Researching the Psychology of Everything


20.02.2019

With over 30 research studies taking place since moving into their new home at SA1 Swansea Waterfront six months ago, students and staff of the UWTSD Psychology programmes have been examining a variety of real-world issues; how drivers respond to emergency warnings going off in their car; the effects of violent video games; attitudes towards teenage pregnancy; the influence of terrorist attacks on people’s views of the world; the impact of suicide and depression.

In some of the individual laboratory booths in IQ, sit simply a table, chairs and a recording device for carrying out interviews; in others the latest in physiological measures, designed to accurately read heart rate and electrodermal activity to monitor stress responses. Each day the laboratory is set up for whatever is required, and every day is unique.

Underpinning all of this research is the Psychology Experiment Management System, allowing researchers to book lab space and willing participants to book up to take part in the research studies. Importantly, it also provides potential participants with all of the information they need to make a judgment about taking part in a research study; in psychology, ethical standards are paramount. Dr Paul Hutchings, who leads the Psychology lab environment in the IQ, said: "We have an incredible set-up here which allows us to carry out a wide variety of research, but our priority is always to make sure that it is carried out ethically and professionally.

"Every study we run has received approval from an ethics committee and this is important for the protection of participants, but it is also important for researchers, particularly student researchers, to go through this process as well in order for them to understand the implications of their own research." This is why the researchers looking for their participants call out a six-digit number when they are looking for their participant in the waiting area; no names are recorded to protect anonymity, researchers never know who their participants are prior to the study.

A few steps away from the main laboratory is a room that even fewer people know exist; the Online Control Room. Here, data from another 16 studies running across the world using online measures stream onto the computer monitors. Initially set up in September 2018, by January 2019 the number of research responses had increased by an incredible 670% and continues to grow, with over 2,000 participants taking part in the online studies in January 2019 alone.

Dr Hutchings said: "Our ability to carry out high quality research online, applying the same levels of ethical and professional practice, has taken our research capability to a whole new level. We can examine issues relating to psychology across the world, giving a real cross-cultural element to our research that has been far more difficult to do in the past."

The importance of research quality is also something that the Psychology team emphasise to all researchers, whether they be staff or students. Experimental Psychology researcher Katie Sullivan, whose published work involves using both laboratory and online studies, said: "With the type of research we do there are no second chances at data collection and so everything we do we have to get right the very first time; if something goes wrong we can’t just ask the participant to try again. That makes for an extremely challenging research environment, but also makes getting it right so rewarding."

Of course, none of this happens without preparation. For the first two years of their undergraduate degree, alongside their subject learning, the Psychology students at UWTSD spend time in the laboratory being trained; not just on how to use the equipment, but also in ethics, professional conduct, and how to carry out research studies. All of this makes for a highly dynamic environment involving everyone from members of the public, students, academic researchers and practitioners alike. So the next time you hear someone calling out a six-digit number and escorting someone off through a plain white door, you’ll know that they are off to take part in something that could literally change our social world.

Dr Paul Hutchings is the Psychology Programme Director at UWTSD

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Further Information

Rebecca Davies

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Executive Press and Media Relations Officer

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Corporate Communications and PR

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Email: Rebecca.Davies@uwtsd.ac.uk