Celebrating the 25 Black women making history in UK’s Professoriate

By Dr Varuni Wimalasiri

Overall there were 85 Black Professors in the UK’s Professoriate of 21,000 in 2019 (Rollock, 2019). Whilst 11.2% of White faculty occupy the senior role of Professor, at 4.6%, Black faculty are two and a half times less likely to make to this position (Advance HE, 2018).  There are just 25 Black (African Caribbean) female professors in the UK today, making them the most under-represented group in academic faculty (Rollock, 2019). Research has shown that there are significant barriers to progression including injustices and systemic racism to prevent progress (Arday, 2020). In these circumstances, a celebration of the 25 Black female Professors in our UK Professoriate is significant and important. Especially when we consider the arduous journey’s they have seemingly overcome to arrive at these positions. Earlier this year, photographer Andrew Knight hosted an Exhibition in London called ‘Phenomenal Women’ showcasing portraits of some of these Professors.

Nicola Rollock (2019) of Goldsmiths College led a study to understand reasons for lack of progress in Black female faculty by interviewing 20 out of UK’s 25 Professors, which then led to the release of the ‘Rollock report’.   There are repeated accounts in this report by this group of being undermined regularly in meetings, ignored during daily interactions by colleagues and repeatedly being passed over for progression in favour for lesser skilled faculty. Passive bullying and racial micro-aggressions are reported as being normal place for most of these academics throughout their career. A staggering 72% of Black and Minority ethnic (BAME) members, working in higher education, have been subject to bullying and harassment from managers. Unsurprisingly, quite a few of this group have considered leaving HE institutions altogether at some part of their career (Rollock, 2019). It is likely that most do, as at entry-level the representation of BAME staff is comparable to percentages in the general population in the UK (Advance HE, 2019).

Recent discourses and academic debates have started to unearth deeper levels of institutionalised racism that systemically disadvantage BAME groups (Arday & Mirza, 2018; Rollock, 2016). One such problem arises out of the label ‘BAME’ itself. This category holds all non-White people including- Asian – Asian or Asian British; Bangladeshi, Asian or Asian British; Indian, Asian or Asian British; Pakistani, and other Asian backgrounds, Black – Black or Black British: African, Black or Black British; Caribbean, and other Black backgrounds, Chinese, mixed, other ethnic backgrounds, including Arab. Even the word ‘Black’ is often used interchangeably to refer to people of other BAME backgrounds (i.e. Chinese and Indian ethnic groups) and is reflected in the varying statistics for this group. This blind acceptance of thinking that such a diverse range of ethnic groups can fall into just one category is problematic. Advance HE, the body that reports on statistics in HE has recognised this limitation and started reporting data disaggregated by more detailed ethnicity categories (Advance HE, 2019). Universities UK and National Union of Students in a combined report, have also recognised the barriers to creating realistic equitable outcomes for students due to limitations that arise out of the current system of categorisation (UUK-NUS, 2019).

Moreover, Eurocentric Epistemological perspectives dominate HE curriculum in most disciplines in what Delaguo et al (2002) call an ‘Apartheid of Knowledge’. More Universities are talking about decolonising the curriculum to address this, in a call to challenge long-standing biases and omissions that limit how we understand knowledge and society (Muldoon, 2019). In addition, research methods are also largely dominated by Epistemologies from the Global North where they were initially developed. Research with marginalised communities in the UK and elsewhere are helping us to understand threats to validity that arise out of these limitations. We are starting now to use methods guided by decolonised approaches to understand the lived experiences of ethnic minorities in a way that is true to their authentic lived experience, instead of trying to interpret them through a predetermined lens (Wimalasiri, 2020). Widening participation by deliberately finding ways to engage and include more individuals from BAME communities is also seen as a key to improving inclusion in HE (UUK- NUS, 2019) and is likely to have an impact on retention and progression of BAME communities in HE in the future. Race Charters and Diversity programmes are some of the effective instruments at our disposal to allow us to make effective and lasting changes to redress balances and provide equitable solutions. Seemingly, we are at a pivotal moment in HE history where we are openly starting to acknowledge limitations and shortfalls and actively looking to change these. Changes are afoot, yet there is a long way still to go.  

In reaching academic excellence despite of the significant barriers they have faced these 25 women are making history in UK’s professoriate today!  Their stories help our awareness and understanding of not just Black Faculty but of the strength of the human spirit told in a way to empower us to consider how we might all be part of this change. They are an inspiration to us all and the true embodiment of the acclaimed poem by Maya Angelou, ‘And Still We Rise’!

References

Delgado Bernal, D. & Villalpando, O. (2002) An apartheid of knowledge in academia: the struggle over “legitimate” knowledge of faculty of colour, Equity & Excellence in Education, 35 (2): 169-180.

Rollock, N. (2019), ‘Staying Power’: Career experiences and strategies of UK Black female Professors. UCU report.

Arday, J. (2020) Fighting the tide: Understanding the difficulties facing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Doctoral Students’ pursuing a career in Academia. Educational Philosophy and Theory: 1-8.

Arday, J. & Mirza,  H.S. (2016) Dismantling Race in Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Wimalasiri, V. (2020) Ethical and Methodological dilemmas in research with Refugee populations: At the intersection of Gender, Displacement and Work. British Academy of Management, Conference on the Cloud,2020.

Dr Varuni Wimalasiri is a lecturer in Organisational Psychology and part of the Social and Applied Psychology Group at the School of Psychology.

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The psychology of youth empowerment through music

by Maruša Levstek

For the past two years, I have been researching young people’s experiences of inclusive music-making and the psychology behind it. I have worked closely with a variety of inclusive music projects also known as the Our Future Music programme, funded by Youth Music and run as a collaboration of five music education hubs across the south of the UK. This has been the biggest focus of my PhD so far, the results of which are currently being reviewed for publication by an academic journal and summarised in this blog.

You can follow Maruša on Twitter @LevstekMarusa

The main aim of this research was to better understand not only the effects music-making has on the young people and their wellbeing, but also how these changes take place and what particular aspects of such environments drive them. I have worked with young people, parents, and creative practitioners involved with inclusive music projects targeting young people recognised as marginalised, at risk, or otherwise in need of support. We used music tutors’ session notes and surveys about young people’s personal and social progress. I have conducted several focus groups and interviews with the staff members, parents, and young people themselves, which discussed how making music affects young people and why. The results enabled us to model the route of youth empowerment through music, which consists of identified developments, psychological mechanisms driving these changes as well as the environmental factors that appeared to be crucial in supporting these processes.

In particular, over the time of their engagement with the sessions, young people appeared to improve musically and socially, especially in their communication skills and ability to work in a team. Growth in confidence was mentioned in every single discussion, visible in young people gradually becoming more comfortable around others and increasingly more active in their engagement with the sessions. Music-making also appeared to have a huge positive impact on its participants’ wellbeing. Many described how young people became calmer and better at managing their moods and emotions while making music. Interestingly, such benefits were visible the most in those young people who seemed to particularly struggle at first. I have encountered incredible stories of socially anxious young people making new friends, non-verbal young people singing out loud and individuals with symptoms of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) sitting still and just listening to music.

When exploring the underlying processes of such developments, there appear to be two main routes, one happening internally and the other in the context of the community formed around music. Making music, writing lyrics and developing personal music taste allows young people to explore and express their emotions and who they are. For this process to take place, I have learnt that it is crucial for tutors to allow the young people freedom of dictating their own musical learning within a structured framework (e.g. session regularity). This remarks the route of self-development, visible in increased wellbeing and calmness described above. The second route of development emphasises the significance of the community formed around the young people, practitioners and in some cases parents and youth workers. Although these young people come from different schools, friendship groups or neighbourhoods, there was always an incredible sense of connectedness, where everyone feels accepted and enough. Many reflected on the power of music in bringing people together, which was further nurtured by the incredible support participants offered each other, especially by those older or more able ones. Additionally, support, acceptance and validation offered by the staff members can be an unusual and unique experience for participants stigmatised by various sources of their marginalisation, for example disability, who might experience new versions of able and competent selves for the first time.

Working with such incredible music projects and being able to combine my love for music and psychology degree has made the best part of my PhD extremely enjoyable and unique. I was astonished by how welcoming and keen to share their experiences everyone has been, which has enabled me to not only survey but observe and experience the transformative power of music on everybody around it. Through this research, I realised how inclusive music projects provide marginalised young people with the tools for becoming active agents in dictating their own development and supporting others around them. Such opportunities can change the ways young people view themselves and even challenge the views of a wider audience through performance. This is why projects like Our Future Music can not only empower individuals, but also communities as a whole.

Please feel free to email me if you would like to reference the results of this project, read the academic paper, or just chat about my research. I truly hope these results will enable the continuation of such amazing projects and motivate for more in the future.

Maruša Levstek is a PhD student under the supervision of Professor Robin Banerjee. Her research project was enabled by Future Creators and the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex.

Find out more about our research on Developmental and Clinical Psychology

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Neighbours support each other during COVID-19

By Selin Tekin Guven

Since the beginning of March 2020, COVID-19 pandemic related news has been the main topic in the media. Medical experts have explained different methods to prevent the spread, and authorities in each country have implemented various strategies to deal with the effects of the virus in their country. However, certain groups are still affected disproportionately around the world. People with lower socioeconomic statuses and ethnic minority backgrounds are affected more because of various issues related to social and systemic inequality. 

First, socio-economically lower ethnic minority groups are at higher risk considering their underlying health conditions. Because they have less economic resources, they can only receive minimal support from the health systems. Therefore, they are at greater risk of hospitalisation and death during the COVID-19 pandemic process. Second, overcrowded housing conditions also prevented them to make social distancing and self-isolation. Third, working-class ethnic minority groups are over-represented in key worker jobs such as nursing and medical jobs, cleaning-related jobs (e.g., hospital cleaners), and health care assistants. Therefore, they were not able to take all of the steps that authorities expect everybody to take

On the news and media, we see that people are being blamed for spreading the pandemic. However, the reality was that communities often created their own strategies to adhere to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions, to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, and to keep the resources in the community while they were not able to follow the necessary steps from the authorities.

In Turkey, between the end of March and beginning of June, the time that people could spend outside was restricted by the authorities. During the weekends, Eid, and National holidays, the lockdown was applied. Before the restriction, we saw on the media and social media that while people who were under 20 were blamed for spreading the disease by being outside all the time, people who were over 65 were also blamed as if they were ignorant and uncaring. However, the reality was that many of those age groups had to either work in public places (such as open markets) or they had to do their shopping by themselves because there was nobody to take care of their needs. On the media, they voiced their concerns and government gave the responsibility to local authorities and police to address the needs of those people (e.g., in some cities police did the shopping for people who were over 65 years old). However, since different communities may have specific needs, community members needed to identify what type of support was needed because they were already familiar with the available resources and what was missing in the community. Therefore, they took their action by themselves instead of receiving support from the police.

Research suggests that in the case of an emergency or crisis, social support, solidarity, and cooperation can be seen at the collective level to increase the well-being of the community and serve a protective role. In addition, group members can decide which behaviours are safe and unsafe; therefore, they can self-regulate unsafe behaviour and encourage each other to engage in safe behaviour. Considering the COVID-19 situation in Turkey, in some communities, instead of getting help from government agencies, community members and neighbourhoods established some community rules to help each other.

In the apartment building where my family live, there are eight families and some of those family members are considered to be in the risky group (who have chronic lung and heart problems and who are over 65). In addition, we have three employees (my friends) who have to work every day who are also concerned about putting their family members at risk. In addition, we have one high school student who is forbidden to go out because she is under 20. Therefore, we had to take actions together to help our neighbours to be safe and healthy. In order to keep people safe by maintaining distancing, my friends, who had to go to work every day, found separate houses. One of them stayed with her brother and the others stayed with their friends from their workplaces. Considering the ages and health statuses, a high school student and I were two people who had the lowest risk of being affected by the disease. In addition, besides employees, I was the only young person who had a driving licence. Therefore, buying essentials from the shopping centre was my duty. After I washed the resources that I bought from the market, I gave them to the high school student; thus, she could deliver each bag to our neighbours. 

After a while, we realized that in other apartments around our building, there were also other people who are not able to go shopping because of their health conditions. They contacted our families and we were also able to help those people too. We included those neighbours in our apartment’s WhatsApp group, so we could be sure that we meet everybody’s needs. As it was observed in different communities of different countries, in the case of COVID-19, mitigating virus spread became our shared goal so we could make distancing normative (see Templeton et al., 2020 for further examples).  

What we have done with our neighbours was an example of how people unite and help each other during emergencies rather than being ignorant and careless. Even though the public was often misrepresented in the media, in many emergency contexts and different communities, people usually act as one and create ingroup norms to protect their community members to achieve shared goals. In other words, instead of selfish and thoughtless behaviours, we observed solidarity among people who help their community members during an emergency and disasters. 

______

Selin Tekin Guven is a PhD student in Social Psychology under the supervision of Prof John Drury and part of the Crowds and Identities Group. This post was originally published on 4th August 2020 in the blog of the Crowds and Identities Research Group.

Find out more about our research on Social and Applied Psychology.

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Green Impact Gold Award

Green Impact is a University-wide scheme, run by the NUS, to encourage Schools to undertake sustainability activities.

Azalea flower

This was Psychology’s first year taking part, and over the last year we have been working on various projects, big and small: maybe you noticed ‘switch off’ lights going up around Pevensey & BEED, our new catering policy, or our digital ‘Go Green Week’ celebrations.

We are delighted to announce that our sustainability work this year has been given a Gold in the 2020 Sussex Green Impact awards earlier this summer. Not only that, we were also given the special commendation of ‘Best Newcomer’, recognising how much we have done in just a short time. A big thank you goes to Fran B, Jolyon, Kiki, Lina, Lisa, Mar, Nicola, and Sophie for everything they have done for Psychology Green Impact this year.

If you are feeling inspired and fancy joining us next year (we are hoping to involve more students), you can join our Green Impact Officer, Dr Charlotte Rae, on Wednesday 29 July at 11am at our Green Impact Summer Social. Charlotte will talk about sustainability, and we’ll learn and share ideas, experiences and tips. No contribution too big or too small to make a difference! Share your ideas and help us live up to that Best Newcomer title!

Find out what the School of Psychology has been doing to be more sustainable and the School’s strategy for the future. 

As always, if you have an idea for a sustainability change you would like to see in the School, send it to Charlotte Rae to get it on our to-do list for 2020-21.

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Why does civil unrest spread between cities?

By Prof John Drury

Protests and riots that began in Minneapolis after police killed an unarmed African American have now spread to over 23 states. I recently led a large-scale programme of research on the wave of riots in England in 2011 to address the question of how such events spread. The UK and US waves were different in important ways – most obviously, in the US many of the collective events have been peaceful protests, whereas in England only the initial protest was peaceful. Yet there are some striking similarities between them, as well as with other waves of riots. This similarity suggests that some of the same processes are operating.

London Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in June 2020
Black Lives Matter peaceful protest on 3.6.20 end of March from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square by Katie Crampton (WMUK) / CC BY-SA

It’s necessary to begin by examining the meaning of the precipitating incident and the social categories involved. What did ‘they’ do, and who are ‘we’?

In Minneapolis 2020, as in Tottenham in 2011 (and as in Watts 1965, Brixton 1981 and many others), actions by police officers against an individual encapsulated the whole relationship between a wider group and an institution. In each case, the violence inflicted was seen as embodying the history of relations between police and Black / African-American people, where police harassment, assault, and collective humiliation were a daily experience.

Our research found that a local history of police harassment was key predictor of which districts rioted in London in 2011. Other predictors were local deprivation and negative attitudes to the police. Research in the US has found that race is another predictor of where riots occur. These factors correlate, of course: African-Americans are more likely to live in deprived districts and to be subject to police harassment and killing.

But these factors are relatively constant. They help explain which cities riot, but they don’t tell us when and how protest or rioting in one city influences people in other cities to join a wave.

We found three types of social-psychological processes that helped explain how a wave occurs.

First, there is spread via a shared identity with those in other cities. This is where people in different locations each define themselves in terms of a similar shared history of injustice at racist policing and resistance to that injustice. Our interviewees said of the police killing of Mark Duggan in 2011, ‘that could have been me’ and ‘that could have been my friends’. This shared identity with those rioting in response to the killing provided a normative motivation to do the same in their own district: the police needed to be shown that they cannot get away with murder. In the case of the George Floyd events, African American identity, defined in terms of a history of police violence, is clearly a key factor leading people in many cities to feel the same sense of injustice and anger as those in Minneapolis. For these people, and for others who feel solidarity with African Americans, action to express that sense of injustice – including punishing the police – is an enactment of common identity.

Second, there is a process that social movement researchers call capacity to mobilize and protest researchers call collective efficacy. In our research, we use the term empowerment. This captures the experience of one’s social relations becoming transformed as power shifts from the police to the crowd. In the English riots, some participants didn’t necessarily identify with the original rioters. But they could see that a common outgroup — the police – were becoming weakened. This empowered them to participate in their own area, including going beyond the initial issue to enact long-standing grievances and desires.

People’s perceptions of the identity and empowerment of others was crucial. They came onto the streets when they not only identified with the other location or were empowered by police weakness but also believed that others locally felt the same way. This in turn was the basis of expectations of support for ingroup normative actions – in this case against the police and some properties.

The third process that helps explain riot spread concerns police perceptions. We found that previous rioting led to a heightened level of organizational vigilance in the police. This state of expectancy can lead to pre-emptive forms of police intervention — such as violent dispersal of a non-violent crowd. Where people in the crowd experience these police actions as illegitimate and indiscriminate, there are significant unintended consequences. Such actions by police serve to unite the crowd – both those who did not originally intend to fight and those who did — around a new norm of fighting back against the police.

Some of the coverage of the current wave of US riots has tried to suggest that powerful agitators are involved, with the implication that the crowd is easily swayed. Like the ‘contagion’ metaphor that is so frequently employed in these contexts, it suggests an unthinking crowd and therefore detracts from the meaningfulness of crowd action. Notions of mindless influence do not explain who joins in (and who doesn’t). Nor do they explain the widespread selectivity of targets. Such notions also let the authorities off the hook. As our research has shown, and the events across the US illustrate, the spread of riots is a complex social phenomenon grounded in collective definitions of identity, injustice, and changing power relations between groups.

John Drury is professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex. The Beyond Contagion project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and carried out by John Drury, Roger Ball, Clifford Stott, Stephen Reicher and Fergus Neville

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Gardening for Wildlife

As part of our Green Commitment and to celebrate Gardening for Wildlife Week, we asked our School Administrator, Fran Barnard, to tell us about her wildlife garden and how she looks after it. Fran is a trained ecologist and in the past she has also led some of our student nature walks around the South Downs.

I am an accidental gardener.  I don’t recall ever making a conscious decision to become a gardener but gradually over the years my garden has become more and more an integral part of my being.  I have amassed a wealth of knowledge[1] and a vast array of plant favourites.  I have also undergone a transformation in the way I garden and to coincide with Garden & Wildlife week I’ve been asked to share some of the ways that I encourage wildlife in my garden.  As well as writing this blog, I (and others) will share some garden wildlife pictures on the School of Psychology Instagram account so do look out for these over the coming week.

But first, a bit of context….

When I first started gardening, about 35 years ago, it seemed that most gardeners viewed wildlife as an enemy, a threat to everything they aspired to achieve: beautiful manicured lawns; ordered displays of bedding plants and old roses; riotously colourful herbaceous borders and plentiful crops of fruit and vegetables.  Even now there are some who persist with the old ways but thankfully times and most gardeners have moved on.  I was always uneasy about the way pesticides and herbicides were used in gardens – at University I studied Ecology which raised my awareness of the impact of chemicals on the environment.  As a result, when I started gardening, I tried not to use too many chemicals.  I still viewed wildlife as unwelcome in a garden setting though, just preferring to use less noxious[2] deterrents. 

Just as I don’t recall ever deciding to become a gardener, I also don’t recall ever deciding to actively garden for wildlife.  It just happened, organically[3] and today my garden is genuinely a haven to which I welcome all wildlife from slugs to silver-washed fritillaries and from snakes to the sinuous and snake-like cinquefoil that is ubiquitous[4].  This richness of life is supported by a richness of different environments and over the next few months in a series of blogs I thought I would share with you a little of the joy that these bring to me.  I will start with my favourite – the compost heap.

“Compost?” I hear you say.  I appreciate that this may not be everyone’s starting point but to me, my composting system is a thing of beauty.  It took me about 8 years to establish a balanced and sustainable process, in part because of the challenge of becoming custodian of three mature oaks trees and having to learn by trial and error how to compost oak leaves, but now that it is established, each year it produces a wonderful supply of dark, rich and crumbly organic compost which gets used in planters and as a top dressing to improve soil quality in our flower and fruit beds. 

For me, the beginning and end of the cycle is the annual turning of the composts in September which is something akin to the burning of the clocks[5] or a harvest festival.  Truly a celebration, albeit one that involves a significant amount of work.  There are six separate sections to my composting system and each year, each section is turned into the next.  At one end of the system I collect leaves from the oak trees which get composted for three years. At the other end I collect green garden waste which is composted for two years.  Finally, the 3-year old leaf litter and 2-year old green garden waste compost is sieved, by hand and mixed together in the central section ready for use.   It is seriously hard work but incredibly worthwhile and fulfilling.

One of Fran’s cats checking the composting boxes are correctly packed

Whilst composting is in progress a haven is created for lots of different wildlife.  From the creatures small (and not so small) that make the composting process happen to other creatures who make it their home.  We have had wasps nesting, mice, shrews and voles and one year I found some already hatched grass snake eggs in one of the older sections.  Imagine my joy and surprise when I found the adult with one baby in the next section I turned.  Although I haven’t seen evidence of nesting since, I do see grass snakes once or twice a year in the garden which I think is really good evidence of just what a wildlife-friendly garden it is.  As the photos show the freshly sieved compost also proves popular with some of the more domesticated wildlife that shares my life.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief insight into one of my passions.  Next time around, my second favourite – the wildlife pond which I created (with just a little help from a professional landscaper with a mini digger) from nothing.

Watch this space….


If you want to get more inspiration for your own wildlife garden, check our Instagram account where Fran will be sharing some tips all week.


  • [1] In the grand scheme of things my ‘wealth’ of knowledge is a tiny fraction of what there is to know
  • [2] The collection of very old garden chemicals awaiting disposal in my garage suggests that I may actually be rewriting history a little here.
  • [3] Excuse the pun
  • [4] Reminder to self – there is no such thing as a weed.  Only a valuable plant growing somewhere you didn’t plan to have it.
  • [5] Festival in Brighton celebrating the shortest day
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Be kind to your mind

By Pattie Gonsalves

“Be kind to your mind and your body, especially during these times.” This is one of the encouraging things my yoga teacher says every evening via our Zoom class. While there is a small part of me that feels reassured hearing these words repeated often, it is also with feelings of guilt and heaviness that I cannot shake.

New Delhi during COVID-19 lockdown

I arrived back to New Delhi in mid-March, after spending six weeks in Sussex where I am currently a distance PhD student. That was one week before the nation-wide lockdown was introduced in India, and one day before the international borders were closed (which I did not know when I changed my ticket to arrive back to India a few days earlier than planned!). It was a 40-hour journey instead of the usual 8-9 hours, with a long unexpected delay mid-way.  I waited and slept in the airport wait areas, washed my hands obsessively every time I touched anything, worried constantly about the surface of the coffee table where I was working, and paced endlessly up and down the corridors of the eerily empty airport that is usually bustling with people and activity. I made it back to life in New Delhi that was “normal” for just a few days, as normal as self-quarantining can be I guess, until the national curfews were announced and normal life as I knew it changed.

Much like the rest of the world, India too has witnessed unprecedented and extraordinary times in the last three months. The situation has exposed, both, our individual struggle to cope and find resilience, and our shared struggle against what feels like an insurmountable set of structural inequalities and injustices. In India the COVID-19 situation has had a disproportionately adverse effect especially on those who are poor and vulnerable, in other words, a vast majority of Indians. The situation most Indians found themselves in overnight was unthinkable. So many were, and still are, separated from families, young children, elderly parents and loved ones who are in different states of the country. Even international media has been flooded with stories of thousands of Indian migrant workers walking, sometimes, hundreds of miles, to get home, with many dying or injured along the way, traveling with no food or provisions. Many have lost their entire income overnight and have no social security or welfare schemes to rely on, and will be plunged into destitution, if they are not already, as a result of the lockdown. India’s situation is a glaring example of a country where hasty policy decisions because of the potential health crisis have had unprecedented and potentially irreversible effects on the economic and social sectors. The last three months in India have been characterized by stress, anxiety and fear over the virus itself, the uncertainty of food security, recommencement of one’s employment or business, ability to access health care if you are sick, or access to travel back home to your family. Many have said, accurately, that poverty and starvation will kill countless more Indians long before any virus will.

Rajiv (name changed), a construction worker who migrated to Delhi for work, lives just next door to me in a house that is semi-demolished, without a proper roof and with limited electricity. He is there alone and does not have a phone and cannot read or write. He is making do with the erratic food distribution provided by the state government, and through food support I and other neighbours provide. The lockdown prevented him and many others in his predicament from even leaving the buildings they were in; with no clear understanding for the past three months about when his job will recommence. Rajiv, however, considers himself lucky as he has a roof and access to some food.

This has been a time where I have been forced to introspect, and reflect on the situation of both,  what is happening in my mind, and also especially what is happening around me, situations I cannot fully comprehend or make sense of. When thinking about the plight of millions in my city and country, Rajiv next door, and my own worries or anxieties during this time, I think that the very least we can do as a community is try to exercise empathy and compassion towards each of these situations and people. We must extend a helping hand and listening ear to others wherever we can, but also, pause for a moment to reflect on the impacts that the situation unfolding around us has on our wellbeing too.

Pattie Gonsalves is doing a PhD under the supervision of Dr Daniel Michelson. She is also a Project Director at Sangath (India) with the PRIDE research programme, and leads It’s Ok To Talk, a national anti-stigma campaign for young people’s mental health in India.

Find out more about our research on Developmental and Clinical Psychology

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Looking Back: The Role of the General Election in Satisfaction with UK Response to COVID-19

By Carina Hoerst

Recently, a group of people with controversial stances protested against lockdown restrictions in the US – a particularly concerning move since the protest action was carried out against the ban of public assembly and could increase the infection rate of COVID-19. More Republicans agree that Donald Trump was doing an ‘excellent job’ about the ongoing crisis compared to only 13% of Democrat voters. Recent polls revealed that in the US, such partisan effects might be connected to perceiving a low threat of COVID-19. Similarly, 27% more Democrats than Republican voters adhered to social distancing. This is in line with mid-March survey results, showing that 68% of Democrats voters were concerned about COVID-19, compared to only 35% of Republican voters.

In the UK, public compliance with safety measures is high, the handling of the situation different. Can we nonetheless find similar partisan effects as seen in the US?

Although the first COVID-19 cases in the UK occurred quite early in the year, the UK government reacted relatively late with implementing strict measures to tackle the spread of the virus. While other European countries had already started to act, the UK might have been ‘too busy with Brexit’ preparations and celebrations to shift its attention to COVID-19. The official statement that would align the country with others and apply stronger measures was only announced on the 23rd of March.

A national survey (Hope Not Hate) revealed that while a third of the people did not seem to have faith in how the government dealt with the situation, 74% of those that supported the Conservative Party in the UK General Election 2019 were positive about how the government handled the situation. Interestingly, so were 29% of Labour voters. According to YouGov, 55% of the respondents also seemed to be supportive of PM Boris Johnson.

In a survey of 200 participants I conducted on 26th March 2020 investigating attitudes and beliefs in light of the UK General Election 2019, I found similar results: Conservative Party supporters were significantly more satisfied[1] with the UK government’s response to COVID-19, with 77% of Conservative Party and 38% of Labour Party supporters being slightly to highly satisfied. Besides this, participants’ identification as ‘British’ was a significant factor in explaining the satisfaction with the government’s response (see table 1, Model 1).

However, party loyalty as an explanation might only be half of the story; when I additionally included collective psychological empowerment (measured as group efficacy and the experience of joy at success) as a predictor, I found that, first, identifying as ‘British’ remained a significant factor, but also that, second, party support did not seem to play a significant role anymore. Instead, the empowerment measures turned out to be significant key predictors of satisfaction with the UK government’s response to COVID-19 (see table 1, Model 2). This seems to be in line with a recent US study that found that party support alone only had an indirect influence on the lack of COVID-19 threat perception, but that instead underlying political beliefs connected this relationship with mistrust towards the government being the only belief without this effect. Instead, the authors suggest that it was more important ‘how [participants] feel about governmental policy choices’.

Now, the outbreak of COVID-19 affects everybody’s life and research has shown that during disasters, people can perceive a sense of common fate. This might make people also more aware of the superordinate in-group  (‘the British’) and explain why in-group identification turned out to be a key factor for satisfaction and why a third of the Labour voters expressed their approval for the Conservative government.

But how can the empowerment effect, assessed in light of the general election, be explained concerning the current situation?

The Conservative Party was not only supported by longstanding designated voters, but also by people that were attracted by its controversial manifesto to leave the EU for good. After the party won the election with an overwhelming majority, we would assume that Conservative voters expected nationwide support for their views and believed that change (‘get Brexit done’) was now possible. In this way, Conservative voters saw their values realized against opponent views and parties. The latter were defeated, which, in turn, can lead to the experience of disempowerment amongst its voters. My study results reflect this: Conservative voters expressed significantly more joy at success and group efficacy compared to Labour voters.

Interestingly, these empowerment effects were established over three months after the election took place. Previous research found that the endurance of empowerment depends on a stable realization and maintenance of the aspired change in social relations. The electoral win strengthened the Conservative Party to unobstructedly enact these changes since, – ‘come what may’.

Let’s summarise: Identification with the Conservative Party might still be present but superseded by the perception that change is possible and by the experience of positivity amongst its voters, and this effect was enduring. This might explain why satisfaction with the government’s response to COVID-19 in March 2020 was accounted for by collective empowerment, over party support. Thus, the discussion around public approval based on partisan effects might only need to be extended by the social-psychological effects of (enduring) collective empowerment. We live in rapidly changing times though, and the UK government has recently come under increased criticism for its delayed reaction, missed meetings and deadlines, as well as for clinging on the EU exit, even at the expense of public health. Therefore, one might see whether satisfaction with its handling remains and if empowerment effects are unconditionally robust to changes over time.


[1] This was based on one question asking participants how satisfied they were with the UK government’s response to COVID-19. However, the question was not further specified so that we cannot say whether participants were satisfied with the pace of the government’s action or the lockdown regulations implemented three days before.

Carina Hoerst is a PhD student in Social Psychology under the supervision of Prof John Drury. She is part of the Crowds and Identities Group.

Find out more about our research on Social and Applied Psychology.

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Psychology Go Green Week 2020

Here, in the School of Psychology, we’re working to become more sustainable and reduce our carbon footprint. Since our Green Impact Team was created in Autumn 2019, we have managed to introduce several changes to tackle sustainability:

The lockdown has prevented us from organising the activities that we had in mind for Go Green Week (27 April – 1 May), but there are lots of things that you can do at home to become more sustainable:

Switch off unnecessary items

Reduce your electricity consumption by switching off any gadgets that you are not using: computers, mobile chargers, your laptop docking station, and even the TV. According Prof David Mackay (Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department for Energy and Climate Change, 2009-2014), “standby power consumption accounts for roughly 8% of residential electricity demand”. His book, ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’, with its easy-to-read explanations of how we use energy and what needs to happen to make a UK-wide switch from fossil fuels, is available for free on his website.

And don’t forget to turn the light off if you are not in a room!

Plant a tree

If you are lucky enough to be in a house with a garden, you can think about adding a tree to your green area. The Woodland Trust offers advice on planting trees on their website.

Unfortunately, most of us are stuck in flats during this quarantine and I, personally, already have difficulty keeping my cacti alive, nevermind a tree! An easy way to help increase the planet’s tree population is making Ecosia your default search bar. Ecosia donates more than 80% of its ad revenue to non-profits organisations that focus on reforestation, and at the time I’m writing this they’ve already planted more than 91 million trees all over the world. It also has a mobile version.

Take up cycling

Cycling is always a great form of exercise, but especially now. Cycling UK offers helpful and up-to-date advice on cycling during the Coronavirus outbreak.

If you don’t own a bike, Brighton’s bike hire scheme, BTN BikeShare, is still available and their operations team is regularly disinfecting all contact points on the bikes. Just make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after using the bikes, and please keep at a safe 2 metres distance from other people. For more information read their guidelines on how to use the bike service during the Coronavirus crisis on their FAQs section.

Check Canvas

We have collated a series of fun green activities on Canvas for our students and staff to do while they are at home. We hope you enjoy them!

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How can sustainable behaviours be encouraged?

By Alaa Aldoh

Climate change is a pressing global issue with devastating effects on human life, animals, and the environment. On average, every year in the last 5 years has been the warmest year on record as a result of global warming. Greenhouse gas emissions have also driven other changes to the climate such as concentrated rain periods, droughts, and even colder weather than usual.

Despite overwhelming consensus among scientists about the reality of anthropogenic climate change (i.e., change arising from human activity), citizens and politicians remain reluctant to take the action needed to address it (Fielding, Hornsey, & Swim, 2014). My research has been focused on sustainable eating behaviours which be used as a tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock alone contributes to 14.5% of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent to emissions caused by transportation including all cars, trucks, planes, and ships on the planet combined (Gerber et al., 2013). Research has shown that switching to eco-friendly eating decisions such as opting for chicken, fish, or vegetables rather than red meat, could reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50% by 2050 (de Boer, de Witt, & Aiking, 2016). The challenge lies in the ability to inform and persuade individuals to make more sustainable eating choices. Climate change, like other social problems, is complex and multifaceted. However, nearly every problem involves psychology.

There is a growing body of psychological research exploring ways to increase engagement in sustainable eating behaviours. One such way to address this issue utilizes social norms. Social norms have been successfully used as an effective tool for behaviour change when the behaviour in question is performed by a majority. However, when communicating an undesired behaviour performed by the majority, this often backfires, and actually increases individuals’ engagement in unwanted behaviour. So, what can we do when the majority of one’s group is actually performing the undesired behaviour?

In the past few years, two groups of researchers at separate universities explored ways in which presenting information about minority norms can positively affect people’s sustainable behaviours  (Mortensen et al., 2019; Sparkman & Walton, 2017). They found that conveying information about how the minority norm is changing has the potential to influence people and increase their engagement in desired behaviours only performed by the minority. They referred to these changing norms as dynamic/trending norms (examples from Mortensen et al., 2019):

Minority norm only

Research from (previous year) has found that 48% of (University name) students engage in one or more of the following water conservation behaviours:

  • Turning off the water while soaping their hands during hand-washing
  • Using low-flow shower heads
  • Watering lawns and plants in the early morning or evening.

Trending minority norm

Research from (previous year) has found that 48% of (University name) students engage in one or more of the following water conservation behaviours:

  • Turning off the water while soaping their hands during hand-washing
  • Using low-flow shower heads
  • Watering lawns and plants in the early morning or evening.

This has increased from 37% in (2 years previous).

Mortensen et al., (2019) found that when they presented a trending minority norm about water conservation behaviours, participants were much more likely to conserve water themselves in a subsequent task than participants who were presented a minority norm only.

Mortensen et at. (2019)

Sparkman and Walton’s (2017) findings mirrored those findings in the domain of meat consumption. They ran a series of studies exploring the effects of portraying a “dynamic” minority norm (i.e. one that is changing) compared to a static minority norm (i.e. one that is fixed). Their results showed a consistent pattern where participants reading information about how the norm is changing reported higher interest in reducing their own meat consumption.

Sparkman and Walton (2017)

Both groups of researchers paved the way for a very interesting line of research looking at how positive minority behaviours can be encouraged and can be used as a lever to promote sustainable behaviours and fight climate change. As exciting as this sounds, there are many questions yet to be answered! What are the best ways to phrase normative information? What scalable norm interventions can be used to promote sustainable behaviours? What are the conditions of the effectiveness of dynamic/trending norms? Do dynamic/trending norms have a similar pattern of effects across different cultures? I have set out to answer some of these questions, and others to understand how conveying normative information about people’s sustainable behaviours can change others.

Be part of the change for a healthier Earth and Happy Earth Day!

For more info about diet and climate change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUnJQWO4YJY

Alaa Aldoh is a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Paul Sparks in the Social Psychology group. Her research studies how social psychology can influence people’s sustainable behaviours.

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