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Watch the eyes: Health psychology and machines that go ‘ping’


Think of psychological research and the image that comes to mind might be completing a questionnaire, looking at some inkblots or perhaps participating in a bizarre social experiment.  Psychological research methodologies encompass a much wider range of techniques and approaches. Some may seem deceptively low tech – such as focus groups and individual interviews, diaries and participant observations. However, health psychologists increasingly draw on information technology, social media and sophisticated electronic devices to conduct their research and put their theories into practice.

In the past year alone, students on the MSc health psychology did independent and collaborative research using interviews/focus groups to explore a range of topics including

  • The attitudes of healthcare staff to providing positive birth experiences
  • Academic midwifery perspectives on teaching about maternal obesity
  • The experience of early stage dementia sufferers and their partners
  • Barriers and facilitators to health promotion for South Asian people
  • Young women’s beliefs about long-acting reversible contraception
  • Service users and providers’ perspectives on stress management through vocational rehabilitation in schizophrenia
  • South Asian fathers’ perspectives on childhood obesity

Previous students have used online surveys and studies of internet discussion forums to explore the experiences of patients and their families, for example, what it is like to be an elderly person whose adult son or daughter becomes increasingly disabled by multiple sclerosis.

Some of our outgoing MSc health psych students also designed a smart phone app to improve self management for adolescent boys with type 1 diabetes. An important consideration was that the app should work on the latest and most desirable mobile handset.

We already have close links with staff in the University’s Applied Research Centre in Health & Lifestyle Interventions, where numerous projects have harnessed technology to address issues as diverse as breastfeeding and adolescent sexual health. For 2013/14 we are hoping to work more closely with the university’s Health Design & Technology Institute and Serious Games Institute, with a view to realising some of the products our MSc students have designed.

Meanwhile we’ve welcomed a new piece of kit to Psychology & Behavioural Sciences in the form of an advanced eye tracker. There is a lot of scope for staff and postgraduate research using this facility.  Being able to trace and record accurately where a person’s eyes are roaming is an excellent adjunct to more traditional research methods.  For example, we can ask research participants whether they attend to nutritional information that’s presented on food labels or restaurant menus. Now we’ll be able to check what they actually look at and for how long. We might also be able to find out how people really navigate through health information websites, interact with health behaviour change apps and so on. Just need to check if the machine that makes all of this possible really does go ‘ping’.

Small print: This isn’t our actual machine – it is too fresh out of the packaging to be cornered for a photograph. Pic courtesy of wiki commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eyetracker1.jpg

Pageant of potential dissertation supervisors Thursday 17th October


As some of you may already know, we invite staff from the Applied Research Centre in Health & Lifestyle Interventions to visit our Professional Practice class each year to pitch research opportunities to MSc dissertation students.  This is really a two way process, in which students can suggest their own project ideas and try matching up with a supervisor, rather than simply slotting in to existing studies.  Staff from within the core health psychology teaching team will also have research opportunities available.  All students with a project supervisor from the research centre also have a second supervisor from within the core teaching team.  This is to ensure continuity and provide consistency of advice and assessment.

This year’s Pageant/Dragon’s Den will be Thursday 17th October 3.30-5.30 pm.  Room and cast to be confirmed.  No tears anticipated. Business dress optional 🙂

Success for this year’s cohort (and countdown to our newbies)

Congratulations to our MSc Health Psychology students who got their dissertation marks today. This was the last piece of assessed work on the course.

We know that some of you already have plans for your next career step, and we hope that all of you will stay in touch. Some of you have already expressed an interest in coming back as guest speakers. And for those who have been too shy to ask – don’t worry – we’ll probably email and pester you!

If you are free, we’d love you to come and meet our new cohort of students at induction day on Tuesday 24th September. The Dean’s welcome talk for new starters will be 09.30-09.45 in Charles Ward Building 215. Further details of the timetable for the day will follow soon.

Best wishes

Carol Percy
Course Director, MSc Health Psychology.