egocentric, representations of space are susceptible to interference effects such as overshadowing, blocking or the ID-ED effect.



Previous seminars in this series

15 November 2017 - Dr Natalia Lawrence, University of Exeter Apps for Overeating? Using Cognitive Training to Modify Impulses towards Food 

  • This talk will summarise research suggesting that computerised tasks can be used to train response inhibition to foods resulting in reduced food intake and weight loss. Results from controlled lab studies and large-scale real-world studies will be presented. Findings suggest promising training effects in adults and children. I will briefly discuss the possible mechanisms underlying intervention effects and consider how we might be able to optimise this training in order to achieve sustained changes in eating behaviour.

8 November 2017 - Dr Domna Banakou, University of Barcelona The Impact of Virtual Embodiment on Perception, Attitudes, and Behaviour

  • Over the past two decades extensive research in experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and virtual reality has provided evidence for the malleability of our brain's body representation. It has been shown that, under appropriate multisensory integration, a person's body can be substituted by a life-sized artificial one, resulting in a perceptual illusion of body ownership over the fake body. More importantly, several studies in virtual reality have shown that when people are virtually represented with a body different to their own, they exhibit behaviours associated with attributes pertaining to that body. We will explore how we exploited Immersive Virtual Reality to induce body ownership illusions over distinct virtual bodies. By combining the knowledge gained from previous studies in the field, we studied the extent to which people can accept as their own, a virtual body that differs significantly from their real body. Additionally, we examined how an altered self-representation can influence one's self-perception, perception of the environment, and implicit biases. Moreover, by exploiting the basic concepts of action perception and agency, we tested whether it is possible to induce illusory agency over specific actions that are not carried out by the participants themselves.
1 November 2017 - Dr Cordet Smart University of Plymouth Emergent new understandings of small groups

25 October 2017 - Dr Belen Lopez-Perez Liverpool Hope University I want you to Feel Bad: Adults’ and Children’s Motivation in Interpersonal Affect Worsening

  • Every day in their interactions, people (agents) shape and influence others’ emotions (targets). According to the hedonic approach to emotion regulation, people generally aim to increase positive emotions in friends, and induce negative emotions in foes. However, the instrumental approach has shown that adults can be driven by an egoistic motivation and make partners feel bad if they (agents) can benefit from it. In the first study, I will show how adults can also be altruistically motivated by making others feel negative if this can be beneficial for the target’s long-term well-being and it does not entail any direct benefit for the agent of the regulation process. In the second study, I will present some preliminary results with children (8-10 year-olds) which support the hedonic approach; Children only worsened their game rival’s mood even when worsening their game partner’s mood could help them to get a prize. The results will be discussed in terms of how emotion-outcome expectancies may affect people’s efforts to change others’ emotions.
18 October 2017 - Gavin Buckingham Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter Weight Illusions - what do they represent?

  • How good are we at determining how heavy something is? It turns out that we're actually pretty poor at this simple-seeming perceptual task. Indeed, there are several compelling illusions in which various identically-weighted objects feel as if they weigh different amounts from one another. For example, in the size-weight illusion, small objects can feel up to 50% heavier than identically-weighted large objects. Various studies seem to indicate that prior expectations cause the size-weight illusion, but the mechanisms behind this robust perceptual effect are not well understood. I will present data from a number of studies examining real and illusory weight perception in a range of different situations and special populations which might get us (incrementally) closer to understanding the physiological and psychological factors which drive our experience of an object's weight.


11 October 2017 - Dr Gunnar Schmidtmann Eye and Vision Research Group, Plymouth University A Novel Database of Facial Expressions of Mental States: The McGill Face Database

  • Databases of facial expressions of mental states typically represent only a very small subset of expressions, usually the basic emotions of fear, disgust, surprise, happiness, sadness, and anger. In order to expand the range of stimuli available for psychological and neuroscientific research (e.g. theory-of-mind), we have developed and validated a large database of pictures of facial expressions of mental states. 93 different expressions of mental states were interpreted by two native English-speaking professional actors. High-quality colour pictures were taken under controlled lighting and perspective conditions both in front view and side view, resulting in 372 different pictures. Results from two different validation experiments demonstrate the reliability and applicability of these stimuli. The database is available in English, French and German and is freely available for scientific, non-commercial purposes. In a pilot experiment, 20 healthy subjects and four patients with schizophrenia were tested with a subset of faces from the new database. The database was applied before and after a Social Cognitive Intervention Therapy. Preliminary results show that after the therapy the emotional states are perceived more 'strongly' than before, i.e. the patients classified the emotions more 'correctly' compared to pre-treatment performance.

4 October 2017 - Dr Becky Mckenzie Plymouth Institute of Education Autism, NIHR and RDS: experiences of applying for health related funding


10 May 2017 Keith Jensen University of Manchester  The Heart of Human Sociality

  • Human prosocial behaviour might be unique in the animal kingdom. The fact that we cooperate on a large scale with nonkin might be underlain by psychological mechanisms not seen in their full form in other species. Other-regarding concerns, concern for the welfare of others, might be a core component of human sociality. While empathy might also us to know something about the feelings of others, we need to care about others so that we act. However, the ability to feel into others and to be concerned about others does not guarantee prosociality. We may also be uniquely antisocial, taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others and distress at their happiness. These concerns can motivate a range of behaviours from helping to punishment, from fairness to spite, from morality to cruelty. In this talk, I will present experimental evidence from human children and chimpanzees to suggest that other-regarding concerns emerge early in children and might not exist in our closest living relatives.

3 May 2017 Henry Otgaar Maastricht University Remembering and believing in the legal context

  • Memory plays a vital role in the courtroom. In the majority of criminal trials, forensic technical evidence such as DNA-samples is lacking. Legal professionals such as judges have to base their decisions then on eyewitness testimonies and statements provided by suspects. Since such statements contain recollections of eyewitnesses or suspects, it is of the utmost relevance that memory experts can help legal professionals in educating them about the role of memory in court. Legal cases and experimental studies have shown that people can falsely remember entire traumatic episodes such as sexual abuse which has led to wrongful convictions. In this talk, I will present the latest work on the role of memory in court. I will do this by presenting new work from my lab and will clarify this work with legal cases in which I was involved as an expert witness. Also, I will make the suggestion that in many cases, people do not remember but merely believe that an event occurred and that such beliefs are likely to play a more important part in court than memory.

26 April 2017 Chris Harris University of Plymouth  Decisions, decisions, decisions

29 March Phil McAleer University of Glasgow  First impressions of speaker personality from voices

  • Previous work from our group showed that the key personality traits listeners establish upon hearing novel voices can be reduced to a two-dimensional space aligned to ratings of Trustworthiness and Dominance. The 'Social Voice Space' shows remarkable consistency to the main personality traits found in other domains, including face perception, and is proposed to drive our decisions of whether to enact approach or avoidance behaviour. In this talk I will provide a brief summation of the 'Social Voice Space' before presenting results from ongoing work that looks to establish the stability of such personality judgements across changing listener and speaker scenarios. I will conclude by outlining work exploring a proposed positivity bias in older listeners towards younger voices.

22 March Claire Braboszcz  Plymouth University  Neuroscience of mental imagery

15 March Lisa Leaver Exeter University  Cognition in grey squirrels: what we know and why it matters

 1 March Paul Artes Plymouth University  Super-Vision - designing new vision tests with hyperacuity stimuli: rewards and challenges.

  • Hyperacuities are a class of visual tasks with exquisitely low thresholds, with performance ~10 times better than suggested by the spacing of retinal receptors. For example, human observers can detect misalignment between two lines (Vernier acuity), or distortions of a circular object (radial deformation acuity), of the order of a few seconds of arc. This seminar will illuminate some new clinical applications of hyperacuity stimuli for vision measurements in clinical practice, and discuss what innovations will be needed to translate cutting-edge visual psychophysics into practical clinical tools.

22 February Daryl O'Connor University of Leeds  Karoshi: Effects of Stress on Health and Wellbeing

  • This talk will argue that stress may indirectly contribute to health risk and reduced longevity to the extent that it produces deleterious changes in diet and/or helps maintain maladaptive health behaviours (e.g., smoking, alcohol consumption) as well as directly by influencing biological processes across the life span (e.g., blood pressure, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning). Studies investigating the relationship between chronic stress, perseverative cognition, the cortisol response and health outcomes will be presented. The second half of the talk will describe recent work investigating the role of HPA axis responses to stress in suicide attempters and ideators. The importance of studying the effects of stress across the life course and developing stress management interventions will also be highlighted.

8 February Debbie Mills  Bangor University  Interactions between language experience, emotion, and executive function: ERP studies of bilingual adults

1 February Sylvia Pan Goldsmiths, University of London  What is Virtual Reality and How Does it Work for Social Psychologists?

25 January Andy Wills Plymouth University  Progress in modelling through distributed collaboration: Concepts, tools, and examples

  • Formal modelling in psychology is failing to live up to its potential due to a lack of effective collaboration. As a first step towards solving this problem, the Catlearn Research Group have produced a set of freely-available tools for distributed collaboration. In this talk, I'll describe those tools, and the conceptual framework behind them. I'll also provide concrete examples of how these tools can be used. The approach I propose enhances, rather than supplants, more traditional forms of publication. All the resources for this project are freely available from the catlearn website.

18 January 2017 Lorraine Whitmarsh Cardiff University  Behaviour change or lifestyle change? Evidence and prospects for behavioural 'spillover'

  • There is increasing acknowledgement that profound changes to individual behaviour are required in order to tackle climate change, and yet policies to achieve these changes have so far met with limited success. Most people are willing to make only very small changes to their lifestyle - so new ways of encouraging green behaviour which can match the scale of the climate change challenge are needed. The UK government and several psychologists have suggested behavioural 'spillover' might be a way to achieve this. Spillover is the notion that taking up one green behaviour (e.g., recycling) can lead on to other green behaviours (e.g., taking your own bags shopping). Ultimately, this might hold the key to moving beyond piecemeal behaviour change to achieving more ambitious, holistic lifestyle change. This seminar will present initial work to explore when spillover does, does not, and could, occur using: UK correlational data, a field experiment of the Welsh carrier bag change, and lab experiments to induce behavioural spillover. Planned work to explore spillover across diverse cultures will also be outlined.

14 December 2017 Iris Englehard University of Utrecht How does EMDR work? A dual-task approach to degrading traumatic memories

7 December 2017 Anne Dowker University of Oxford Maths Anxiety in Girls

30 November 2016  Laurence White  Plymouth University The Origins of Speech Anti-Rhythm

23 November 2016 Felicity Bishop Southampton University Harnessing Placebo Effects in Routine Primary Care: GPs' and Patients' Perspectives

  • Placebos are an essential tool in randomised clinical trials, where they are used to control for bias and contextual healing effects. More controversially, researchers are developing ways of harnessing placebo effects for patient benefit in routine medical practice. In this seminar, I will describe a programme of work investigating professional and lay attitudes to clinical applications of placebo effects. Our web-based survey of 783 UK GPs showed that 97% of GPs have used placebos in clinical practice, and that so-called 'pure' placebos (e.g. sugar pills) are used rarely but 'impure' placebos (e.g. homeopathy) are used frequently. Qualitative analysis of GPs' comments revealed that they perceived a broad array of perceived harms and benefits of placebo-prescribing, reflecting fundamental bioethical principles at the level of the individual, the doctor-patient relationship, the NHS, and society. While some GPs were adamant that there was no place for placebos in clinical practice, others saw placebo effects as ubiquitous and potentially beneficial in primary care. Our focus group and survey research with patients demonstrates similarly strongly-held and diverse views about harnessing placebo effects in routine primary care. If placebo effects are to be better harnessed to benefit patients, then patients and GPs would benefit from educational interventions to dispel myths, challenge misconceptions, and increase knowledge. I will finish by describing our current work to develop such interventions.

16 November 2016  Jonathan Rolison University of Essex Risk-taking differences across adulthood: A question of age, domain, and self-perceptions.

9 November 2016 Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar  University of East Anglia 'Shining light' on visual working memory

  • Visual working memory (VWM) plays a key role in visual cognition, comparing percepts and identifying changes in the world as they occur. Previously, functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) has identified activation in frontal, parietal and temporal areas involved in VWM processing. There are, however, various issues with trying to use fMRI to investigate such brain functions in infancy and childhood and even in late adulthood. Instead, one can rely on functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to investigate hemodynamic changes in the cerebral cortex in both typical and atypical populations. Here, we will show a novel image reconstruction approach to move from conventional channel-based to voxel-based fNIRS activation, similar to what is obtained from fMRI analyses. I will validate this approach by comparing voxel-wise fNIRS results to fNIRS results from a VWM task in young adults. I will also present some evidence of using this approach to investigate VWM changes in the brain across the human life span.

26 October 2016 Bob French University of Borgouyne

  • Games involving cognitive skills of any kind have at least one thing in common: an adult can without the slightest effort beat a five-year-old child at them. With one exception: Concentration. The game works like this. A deck of cards consisting of pairs of various images, for example, pairs of images of various Pokemon characters: two Pikachu cards, two Charizard cards, two Gyarados cards, etc., is randomly dealt out, face down, on the table. Each of the two players takes turns turning over two cards. If they match, they keep that pair of cards and play again. If the two cards turned over do not match, they are turned face down again in their original locations and the other player plays. The game continues until there are no more cards on the table. The winner is the person with the most cards. Clearly this game requires two different memory skills: image-recollection and location-recollection. Along with other researchers, we have shown that adults are very significantly better at both of these memory skills than young children. And yet, children perform as well, and often better, than adults at this game, one that requires both image- and location-recognition! How on earth is this possible? I present a simple connectionist model that provides an insight for a possible solution to this paradox. The model suggests that no separate mechanisms are required for children to achieve their astonishingly good performance on this task. It also suggests a way for you to not be humiliated by being thrashed by your five-year-old child at this game...

19 October 2016  William Simpson Plymouth University What causes the other-race effect? Evidence from classification images

2 October 2016 Graham Turpin - University of Sheffield Books on prescription, self-help and trauma: a cautionary tale

  • Bibliotherapy and self-help are recognized features of many UK mental health services. Since the pioneering work of Neil Frude, Books on Prescription (BOP) Schemes have arisen in many NHS services through partnerships with public libraries. At the same time, the importance of 'Stepped Care Models' of service delivery has been stressed, whereby Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners offer low intensity psychological interventions such as bibliotherapy and self-help. A recent national development by a leading charity involving public libraries, the Reading Agency, has drawn these two initiatives together. The progress made in rolling out nationally the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme covering common mental health conditions, dementia, young people's mental health and long-term physical conditions will be briefly reviewed. It cannot be assumed, however, that every self-help intervention is effective in moderating symptoms and psychological problems. Research on providing self-help information to people who have recently attended hospital Accident and Emergency departments will be presented. Although attendees generally value being given relevant information, no evidence of the efficacy of information provision on moderating symptoms of PTSD was obtained in three independent RCTs. The implications of these studies for self-help provision are discussed.

5 October 2016 Bahar Koymen - Manchester University Putting heads together: Children's reasoning with others

  • Reasoning is classically viewed as an individual skill enabling a person to reach conclusions based on evidence. More recent accounts, however, have highlighted that reasoning - in the more restricted sense of explicating reasons for actions or conclusions - is a fundamentally social skill enabling two or more people to produce and evaluate one another's arguments in order to reach joint decisions (Mercier & Sperber, 2011; Tomasello, 2014). Therefore, in making joint decisions with a partner, children must evaluate the evidence behind their respective claims and so the rationality of their respective proposals. In this talk I will present series of studies in which 3-, 5-, and 7-year-old children produced and evaluated reasons with their peer partners to reach joint decisions. The findings overall suggest that children as young as 3-year-olds are able to reason with others. Children get better at reasoning in late preschool ages and eventually become very 'strategic' reasoners at school ages. Overall, these results support the view of children's joint reasoning as a fundamentally cooperative enterprise aimed at making jointly rational decisions.