Newly opened in September 2016, the Lord Balerno Labs at Heriot-Watt University houses a driving simulator with eye tracker technology, 2 two-way mirror observation rooms, a computer screen eye-tracker, 10 consistent-environment research cubicles, and specialist computer programmes.
Using these labs gives our students highly sought-after experience using specialist computer programmes for psychological research and analysis such as PsychoPy and Qualtrics.
Matthew is investigating how ‘wakeful rest’ affects memory consolidation in those with depressive traits and non-depressive traits. Using the wakeful rest technique, discovered by Heriot-Watt researchers, he is studying candidates with low, medium and high depressive traits as they attempt memory challenges.
Christopher is using the lab’s eye tracker technology to test if those who use adblockers on their computer react differently to advertisements on computer screens compared to those who don’t.
Sarah, who is hoping to work in special needs education support following graduation, is using the research cubicles to test whether or not taking a break after learning impacts memory consolidation for those with autism.
Who: The Ageing Lab
Title: Interventions in Cognitive Ageing
Place: Mary Burton Building G.20
Who: Cameron Maitland-Warne (PhD student)
Title: Autism, Social Identity, and Depression
Who: Thusha Rajendran and the SoCoRo project
Title: ‘Can people tell when their robot boss is annoyed with them?’
Who: Alan Gow and Ria Vaportzis
Title: The Intervention Factory: exploring real-world activities as potential interventions for cognitive ageing
Time: 14:15 – 15:15
Who: Monica Tamariz
Title: Experimental designs to study cultural evolution
Time: 14:15 – 15:15
At Heriot-Watt University we also have a Neurophysiology Lab which includes Electroencephalogram equipment (EEG) to record electrical brain activity and Electrocardiogram (ECG) to record heart rate activity.
Stuart and David are conducting their 4th Year Dissertation research in the Neurophysiology Lab where they are measuring the impact of autistic and anxious personality traits on an individual’s reaction to threat.
Throughout their research they have been showing emotionally provocative images to participants and recording their reactions, using the EEG to record the peaks and troughs in electrical brain activity and using the ECG to record heart rate activity.
Both Stuart and David hope to go into the competitive field of clinical psychology after graduation and using the EEG and ECG equipment in the Neurophysiology Lab has given them experience and expertise that very few undergraduates around the country have.
Our Neurophysiology Lab is also used by our academics and researchers to conduct important research into areas such as:
• the effect of Alzheimer’s disease and sleep related brain activity on memory
• the processing of emotions
• the differences in brain activity for individuals with conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Schizophrenia
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) can struggle with social, communicative, and sensory barriers which can often cause them to avoid social situations; which in turn can lead to isolation, loneliness and depression. Recent research has demonstrated the positive applications of certain forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC) such as Facebook for individuals with ASC. However, little is yet known about the utility of CMC for individuals with ASC. This study will firstly explore by questionnaire whether and how those with ASC use CMC differently to typically developing individuals; and identify barriers to face-to-face interaction which may be reduced using methods such as CMC. Using the information gained throughout the study, an intervention using CMC will be developed and the feasibility tested. The aim will be to reduce anxiety around face-to-face interaction. The final part of the study will be to run a small randomised controlled trial which will assess whether the intervention reduces stress in a face-to-face interaction. Findings from this study may have an impact on aspects of health care, education, training, peer relations and quality of life.
Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) are characterised by impairments in communication, and in social and imaginative activities which can have a profound effect on family functioning, peer relations, job and school performance. Individuals with ASC are at increased risk of depression and anxiety (SIGN, 2007; NICE 2011). Loneliness and feelings of isolation are highly related to depression in this group.
Research has suggested that individuals on the autism spectrum may be liberated by computer-mediated communication (CMC; Rajendran, 2013). CMC allows those with ASC to communicate without some of the uncomfortable factors that can discourage them from participating in face-to-face interaction (Dillon & Underwood, 2011; Finkenauer et al, 2012; Burke, Kraut & Williams, 2010). CMC refers to any communication processed through a computer; this can include mobile phones as well as PC's or laptops. It allows people to communicate through text as well as verbally. Unlike face-to-face communication, CMC does not always require an understanding of nonverbal communication, such as sarcasm or communication through facial expressions. Due to the nature of CMC the user can take as long as they need to form replies to conversations, therefore eliminating the pressures of immediate reciprocation present in face-to-face communication; and allows control of the environment; for instance, an individual can communicate from their own home. De Mohun & Stewart (2014) found that those with a higher number of autistic traits were more likely to feel isolated; that Facebook was an attractive alternative to face-to-face communication due to the control allowed during communication; and that those who felt isolated felt that Facebook helped. However, questions remain in this area regarding the exact utility of CMC, in that whether it can: 1) alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness; 2) reduce barriers to social communication; and 3) whether social interaction skills are improved by using CMC.
This project will identify whether computer-mediated communication is useful for individuals with ASC, and if it is whether it can be used with the overall aim to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and improve the quality of life of those on the autism spectrum. CMC allows an individual with ASC to control aspects of their environment and to exert control over communication in a way that may not be possible during face-to-face interaction. The hypotheses being that those with ASC will use CMC in a different way to typically developing individuals, and that by using CMC in an intervention then anxiety may be reduced regarding face-to-face communication.
Specifically this study aims to identify:
1. Whether individuals with ASC use CMC in a qualitatively different way to typically developing individuals
2. Whether particular barriers to face-to-face interaction are related to particular aspects of symptoms
3. The barriers to face-to-face communication and ways in which these barriers may be reduced by using methods such as computer mediated communication
The objectives are to:
1. Develop an intervention which will reduce anxiety in relation to social interaction using CMC,
2. Test the feasibility of the intervention (an efficacy study)
3. Test the intervention in a RCT (an effectiveness study)
The PhD project will comprise of 3 main phases
The first phase will be questionnaire based in order to inform the intervention study. The second phase will involve designing an appropriate intervention, and the third phase will comprise running a randomised control trial of the intervention.
Participant groups would include individuals with ASC; individuals with social anxiety disorder and typically developing individuals with no history of psychiatric illness.
Outcome on measures will be compared before and after the intervention and between groups.
Interventions are often aimed at individuals with ASC rather than changing the methods in which we communicate and interact. This study could have a profound effect on the lives of individuals with ASC as rather than an intervention that suggests that individuals with ASC should change it provides a service to allow individuals to interact in a different way. This could have an effect on the way that we manage for instance health care, education and peer relations. This study could lead to an ESRC grant, to Impact case studies, and to change in policy in Scotland.
There are a number of studies which have used technology in order to assist individuals with ASC but these have tended to assist in training on emotional recognition with limited effect. The current study proposes that rather than changing individuals with ASC it suggests empowering them. This is a method often used in Health to allow individuals to recover or to manage conditions. Individuals with ASC often find it difficult to interact with others and to engage with services. This project tests whether aspects of technology can be tailored to aid in communication. This could have implications not only for ASC but also for individuals with anxiety disorder, depression and other conditions.