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From childhood to old age.

Psychology at Heriot-Watt focuses on providing
excellent learning experience combined with strong
and active research culture

2017 - 2018 Semester 1

Date: Wednesday 25th October
Time: 3.15pm
Location: JN116
Speakers: Psychology Postdoctoral Researchers
Seminar Series Organiser: Mary Stewart
Speakers: Dr Michael Craig, Dr Peter McKenna, Dr Ria Vaportzis

Dr Michael Craig
Title: Examining memory in health and disease

My research focuses on memory in human health and disease. I am particularly interested in the factors that influence the stabilisation and transformation of new labile memories following their formation, which ultimately determines what we remember and how we behave. Currently, my primary line of research, which is part of my Alzheimer’s Society Fellowship, is investigating the mechanisms of severe forgetting in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This project will combine sensitive memory measures with EEG to examine: (i) the underlying neural mechanisms involved in memory stabilisation, (ii) how these mechanisms change in normal ageing and AD, and (iii) how different behavioural states (e.g. quiet rest, task engagement) affect these mechanisms. In other streams of related research, I am exploring topics including (a) how we form spatial representations (‘cognitive maps’) of navigated environments and the conditions that influence their formation in memory, (b) whether immersive virtual reality can be used as a memory assessment and intervention tool, (c) how different behavioural states affect the gaining of insightful behaviour, and (d) whether/how sleep and wakeful states have differing effects in memory. In this brief talk I will discuss some of the above research, recent findings, and forthcoming research plans.

Dr Peter McKenna
Title: Towards Using an Expressive Robot as a Tool for Behavioural Skills Training for Adults with ASD

Behavioural skills training (BST) has proven effective for improving the social skills of autistic adults. However, the cost of training and employing clinicians in its use is not economically viable. A robot trained to deliver BST could however help to give broader coverage autistic population at a reduced cost. In my talk I will discuss preliminary work toward designing a robot for this purpose, including a recent study investigating whether autistic traits affect participant’s emotion recognition of a robotic head. In the experiment, participants interacted with an autonomous robot, Alyx, by offering it RFID tagged food items. For each item, Alyx produced an expression and participants responded by placing items in one of two boxes marked 'Like' or 'Dislike'. Following this interaction, participants completed the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) to examine the effects of autistic traits, and completed a robot experience questionnaire. Dependent variables 1) emotion recognition score and 2) response time, were used to judge performance. The findings of this work will be discussed in the context of the autism and human-robot interaction literature.

Dr Ria Vaportzis
Title: Attracting and engaging older people at visitor attractions

The world is ageing. For the first time in history, the number of people aged 65 years or older is soon expected to outnumber children under age 5 years. The shift in demographics has encouraged a focus on the older consumers. Increasingly, visitor attractions are recognising the value of this emerging market. Some museums have developed products designed for adults with specific conditions such as dementia. However, there is a lack of structured visit programme provision for older people who do not suffer from a particular condition. This talk will present an innovative project that aims to develop a new structured visit programme focussed on the needs and wants of older people.


Date: Wednesday 8th November
Time: 3.15pm
Location: JN116
Speaker: Louise Brown, Strathclyde University
Speaker Host: Alan Gow
Seminar Series Organiser: Mary Stewart

Title: Strategic approach and multimodal coding in young and older adults’ visual working memory capacity.

Abstract: A major focus of my work is upon understanding visual working memory, which is a very age-sensitive ability. My talk will therefore concern the cognitive resources that influence visual working memory capacity in younger and older adults. In particular, I will address the contribution of multimodal coding (e.g. verbalization, long-term memory resources) on our ability to retain abstract visual patterns over short delays. I will show that even a small relative difference in the availability of semantics can affect visual working memory capacity, and that additional resources can be used both automatically and strategically. Following this, I will discuss the role of strategy use in both age groups. On the basis that young adults appear to adopt a 'mixed' strategy more efficiently than older adults, I will argue that strategy is important, and that a more flexible strategic approach could be beneficial in older adults.

Date: Wednesday 22nd November
Time: 3.30pm -5pm
Location: JN116
Psychology Department Research Showcase

Psychology Research Showcase takes place on Wednesday 22nd November 3.30pm -5.00pm and will be held at in Room JN116, Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus.
Presentations will be about our past, present and future research, as well as our public engagement activities. Our research is within three themes: Work, Society, and Environment; Lifespan Health and Wellbeing; and Cognition, Brain, and Behaviour. Following an oral presentation there will be the opportunity to view research posters and discuss with our academic staff, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students.
We would be grateful if you would register for this event – registration is free.

If you have any queries please contact Dr Mary Stewart



Date: Wednesday 20th September
Time: 3.15pm
Location: JN116
Speaker: Dr Fabio Sani, University of Dundee

Title: Group Identification and Mental Health: Exploring the Connections
Abstract: Researchers agree that humans have evolved to live in social groups. I will argue that group identification (i.e., a subjective sense of belonging and connectedness to the group) is linked to mental health. Specifically, the lower the number of social groups one identifies with, the greater the odds of being mentally distressed. I will also contend that, in turn, mental distress decreases one’s willingness to identify with groups. This implies that some people may become caught up in a ‘vicious cycle’, with lack of group identifications increasing vulnerability to depression over time, and depression making it more difficult to develop identification with social groups. To support this claim, I will present evidence stemming from a number of either cross-sectional or longitudinal investigations, including a study of a large community sample in Scotland. I will conclude with a discussion of the implications of my findings for the treatment of depression.


Date: Wednesday 11th October
Time: 3.15pm
Location: JN116
Speaker: Dr Leonardo Bevilacqua, UCL

Title: Conduct problems trajectories and psychosocial outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Abstract: There is increasing evidence that youth who follow the Early-Onset Persistent (EOP), Adolescent-Onset (AO) and Childhood-Limited (CL) trajectories of conduct problems show varying patterns of health, mental health, educational and social outcomes in adulthood. However there has been no systematic review and meta-analysis on outcomes associated with different conduct problems trajectories. We systematically reviewed the literature of longitudinal studies considering outcomes of three conduct problems trajectories: EOP, AO, CL compared with groups with low levels of aggression or control participants. We performed a series of meta-analyses comparing each trajectory group to low aggression or control groups for 8 different outcomes in early adulthood or later. 13 studies met our inclusion criteria. Outcomes were mental health (depression), cannabis use, alcohol use, self-reported aggression, official records of antisocial behaviour, poor general health, poor education and poor employment. Overall, EOP individuals showed significant higher risk of poor outcome followed by AO individuals, CL individuals and finally control participants. All conduct problems trajectories showed higher risk of poor psychosocial outcomes compared to control groups but the magnitude of risk differed across trajectories, with a general trend for the EOP to perform significantly worse, followed by the AO and CL. Early intervention is recommended across domains to maximise likelihood of desistance from antisocial behaviour and improvement on several psychosocial outcomes.



2016 - 2017  Semester 2  


Wednesday 21st June

Who: The Ageing Lab
Title: Interventions in Cognitive Ageing
Time: 13:30-15:30
Place: Mary Burton Building G.20

Monday 19th June

Who: Cameron Maitland-Warne (PhD student)
Title: Autism, Social Identity, and Depression
Time: 14:15-15:15
Place: WP315

Wednesday 19th April

Who: Thusha Rajendran and the SoCoRo project
Title: ‘Can people tell when their robot boss is annoyed with them?’
Time: 13.15-14.15
Place: WP110

Monday 20th March

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
Place: ECGO2

Monday 6th March

Who: Monica Tamariz
Title: Experimental designs to study cultural evolution
Time: 14:15 – 15:15
Place: DB115