Junior Research Associate in the ChatLab

By Madeleine Weaver


This summer I took part in the Junior Research Associates (JRA) scheme in the Children and Technology Lab (Chatlab) http://www.sussex.ac.uk/psychology/chatlab/ with Professor Nicola Yuill. The JRA scheme is an 8 week programme designed for students who are considering post graduate study.

Amongst other things, the Chatlab looks into how technology can be used to support children with autism to collaborate.  I wanted to research immersion in technology and how this might be linked to body movement and collaboration in people with autism. This idea came about from my own observations of people with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) being highly immersed in technology, ‘digital bubbles’ http://digitalbubbles.org.uk/; combined with knowledge on embodied cognition I gained from my course at Sussex: Psychology with Cognitive Science. I thought this research could be useful in understanding the impact that highly immersive technologies might have on the embodied aspects of social interaction such as gestures and facial expressions, that are already difficult for people with ASC to understand. 

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Annual Kindness Symposium at Sussex 2018

By Jessica Cotney

Robin 3rd Kindness Conference

Prof Robin Banerjee launching the 3rd Annual Sussex Kindness Symposium

A few weeks ago, the University of Sussex hosted the third annual Sussex Kindness Symposium in order to celebrate World Kindness Day. The event was organised by Prof. Robin Banerjee from the School of Psychology, funded by Kindness UK as part of the Kindness UK Doctoral Conference Award, and featured kindness-related work from across the university and beyond. Following an invited keynote presentation by Dr Oliver Scott Curry from University of Oxford, there was an interactive poster workshop, highlighting a number of research projects from across campus that are working to illuminate, evaluate and/or promote kindness. The symposium also included a panel discussion of how staff and students at the University of Sussex can promote (or are already promoting) kindness on campus. The event was a massive success, attracting staff and students from a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as staff members from professional services and senior leadership teams.


Mindfulness meditation at Sussex Kindness 2018

Loving-Kindness meditation session led by Chris McDermott

One thing that truly stood out was the multidisciplinary and diverse nature of the event. Contrary to the traditional academic symposium, the day was not dominated by jargon-heavy lectures but instead combined scientific talks with visual displays of research findings, interactive panel discussions, and non-academic sessions. The day began with the whole room embracing a guided loving-kindness meditation, led by Chris McDermott our Lead Chaplain. This was a real highlight of the day and set the tone for the rest of the event. It demonstrated one of the many ways that kindness has been used in the real world to promote well-being and this thread of kindness, meditation, and well-being was woven throughout the day. For instance, self-compassion (a core aspect of loving-kindness meditation) was highlighted by Tamara Leeuwerik (School of Psychology) during the poster workshop as a useful treatment for individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder. Chris provides guided meditations for Sussex staff and students every week and so, this also showcased one of the current initiatives on campus that works to promote and illuminate kindness and well-being in the university community.

The theme of ‘Kindness at Sussex’ was re-visited at the end of the event. A panel including Professor Kelly Coate, the pro-vice chancellor for education and students, Professor Clive Webb who is addressing staff mental health, Debora Green, Director of Well-being, and Sara Hinchliffe from the Student and Academic Administration Transformation (SAAT) team, discussed the ways that Sussex is working to promote kindness on campus. The interactive discussion began to unpick the challenges of enacting kindnesses within organisational systems that are dominated by rules, regulations, professionalism and performance targets. There were discussions on how to incorporate kindness within professional interactions and how to boost the community cohesion of staff and students for a kinder culture, a topic also highlighted in Alessia Goglio’s research poster on the socio-contextual factors that might influence kindness on campus. The panel also stressed the importance of caring for staff mental health and highlighted the need to incorporate this within staff support services. This discussion is just the beginning, but it was promising to see a diverse group of staff committed to promote — and overcome the barriers to — kindness on campus.

Alongside the attention given to organisational practices, the event succeeded in showcasing a whole host of interesting research findings and academic discussion, from a wide range of disciplines including law, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and social work.

Oliver Curry at Sussex Kindness 2018

Dr Oliver Scott Curry during his talk

Dr Oliver Scott Curry, Director of the Oxford Morals Project, at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford provided a thought-provoking keynote talk on the nature, content and structure of human morality. He explained why we are kind, from an evolutionary perspective, and then went on to show that kindness has positive effects on a giver’s well-being. The take home message was that we are wired to be kind and that people are ‘happy to help’. This message also came through during the poster workshop, where a selection of psychology posters demonstrated the positive effects of being kind on happiness and well-being, from neuroscience (Jo Cutler), social-developmental (Jess Cotney) and clinical (Tamara Leeurwerik) perspectives. The poster workshop also focussed on the role of kindness in building trustful social work interactions with children (Prof. Michelle Lefevre, School of Education and Social Work), the way that kindness may influence collective action for social change (Jolyon Miles-Wilson, School of Psychology), and whether kindness has a place in human rights protection (Xue Zhang, School of Law) and citizen aid (Dr Meike Fechter, School of Global Studies). The poster workshop also celebrated three PhD students who received the Kindness UK Doctoral Conference Award 2018, a university initiative designed to promote kindness in partnership with Kindness UK. All three winners, Tamara Leeuwerik, Xue Zhang and Ishrat Khan were supported to present their research at an international conference.

The Sussex Kindness Symposium was part of a larger initiative to conduct kindness-based research on campus. An interdisciplinary group of researchers, funded by Kindness UK, have come together to plan research that seeks to illuminate, promote, or understand kindness. The first of these projects is just beginning, with Prof. Robin Banerjee and Jess Cotney (School of Psychology) leading a qualitative study on kindness within public services. As part of this research, they will be interviewing staff and students about kindness on campus. If you would like to find out more about Kindness at Sussex, you can follow us on Twitter: @SussexKindness or email Jess, J.Cotney@sussex.ac.uk, to be added to the Sussex Kindness mailing list.

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The Psychology of Driving

By Dr Graham Hole

My recently-published book,”The Psychology of Everything: Driving” is one in a series of short books by Routledge that show how psychology can provide insights into every aspect of our daily lives. My book deals with a behaviour that can have deadly consequences: worldwide, every year, one and a quarter million people are killed on the roads, and 50 million seriously injured. Driving is the biggest cause of death amongst 15-29 year olds, especially young men.Driving psychology

My main aims with the book were twofold. Firstly, I wanted to show that psychology, as the science of the mind and behaviour, has a vital role to play in reducing road accidents, given that the vast majority are primarily due to human error. Secondly, I wanted to show how research can debunk some of the many myths relating to driving that are based on intuition, “common-sense” or pseudo-science.

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Exploring Kindness as a JRA

By Alessia Goglio

Being a Psychology undergraduate here at Sussex enabled me to explore different domains of interest in this fascinating subject and to develop my passion for “Positive Psychology”, the field that studies what is good in life.  Among the topic explored in this field, there is kindness: a construct that had been shown to not only improve life satisfaction and well-being but also friendships and relationships.

Kindness is a topic of growing interest in our university and one of the five core values of the Sussex 2025 Strategic Framework. Therefore, when I was given the amazing opportunity to work as a Junior Research Associate during summer 2018, I decided, with the help of my supervisor Professor Robin Banerjee and my mentor Jessica Cotney, to conduct a mixed-methods research investigating this positive construct.

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My JRA experience at the EDGE Lab

By Alexandra Schmidt

Over the summer I had the pleasure to be part of the Junior Research Associate scheme and conduct my first own piece of research in the EDGE lab. I got interested in the scheme when I visited the poster exhibition of the previous year’s JRA students and was amazed to see all the exciting and interesting research everyone was conducting.

For my project, I wanted to look at resilience and factors which may protect at-risk individuals from potential maladaptive outcomes, such as depression.

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Grouping by attainment in schools: can psychological interventions help turbo-charge poor students’ performance?

By Ian Hadden

Last month I attended the impressive – and buzzy – sell-out researchED 2018 annual conference in London.

The highlight for me was a fascinating piece of research presented by Becky Francis and Jeremy Hodgen of the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) on grouping secondary school students into classes (‘sets’) by attainment. This is often known as ‘setting’. Read more ›

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Psychology’s Ingenious Bar

We work hard to provide a great student experience for our students. We also want to make sure that there is always a place where you can tell us how to make your time at Sussex even better. That place is the Ingenious Bar, a drop-in session with the Head of School and/or members of the Management Team to speak about your experience as a psychology student at Sussex: what you like, what you don’t like, and any queries you might have about your course. Anything you tell us will be confidential, and we will try our best to take any suggestions on board.

Who is the Ingenious Bar for?

The Ingenious Bar is for you! Any Psychology student, from undergrad level to PhD, can use the Ingenious Bar.

How does it work? What kind of subjects can I discuss at the Ingenious Bar?

That depends on you. You might want to tell us how much you like your course (we’d love that!), or point out certain things that in your opinion could be better. You might have an idea for a School related initiative or event that the we could sponsor. You might have a query about a module, and your convenor or Academic Advisor is not available. You might be going through a difficult situation and want to talk about how this is impacting your studies (we’ll do our best to support you). In the past, we have received queries about marking criteria, project work, and even parking spaces. Whatever the subject, we want to hear it!

The staff at the Ingenious Bar will try to answer your queries on the spot or refer you to the relevant person. We will make sure to chase it up and get back to you with an answer as soon as possible. Every term we will publish a report here on the School blog, a kind of ‘you said, we did’. The report will not include student names to ensure that all queries remain confidential.

Who will be at the Ingenious Bar?

The Head of the School and the other members of the School’s Management Team will take turns at the desk:

Title Name
Head of School Prof Thomas Ormerod
Deputy Head of School Prof Robin Banerjee
Director of Teaching and Learning Dr Jessica Horst
Director of Student Experience Dr Richard De Visser
Director of Doctoral Studies Dr Sarah King
Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange Prof Martin Yeomans
Director of Recruitment and Admissions Dr Ryan Scott

We are also organising special sessions dedicated to specific themes, from assessment to careers in Psychology, and we will invite guest speakers from other sections of the University.

Check the calendar on this Canvas site to see who will be at the Ingenious Bar and when.

When and where?

Every Monday to Thursday, between 12:30 and 13:30, at the reception desk in the School Office (Pevensey 1, 2A13). The calendar on the UG Psychology module on Canvasshows the days and times when the Ingenious Bar will be open.


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Student view: studying Psychology at Sussex

By Leila Davis

When I began studying psychology at Sussex in 2015, my biggest fear was how I would cope with the research and statistical aspect of the course, and generally whether I could cope with degree level work. It was only when I began studying on the course and started worrying about my ability that I realised there was an abundance of help available, and all I needed to do was ask.

Leila in the photo booth at the Finalist Party in June 2018

From then on, whenever an assignment or topic left me feeling worried or overwhelmed, I would take advantage of the following resources: forums, my academic advisor, office hours, course convenors, drop-in sessions, tutors and mentors. I have used every single one of these resources, and each time I have received the help I was looking for. Read more ›

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Keep calm and manage impulsivity

By Aleksandra Herman

Have you ever gone grocery shopping to get some bread and milk, and you found yourself leaving the shop with a bag full of items that you never intended (and needed) to buy? Or maybe you’ve committed to keeping a diet, but found it impossible to resist another helping of that delicious chocolate cake? Or perhaps instead of analysing all available information before making an important decision, you tend to make a choice on impulse?

We all behave impulsively, to some extent, on a daily basis. Sometimes, acting impulsively is harmless or even advantageous, for example when there is little time to react, or when the matter is of little importance (e.g. ‘what am I having for dinner tonight?’). Keeping a healthy balance is important though: Too much impulsivity leads to negative consequences and has been associated, among other things, with alcohol abuse, addictions, overeating or dangerous sexual behaviours (e.g. unprotected sex). Increased levels of impulsivity are also characteristic features of certain neuropsychiatric conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  Read more ›

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Final Year “Retreat” Programme 2018-19

It’s back and it’s bigger and better than ever – drawing on student feedback from the January and September 2017 events, we’ve put together 3 events over your final year to provide extra support on careers, wellbeing, and the dissertation. Find out more and sign up below!  Read more ›

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