Monday, 30 September 2013

An introduction to Chris Woodrow

I joined Middlesex in July 2013 as a lecturer, and I will be teaching on PSY3018 Business Psychology and PSY4117 Applied Business Psychology. My academic background is in organizational and health psychology, and I am interested in applications of psychological theory to people at work, particularly where this relates to healthcare provision.

After a first degree in Psychology and an MSc in Health Psychology I took up a health services research post, joining a Cancer Research UK funded group at the University of Oxford. My focus was on informed decision making about whether to have screening for cancer, and I researched and wrote some of the information materials about screening that are sent to patients and doctors by the NHS.

Not being able to avoid the inevitable pull of London, I then moved to KCL to work in an NIHR funded research group looking at safety and quality in the NHS. My job was to examine ways in which workforce issues might affect patients, which involved looking at various human resources issues such as harassment amongst staff. I also did a part time PhD in organizational psychology at KCL, a mixed methods longitudinal study examining how joining a new organization can affect the well-being of hospital employees and their patients.

I am currently writing up various bits of research. I am finalising a paper looking at the ways in which managers and supervisors respond (or don’t!) to bullying and harassment at work. I also have an interesting piece ongoing about the “psychological contract”, which is basically the perceived / implicit (rather than formal written) employment contract held by employees.

I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who might like to collaborate on anything. I am broadly interested in applications of psychology to organizations and to healthcare (ideally but not necessarily at the same time) and I have experience with mixed methods and longitudinal research designs.

My contact details are: room TG65, extension 15009, email

Chris Woodrow

Thursday, 26 September 2013

An introduction to Antonia Bifulco, our new Head of Department

Antonia Bifulco – Professor of Lifespan Psychology and Head of Department.  (room TG34; tel 0208 411 3705)

I joined the Psychology Department in July 2013, having been at Kingston University for the last 2 years, and before that at Royal Holloway for most of my career. I have also brought my research team – Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) which I co-direct with Prof Julia Davidson from Criminology. The Centre is multidisciplinary in its focus on victims and perpetrators of abuse and aims to engage in both academic and applied research with relevant services. We currently have projects involving youth violence, young people in residential care and cyberbullying as well as conducting CPD training for practitioners in health and social care in standardised assessments on childhood neglect/abuse, attachment style and parenting. We have recently completed an EU study of online grooming for sexual abuse, and working with a child protection team on improving case assessment and analysis. My interest in Lifespan Psychology in relation to vulnerability and clinical disorder is around childhood and adolescent experience as a primer for later risk and disorder as well as intergenerational transmission of risk from parent to offspring. My interests combine both Health and Forensic domains.

I have a new 3-year ESRC project grant beginning in November called: ‘Stress online: Developing a reliable and valid interactive online method for measuring stressful life events and difficulties’. This is held with partners at the Institute of Psychiatry (KCL) and Goldsmiths. It aims to mimic a face-to-face contextualised interview online, testing this with existing samples with depression, physical illness and controls, as well as in a first year student group. The aim is to validate the new interview alongside the in-person interview and then to examine the relationship of stressful events and difficulties to depression and physical illness and to drop-out or poor exam results in students.

I am very pleased to be taking on a head of department role for this vibrant and talented staff group! I look forward to a productive year of work and the department’s success in both teaching and research programmes.

An introduction to Yaél Ilan-Clarke

I am a researcher working in the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) which is a new research centre at Middlesex combining Psychology and Criminology areas of interest. As a group, we are engaged in research, training and application to practice on issues of trauma and abuse, spanning events occurring both in everyday lives and on digital platforms.

I have been involved in a diverse array of projects since beginning working with the research group in 2008, with a focus on understanding issues of attachment throughout the lifespan and the measurement of abuse. My own background is Health Psychology (MSc at UCL) and I try to apply the skills and expertise derived from that field to the various projects in CATS.

Currently I am leading on an evaluation of an innovative hospital-based youth violence intervention at St. Thomas’ A&E department. It is an exciting and challenging opportunity to apply theoretical principles to such a ‘real-life’ project, something which rarely runs smoothly. However, the positive results from the first 3 years are encouraging and motivate me to continue to refine our methods of measurement and increase our understanding of conducting research in complex environments such as this. With it being an ‘action research’ project, we work both inductively and deductively, which makes for very dynamic and interesting work. We use both qualitative and quantitative measures, which give us a more in-depth understanding of the true meaning of the effects of the work being done. Ultimately it’s good to be part of a project working to improve outcomes for young people experiencing violence.

I am also interested in various other topics, particularly within health psychology, and would welcome an opportunity to collaborate on work in that field, particularly reproductive health psychology of which I am aware there is much expertise in this department.

Being a member of CATS I am based in the Williams Building G001. As I work part time I am best contactable through email or phone #16606. I welcome any opportunity for discussion, collaboration or generally just forming connections with fellow psychologists.

Yaél Ilan-Clarke

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Research Club 2013-14

The first meeting of research club this academic year is on Wednesday 2 October 2013 from noon in HG03.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

An introduction to Alexander Jones

I moved to London in 2001 (from Sweden) to do an undergrad at City University London and then continued with an MSc at UCL. Broadly, my research interests include attention, prediction, action, and multisensory integration, and using cognitive neuroscience techniques to investigate how brain and behaviour relate. In particular, I use electroencephalography (EEG) and event-related potentials (ERPs) to try and tap into what is going on in the brain.

I did my PhD at City University London looking at how we attend to touch, an area which has seen very little research as compared to vision and audition. Our sense of touch is constantly bombarded with information from our body (our clothes, the chair we sit on etc.) so how do we select what is relevant? Moreover, how does voluntary (endogenous) and reflexive (exogenous) attention interact, so... do we notice the “tap on the shoulder” when we are really focused on something else?

After my PhD I moved to Paris to do a post-doc at Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Universite Paris Descartes. Here my research was more focused on action prediction. How do we process the effects of our actions? The most well known example of the motor system predicting what will happen next is that you can’t tickle yourself (sensory suppression)! As with many colleagues, a range of topics interest me and I am currently involved in various projects such as investigating how professional ballet dancers view the aesthetics of movements, or in another project we are looking at how Mindfulness therapy can change attention and body processing in the brain. I am also keen to explore areas such as attention to pain, or the neural correlates of sports expertise, for example looking at action anticipation and attention. It is not always the strongest and fastest athlete who is best, but arguably the most important factor determining success is the brain, but why?

I’m in room TG68 so just drop by for a chat or email me at (ext. is 16328)

Alexander Jones

An introduction to Emma Ward

I joined the department in early September, and prior to this I worked as a Teaching Fellow at the University of York (2012-2013). Before that I was working on my PhD at UCL (so it’s great to be back in London!). 

I am interested in human memory, particularly the distinction between explicit (e.g., recall, recognition) and implicit (e.g., repetition priming) forms of memory. The traditional view is that they are driven by separate cognitive and neural systems, but the work of my collaborators and I challenges this view. For example, there have been many demonstrations that explicit and implicit memory are differentially affected by various factors, such as ageing. Some have argued that explicit memory declines with age while implicit memory remains stable, but using a modern and robust measurement technique, we find that both forms of memory decline with age. It may not therefore be necessary to make a distinction between explicit and implicit memory systems. 

I am currently working on a project with Chris Berry at Plymouth University (who I got to know when he was a Research Fellow and I was a PhD student at UCL) examining the effects of study duration on explicit and implicit memory. A compelling finding is that although long study durations benefit recognition to a greater extent than short study durations (as one might predict), the opposite is true of priming. I am really interested in this effect as the double dissociation is difficult to interpret within the single-system framework. We are nearing completion of a series of experiments in which we’re trying to get to the bottom of things.

I am very broadly interested in memory retrieval, and factors that affect this, such as attention and context. I am about to put in a bid for a small grant with Marie Poirier at City University investigating the benefit of context reinstatement to memory in ageing. We know that reinstating encoding context facilitates memory retrieval in elderly individuals (e.g., studying an item on a particular background scene is more likely to be remembered later if it is again paired with the same relative to a different scene), but because older individuals have known deficits in building associations between separate pieces of information, it is unclear how the effect operates. Some have argued that the associations are implicit, and we plan to investigate this.

I very much look forward to getting to know all of you and hearing more about your research (and other!) interests. 

You can find me in TG68, email me on, or call me on ext. 16329

Emma Ward

An introduction to Andrea Oskis

All of the new staff have been asked to introduce themselves to the department, and wider readership, through this blog.

Here is the first:

All of my research is driven by the common aim of investigating how our interpersonal bonds impact our psychological and physical well-being, especially earlier on in the lifespan. My studies span the areas of Health Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Psychophysiology. In the main, my research has examined attachment style in relation to objective, physiological markers of well-being, and most of my work has involved the classic 'stress' hormone cortisol. Given that cortisol can be measured easily and non-invasively in saliva, this has probably contributed to me being known as the 'spit lecturer' in my previous posts. My new and exciting project still involves saliva, but this time the 'bonding' hormone, oxytocin, and examining this in relation to attachment, love and other aspects of interpersonal behaviour. I am carrying out this work with the Psychophysiology and Stress Research Group at the University of Westminster.

Since I love to talk to people about their relationships, I need a research tool that allows me to do this within a scientific setting! I have developed my expertise in interview assessments of attachment style and parenting via my association with the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies. I work with this group in an applied capacity as accredited trainer for the Attachment Style Interview. This work has served to be a springboard for me to develop my consultancy services to support those who work in healthcare settings, where these the measurement of attachment style is increasingly forming part of the assessment procedure. 

As well as talking to people and using interesting research tools, I also enjoy drumming up enthusiasm to study Psychology at university. So I am really excited to speak at this year's BPS ‘Psychology 4 Students’ event in London.  

Come and visit me in TG40, call me on extension 3107 or email me on 

Andrea Oskis

Monday, 23 September 2013

Music Therapy and Music Psychology

In an attempt to find ways (a) to communicate about my blue-sky research to relevant community audiences, and, conversely, (b) to explore the community-based work in order to understand which of their needs my research might meet, I have attended the inaugural Nordoff-Robbins Plus Conference MUSIC AND COMMUNICATION: Music Therapy and Music Psychology, London 20th Sept. 2013.

In relation to point (a) I have presented two pieces of work as posters (see below for details), and in relation with point (b) I accepted to lead the discussion in one of several groups (and report back to plenary), working around questions that would help developing a common ground between practitioners in music therapy and education and researchers in psychology of music. This has been a dire challenge yet a refreshing and exciting bridge-building exercise!

Poster 1
This research is an international collaboration with Milan-Bicocca University (Psychology Dept.):

Infant attention to vocal or instrumental music at 6 months is mediated by sex

Fabia Franco, Laura D’Odorico & Iryna Kozar

This study is part of an extensive research programme investigating various aspects of the relationship between language and music in infancy (Franco, 2013 submitted). Specifically, the present ongoing study aims to assess whether [1] different preferences for vocal or instrumental music are observed at different ages during the first year of life, [2] early preferences for vocal or instrumental music predict language development at 12-14 months, and [3] different patterns of motor responses are observed in babies while they listen to vocal or instrumental music (e.g., rhythmic patterns).

The first tranche of data concerns 36 infants (18 female) aged 6 months, tested with three melodies (all major mode/fast tempo, 1 minute duration) presented once as instrumental and once as vocal music using non-words (randomised). The preferential listening experiment was run with MATLAB in a soundproof environment. 

Results revealed that both overall listening time (p= .046) and mean duration of infants’ listening (p = .02) were significantly longer with vocal than instrumental musical tracks. However, there was a significant sex X type interaction when considering both the duration of the first orientation towards the musical stimulus (p = .02) and the number of distraction episodes (p= .007), with male babies orienting for longer and getting distracted less with vocal than instrumental music and female babies displaying longer orientation and fewer distraction episodes with instrumental music. Other measures concerned frequency of smiles and vocalizations and visual checking with the parent.

The results suggest early sex differences in music attending, with males but not females presenting an early orientation to music associated with speech-like patterns. A follow- up at 14 months is planned to regress the 6-month listening measures against language development measures.

Poster 2
This is a collaboration with Joel Swaine (a community musician affiliated to the Centre for Music & Science at the University of Cambridge) – Kasia graduated with a 1st class degree with us last year:

Mood-matching music improves cognitive performance in adults and preschoolers

Fabia Franco, Joel Swaine & Kasia Zaborowska 

Many studies either supported or failed to support Rauscher et al.’s (1993) original findings of enhanced cognitive performance after listening to a Mozart sonata. In a subsequent wave of studies, Schellenberg and colleagues supported their hypothesis that the ‘Mozart effect’ is produced by the positively arousing effects of fast, upbeat music (see Schellenberg, 2012).

We tested a novel, alternative hypothesis that cognitive performance would be enhanced by exposure to music whose perceived expressive characteristics are congruent with a participant’s mood, and, conversely, would be hampered (or unaffected) by music that is mood-incongruent.

Experiment 1 involved 94 adults screened for mood. Two moods with opposite valence but similar arousal profiles were selected (happy vs. angry). Participants in each mood group were randomly assigned to a mood-congruent (e.g., angry/angry) or -incongruent (e.g., angry/happy) music condition. Before and after music exposure, participants completed an automated visual digit span memory test.

Experiment 2 involved 30 3-5-year-olds. A mood induction procedure with cartoon video clips was used with the children, and mood/music congruence was tested for ‘happy’ vs. ‘sad’ moods. Children’s memory was tested using an online matching game with the same before/after design used with adults.
In both experiments, music had been composed ad hoc and validated.

The mood-matching hypothesis was supported by the results, showing improved cognitive performance with respect to baseline only following exposure to music that was congruent with participants’ moods (i.e., improved performance was associated with exposure to ‘angry’ music in angry participants, but to ‘sad’ music in ‘sad’ participants). The effect was moderated by gender in the adult study, with women, not men, showing the mood-matching effect.

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365 (6447), 611.

Schellenberg, E. G. (2012). Cognitive performance after listening to music: a review of the Mozart effect. In MacDonald, R., Kreutz, G., & Mitchell, L. (eds.), Music, health, and wellbeing (pp. 324-338). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fabia Franco

Monday, 16 September 2013

Launch of the Social Science Section of the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST)

On Tuesday 10 September I attended the launch event for the new Social Science Section of the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST), an event titled ‘Social Science in Parliament: Improving the Evidence Base for Policy’ which was held at Portcullis House.

The social science section is being established in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and with the support of University College London. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) published a blog post the day before the event in which they provide reflections from some of the key speakers on the making of the Social Science Section and how it will seek to improve the impact of social science in policy-making. Follow this link.

I will briefly share some of my observations of the event. The seminar began with a welcome from Adam Afriyie MP (Chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology), an MP I hadn’t come across before but who seemed incredibly enthusiastic and committed to providing all parliamentarians with more access to social science research evidence.

Short presentations were then given by Dr David Halpern (National Adviser of the What Works Centres and Director of the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team); Professor Teresa Rees AcSS (Board Member of the Campaign for Social Science and former Pro Vice Chancellor (Research), Cardiff University; Ms Jane Tinkler (Manager of the Public Policy Group and Research Fellow at the Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science) and Professor Paul Boyle (Chief Executive, ESRC). Professor Rees provided a very convincing argument for the importance of equalities in underpinning everything done by both researchers and parliamentarians. Jane Tinkler provided some interesting insights into the work her team have been doing on the impact of social sciences (see this blog), the key findings from which will be published as a book in 2014. Among the many figures Jane presented the fact that 12% of total grants and contracts to universities come from Social Science stood out as being both heartening but also a percentage we should be seeking to increase. Professor Boyle from the ESRC was very keen to focus our minds on developing new routes to the co-production of knowledge, in particular he urged us to think about links with the private sector and how these can be facilitated.
Reflections on the presentations were then presented by Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBS FBA. She highlighted that many parliamentarians do not appreciate or value qualitative research, they are however quick to give much more weight to anecdote. Baroness Lister argued that changing this mistaken belief is crucial because in order to create cultural change we need the in depth insights only qualitative research can provide. There was then a useful Q&A session, which took a while to warm up, yes even with all the high-flyers in the room the questions were slow to get started! The session was then concluded with comments from Kelvin Hopkins MP (Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Social Science and Policy) and Dr Chris Tyler (Director of POST).

I talked to Dr Abbi Hobbs, Social Sciences Advisor for POST after the event and she was very keen to hear more about what we’re doing in Middlesex. As a result she will be coming to the department in November (date TBC) to give a presentation about POST and hear more about our work.

You can find out more about POST at:
You can follow POST on Twitter: @POST_UK

Miranda Horvath