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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Introduction

The School of Psychology comprises a broad cross-section of researchers with backgrounds in experimental, social and clinical psychology, and in related disciplines of neuroscience. With a diversity of approaches and methods, our research focus is the understanding of the relations between brain, mind and behaviour, and the application of this understanding to human problems. During the period 1996-2000, members of the School gained a total of £7,062,000 in research grant funding, and published 23 books, 103 chapters and 372 refereed journal articles (listed in full at http://psgsuni.bham.ac.uk/research/current_pub.htm). The range and quality of our research has been reinforced by new senior appointments, including the move of A Wing's sensorimotor research group from Cambridge (Applied Psychology Unit), and the appointments of A Meyer and P Praamstra (from Nijmegen). Directly linked to these new appointments, the infrastructure of our research has been strengthened by the £3,500,000 investment in a new building (the Behavioural Brain Sciences (BBS) centre) opened in 2000 and described further below. Other new appointments have been made in applied social psychology (R Crisp, A Lyons, M Kebbell, A Beech, C Meyer), cognition & language (RS Johnston, K Riggs), behavioural neuroscience (S Higgs) and perceptual systems (A Schofield).

Research group structure

In 1996 we presented 5 research groups, but in the light of developing links between sub-areas, we re-organized in 1997-8 into four main groupings that reflect current research priorities: Applied Social Psychology, Cognition & Language, Perceptual Systems and Behavioural Neuroscience. We aim to ensure that each group has strength in depth, and represents related areas of fundamental and applied research.

The group structure is a mechanism for communication and facilitation of research. The groups are responsible for ensuring that regular seminars are held in each area of research, and that speakers are invited to departmental seminars. The groups hold business meetings once or twice a year to review progress, grants, publications and future strategy, and to gather information on the group's research activities and output that is reported to the School's Director of Research.

We recognize the value of identifying specific sub-groups focussed on particular research areas. Research group leaders encourage the formation of special interest groups (SIGs) – eg journal club, reading group, seminar group. Membership of the SIG may of course cut across group boundaries, and such cross-fertilization is encouraged. The variety of these sub-groups maintains a lively research-oriented culture in the School.

The Four Research Groups

1. Applied Social Psychology (leader: J Orford)

• Social and Health psychology (D Booth, R Crisp, G Harris, A Lyons, J Orford)

• Forensic psychology (K Browne, A Beech, E Gilchrist, M Kebbell)

The objective of the group is to promote research into applied social psychology with the aim of turning research into best practice. Thus, the group carries out original research and also evaluates current policies and practice. As a result, its funding comes from appropriate Government departments as well as Research Councils. There are 2 main sub-areas of research here with strong links to users of research in the health, social and prison services.

Social & Health Psychology

J Orford leads a team on addiction research, with three major externally funded projects. One is an MRC treatment trial, for people with alcohol problems. The School is the lead for this multi-centre trial that received a total grant of £1,443K of which £289K is held at the University to support the West Midlands arm of the study. The second, supported by the Department of Health, is a longitudinal cohort study of untreated heavy drinkers with funding at Birmingham of £749K. The third project studies the experiences of people coping with alcohol or drug problems in their families. It has involved comparative work in different socio-cultural groups in England, Mexico and Australia, funded by WHO, the Mental Health Foundation, the West Midlands NHS, and the Alcohol Education and Research Council (total £76K). Output of journal papers, chapters and books has increased steadily, including reports to Department of Health and non-government organisations such as Alcohol Concern and GamCare.

G Harris studies behavioural and psychological problems related to feeding, eating and parenting. Current work is supported by Nutricia (£100K) for work on sleep, crying and feeding patterns. This commercial funding enabled Harris to win an ESRC ROPA 2000 award to study the perceptual and cognitive factors through which young children make and overcome neophobic food responses (£78K, 2001-3). In related work, A Lyons (with 4 PhD students) leads a variety of collaborative projects on health psychology and gender issues, public perceptions of food allergy, and psychological adjustment to early rheumatoid arthritis. Funding from Health & Safety Executive (£100K) for a collaborative project on health belief models will start in 2001.

D Booth also works on rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, particularly fatigue and pain (£33K, 2000-1), in an expanding programme on psychology in physical medicine, including management and prevention of type 2 diabetes, bowel disease, cardiac disease and cancer. Booth’s other nutritional psychology work has continued with major projects on the causes and consequences of supposed intolerances to food (£258K, 1996-8, with Child Health), estimation of individual fat intake (£65K, 1996-9), and digestive satiety signals from familiar foods (£78K, 1994-7).

The appointment of R Crisp (on the retirement of R Cochrane) has added a new strand of experimental social psychology with a particular focus on inter-group conflict, aiming to increase integration between cognitive and social psychology. Only recently out of his PhD, Crisp has already won a Leverhulme Trust grant (£77K) to study social category representation and intergroup bias, and an ESRC grant (£150K, with M Hewstone, Cardiff) starting in 2001 to study conflict-reduction and the inclusiveness of social categorization.

Forensic Psychology

The Forensic sub-group is concerned with how criminal behaviour develops, and how it can be prevented and treated. The group has come to be regarded by government departments and international organisations (WHO, EC) as a centre of excellence for the study of violent offenders, sex offenders and their victims. K Browne has been funded by the Home Office (£71K) for a study of the effectiveness of strategies for policing sexual crimes against children. He was also awarded £28K for ‘Evaluation of parenting disorders', £37K by the Department of Health to continue analysing the Glenthorne Centre Database, and US$80,000 by the World Bank for a study of child abuse and neglect in Romania. Browne and Gilchrist study the psychology of family violence, described in a widely cited monograph by Browne & Herbert (Preventing Family Violence, Wiley, 1997).

M Kebbell studies the psychology of witness evidence, and recently wrote (with Wagstaff, Liverpool) the major Home Office review concerning witness evidence. He has had funding from the ESRC (£22K), Home Office, and British Academy (£26K) to study psychological factors in cross-examination, witness preparation, and witness accuracy.

A Beech recently secured a grant (£90K) starting in 2001 to study the impact of treatment for rapists and sexual murderers in U.K. prisons. In a successful collaborative effort, the Forensic sub-group recently won two substantial, competitive Home Office contracts to study the perpetrators and victims of domestic violence (£200K, Gilchrist, Kebbell, Beech, 2000-2002) and the effectiveness of a probation-led intervention for rapists (£53K, Beech, Kebbell & Gilchrist).

2. Cognition & Language (leader A Meyer)

• Psycholinguistics (A Meyer, L Wheeldon, RS Johnston (A* leaver))

• Cognitive neuropsychology of language and memory (G Humphreys, A Olson, C Romani)

• Cognitive & behavioural disorders (M Birchwood, C Oliver, C Meyer (A* leaver), O Mason)

• Developmental cognitive psychology (G Thomas, K Riggs, RS Johnston, E Robinson (cat. B))

The group's objective is to promote original basic research into human cognition, linked to research on related clinical and educational problems. Consequently research funding is received from medical charities and educational trusts as well as research councils.

Psycholinguistics

L Wheeldon's work has been supported by two ESRC grants (total £226K) to study psychological processes involved in speech production. One main aim of the research is to investigate the units of processing used during grammatical encoding and the timing of the interface between grammatical encoding and generation of meaning. An edited book "Aspects of Language Production", dealing with aspects of this work, was published in 2000. A second aim is to determine the properties of the inner-speech system and to compare it with other processes that involve the manipulation of linguistic material, namely verbal short-term memory and the speech comprehension system.

Closely allied to this are the studies of A Meyer (appointed in 2000) on speech planning processes during scene descriptions. Much of this work relies on the registration of eye movements, which reveal how speakers allocate visual attention to different parts of a scene. This work is supported by a 3-year German research fellowship (1999-2002). Meyer, in collaboration with Levelt and Roelofs (both Nijmegen), is one of the originators of the current internationally recognised ‘standard’ theory of speech production, which provides a detailed framework for studies of the time course of processes in speaking (Behavioral & Brain Sciences target article).

RS Johnston's research is on reading and memory, studying word recognition and memory difficulties in developmental reading disorders and in normal readers. A main focus of interest is poor readers’ problems in setting up phonological representations in long term memory. Current work involves comparing the effects of different teaching techniques on how children read, and aims to understand why synthetic phonics accelerates the early learning of independent reading skills much faster than analytic phonics.

Cognitive neuropsychology of language and memory

G Humphreys, A Olson and C Romani work on the cognitive neuropsychology of memory and language (written, spoken, in comprehension and production tasks), linking these empirical studies to explicit computational models. Models of object naming and writing have been developed and published in international journals during 1996-2000. Humphreys’ research on modelling learning and memory in elderly populations has been funded by the ESRC (£127K; 1996-1999). Humphreys and Olson (in collaboration with Price at the Functional Imaging Laboratory, London) are funded by the Wellcome Trust (£106K) for joint experimental, neuropsychological and neuro-imaging studies of the visual processes mediating word recognition. Romani is funded by the Wellcome Trust (£104K) for work examining the role of visual and phonological memory processes involved in developmental dyslexia. Romani and Olson also work on phonological disorders in writing and spelling in aphasia, and Humphreys studies category-specific deficits in patients (forthcoming Behavioural & Brain Sciences target article).

Cognitive & behavioural disorders

Research in this sub-group focusses on intellectual disabilities and on the psychoses. C Oliver's group studies the behavioural phenotype of Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer related dementia, and severe problem behaviours in people with intellectual disability. The objective is to develop a programme of research on cognitive and behavioural disorders in severe intellectual disability with an emphasis on genetically determined syndromes. Research funding from a regional NHS Trust (£10K) and the Mental Health Foundation (£65K) supports work on Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s, while the National Lottery Charities Board (£86K) funds work on self-injurious behaviour in Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Related work is done in ClinPsyD projects (Prader-Willi Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome) and by collaboration (Dr Kim Cornish, University of Nottingham; Cri du Chat Syndrome).

M Birchwood (NHS funded, Hon. Prof.) leads collaborative programmes on the nature of psychosis and the value of early psychosocial interventions (DoH £290K). Results have been published in a series of papers in the British Journal of Psychiatry, and in two books (Early Intervention in Psychosis, Birchwood, Fowler & Jackson, 2000, Wiley; Schizophrenia, Birchwood & Jackson, 2000, L. Erlbaum). Birchwood has pioneered a new approach to the management of psychosis, and the B.J.Psychiatry papers have had great international impact by showing that cognitive therapy can accelerate recovery from psychosis. This has led to a large UK MRC multi-centre trial.

Developmental cognitive psychology

Previous work (G Thomas, E Robinson) on children's drawing and understanding about representation has led to a new research strand on children's photography. The project was established with funding from ESRC (£100K). Main collaborators are M Sharples (Educational Technology, Birmingham), The National Museum of Photography Film and Television, and Eastman Kodak. A further £200K has been secured from Eastman Kodak to study children's digital photography, starting 2001.

K Riggs investigates the role that inhibition, reasoning and memory processes play in the early development of attention and goal directed action. He has recently edited an international book about reasoning in young children, and completed an ESRC project on counterfactual reasoning in pre-school children. PhD projects are studying reasoning in children with autism, and inhibition in reasoning, attention & action.

3. Perceptual Systems (leader M Georgeson)

• Psychophysics and perception (M Georgeson, A Schofield, B Roberts)

• Perception and cognition (RA Johnston, G Humphreys, J Riddoch, D Booth)

The group's objective is to carry out original, high quality research into the mechanisms and processes underlying human sensation, information-processing and perception, linked to research on related neuropsychological and applied problems. Most of the group's funding comes from UK research councils.

Psychophysics and Perception

This sub-group studies mechanisms of human visual and auditory perception at several levels of processing, using precise psychophysical methods. In vision, M Georgeson and A Schofield have focussed on three key areas: spatial vision, motion perception and binocular stereo vision. This work has been supported by two BBSRC project grants (total £255K), and currently by a Wellcome collaborative grant (with S Hammett, London) on motion and blur. The work combines experimental study with theoretical and computational analysis to develop new models of edge and motion detection and blur coding (Georgeson), and texture coding through nonlinear filtering (Schofield). They have also begun (with Humphreys) to apply these psychophysical analyses to visual agnosic patients. Schofield recently won an EPSRC 'fast-track' award (£47K, starting 2001) to extend the work on texture vision. The vision laboratory plays a central role in the Midlands Vision Group (involving the vision labs of six Midlands Universities).

B Roberts' work on auditory grouping and segmentation has close links to the vision work. His published work (funded by BBSRC, £138K) has shown that grouping and separation of sounds can be based on spectral regularity, as well as harmonic relations. This opens up new questions about the mechanisms of perceptual organization in hearing, now being explored in collaborative work with Bregman (McGill) and Moore (Cambridge).

Perception and Cognition

G Humphreys, J Riddoch and RA Johnston investigate the brain processes involved in recognizing, naming and attending to faces and everyday objects. Their work lies at the interface between perception, memory and knowledge, using methods from experimental psychology and neuropsychology. Humphreys and Riddoch have provided an international lead in the study of recognition disorders in agnosia, and have received funding from the EU (on neuropsychological disorders of object recognition, £62K, and the computational modelling of object recognition, £61K). New funding comes from the MRC (component grant, £267K) to study neural mechanisms of figure-ground coding, starting in Jan 2001 (Humphreys, Georgeson & Praamstra). This will integrate the work of the Perceptual Systems and Behavioural Neuroscience groups. Developments during 1996-2000 have included setting-up a kinematic laboratory for measuring action as well as object recognition and perception, and for measuring eye movements to visual displays.

D Booth's work - on human hunger, thirst and satiety, sensory and social influences on food and drink choices, and effective weight control - crosses several discipline boundaries, and so links to the School’s other work in health psychology (see Applied Social) and neuroscience. His work on high sensory quality of foods is funded by BBSRC (£170K). This work uses multi-channel discrimination scaling to diagnose an individual’s integrated perception of a situation, e.g. attitude to a novel food for both ‘taste’ and ‘concept’ (EC FAIR £50K, 1996-8).

4. Behavioural Neuroscience (leader G Humphreys)

• Cognitive neuroscience (G Humphreys, A Olson, P Praamstra, J Riddoch, A Wing)

• Sensory motor neuroscience (A Wing, P Praamstra)

• Neurobiology & Psychopharmacology (I Mitchell, P Terry, S Higgs)

This group aims to develop a basic understanding of cognitive and neural mechanisms across a broad range of behaviours, from visual attention, perception and action through to the processes involved in addiction and learning. Funding comes from a range of sources, including international and national research councils and charities (especially for applied work in rehabilitation).

There have been major developments in Behavioural Neuroscience at Birmingham since the last RAE. The largest change has come through the move of A Wing from Cambridge in 1997. Wing’s group has been able to integrate with the Humphreys & Riddoch group to establish the Behavioural Brain Sciences Research (BBS) centre in a new building that provides state-of-the-art facilities for research in cognitive neuroscience. These include advanced laboratories for measuring eye movements, upper limb and whole body movements, posture and balance, haptic perception, cross-modal perception, dense array (128 channel) EEG and ERPs, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), speech production and everyday action. This specialist equipment has largely been secured through external grant support, including JREI and SEI equipment grants from the BBSRC and EPSRC and from programme and project-grants (MRC, Wellcome Trust, Stroke Association).

A key strategic goal in the School of Psychology is the development of collaborative work. Instrumental in this has been the MRC Co-operative group grant on perception and action (£167K; Humphreys, Praamstra, Olson, Riddoch and Wing with Georgeson and Roberts) that provides technical, secretarial and neuropsychological support (for screening patients). This support has enabled us to develop ‘outposts’ for neuropsychological testing at the Heartlands Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre, for both patient recruitment and rehabilitation studies.

Cognitive Neuroscience

The core research here on perception, action and attention comes through an MRC programme grant to G Humphreys and J Riddoch (£700K), and through project grants from the MRC and the Wellcome Trust. Work on the Humphreys and Riddoch programme grant focusses on the cognitive neuropsychology of visual attention, and uses combined experimental, neuropsychological, computational and functional imaging approaches (in collaboration with the FMRIB, Oxford).

Other current projects are on: the relations between attention and action (Humphreys, Riddoch, Wing, MRC £173K), the nature of spatial coding in attention and action (BBSRC, Humphreys, Praamstra, £150K, from 2001), and on how visual information constrains the retrieval of action (Riddoch, Humphreys, Wellcome Trust project, £184K). This sub-group has also received grants from: the BBSRC (Humphreys, on surface coding of objects, £126K), and the Human Frontier Science programme (Humphreys, Riddoch, with Kosslyn & Wolfe, Harvard; Jolicoeur, Waterloo; Chen, Beijing) on brain mechanisms of visual search (£97K). We also host a post-doctoral fellowship funded by the Fyssen Foundation on spatial coding in the brain (Dr Vernier).

Other work deals with cognitive rehabilitation of brain damaged patients, funded by 2 project grants from the Stroke Association for work on errorless learning (Wing, Humphreys, £49K) and on everyday action following stroke (Riddoch, Humphreys, £61K). A new programme grant for research on ‘Action and executive deficits after stroke’, funded by the Stroke Association, starts in 2001 (Riddoch, Humphreys, Wing, £250K).

Sensory Motor Neuroscience

This sub-group is concerned with sensory motor processes involved in the control of action and involves A Wing, P Praamstra (plus 2 post-doctoral researchers and 4 PhD students) and includes funded collaborations with Neurology, Rheumatology, Health Sciences (Physiotherapy), Sport & Exercise Sciences, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering. The research studies sensory motor function in the context of movement control and active touch. Major research issues are the nature of variability, and predictive and reactive aspects of multi-effector co-ordination.

In related work, Praamstra examines neurophysiological measures of motor control and attention, using ERPs. Recent work has focussed on changes in sensory motor connectivity in basal ganglia disorders. Praamstra and Wing are collaborating on the analysis of behavioural and cortical components of proprioception in passive and active touch. This work has links with industry through the BBSRC-funded short course training module and a collaborative PhD studentship. Recently Wing and Praamstra secured a major MRC programme grant (£1251K) to examine behavioural and neurophysiological aspects of action dynamics.

Neurobiology & Psychopharmacology

The sub-group working on neuroanatomical and psychopharmacological approaches to learning and addiction has been strengthened by the addition of S Higgs, from Durham University, who works on the neuropharmacology of learning (particularly on eating behaviour), thus linking to the work in health psychology (above). S Higgs and P Terry jointly collaborate with N Bowery (Neuroscience, Medical School, UoA 5) on neurotransmitter systems. I Mitchell uses anatomical techniques to understand the functional organisation of the basal ganglia and to study pathophysiological responses of these neural structures in neurological and psychiatric diseases (MRC £40K). A main focus of the group is the role of dopamine and other monoamines in controlling motivated behaviour. Interactions between dopamine and corticosteroids are implicated in the mechanisms underlying drug abuse and mood disorders. A University-funded inter-disciplinary studentship supports joint work between Mitchell and N Craddock (Psychiatry, UoA 5).

Promoting the research culture

A research culture flourishes when the enthusiasm and committment of staff and research students are coupled to the opportunity and facilities for doing high quality research. We make staff time available for research by the study leave scheme (one semester every 3 years), the increasing use of teaching assistants for practicals and tutorials, and by encouraging staff to 'ring-fence' research time in their personal timetable. We foster new research inititatives and collaborations through the summer grants scheme (up to 6 grants p.a. of £2000 for pilot work leading to a grant application), the pump priming fund (budget of £2000 p.a. for small initiatives, pilot studies, workshops etc), and the overseas and UK conference travel funds (£750 per person every 2 years; £250 p.a respectively).

Research is supported directly with 4-5 research studentships per year from School funds, and 4-5 inter-departmental (collaborative) studentships, where matching funds from outside bodies are provided. These are currently held with Wittenstein, the Royal Shropshire Health Trust, and the Birmingham Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust. We reward grant-getting by returning one-quarter of the grant overheads to the investigator to fund new research. We have also increased our investment in the School's computer networking, hardware and software, and set-up a computer strategy committee to manage and promote this.

Research students

All PhD students see their supervisor frequently (in accordance with British Psychological Society guidelines) and in their first year they attend the ESRC-recognized Taught Doctoral Programme with courses on both the practical (eg statistics, computing) and intellectual skills needed for successful research. All attend and contribute to the SIGs, seminars and work-in-progress meetings. For example, there are seminar series on "Perception, action & cognition", "Neuropsychological case studies" and "Psychopharmacology", and in vision there are two weekly 'journal clubs'. All of these foster the research culture and a critical approach to the research literature.

Wider contact with other researchers operates through personal contact, inter-group seminars and School seminars. The School has a Socrates/Erasmus exchange programme with 4 other European departments (Nijmegen, Leuven, Copenhagen and Padova). Supervisors encourage their PhD students to attend national and international conferences and advanced workshops to keep abreast of new developments and learn new skills. School funds (£750 per student) are available to all research students to support this.

Staffing Policy

Selectivity in new appointments has enabled us to increase our strength in all 4 main research areas (see Introduction), and this has had a large, positive effect on the School's research culture and productivity. Since 1996 there have been 16 new academic staff appointments, each supported by an average of over £16K start-up money. All new junior staff serve a probationary period and are set clear research output targets. They have been given priority in the allocation of research studentships and summer pilot research grants (£2000 each).

Self-assessment

Almost all the objectives set out in the 1996 RAE submission have been achieved, and new opportunities not envisaged in 1996 have been successfully exploited. A broad index of this achievement is that the number of journal papers published in 1996-2000 is 49% higher than in the previous RAE period (372 vs 250), with about the same number of research-active staff (31 vs 30).

Major expansion and upgrading of laboratory facilities has been achieved with the completion of the Hills Building (BBS) in 2000. Coupled with this improvement in infrastructure, we have continued to expand the number of research postgraduates - many supported by School and collaborative studentships.

The work on functional brain imaging has progressed significantly. We have conducted joint research with the Wellcome FIL (London), and have 2 Wellcome Trust project grants to support that work (Humphreys, Olson, Riddoch). We are actively collaborating with the FMRIB, Oxford, for fMRI studies of attention and action (Humphreys, Wing, MRC programme grants), with Nottingham University for studies of motor timing (Wing, MRC programme), with the Max Planck Institute, Leipzig, for fine time-course fMRI (Humphreys, MRC programme). Within Birmingham we have developed procedures for 3D analysis of lesions in neuropsychological patients, through interactions with radiology (Dr Chavda), and with the MEG unit at Aston University.

Work on cognitive rehabilitation has also progressed significantly. Wing, in collaboration with Humphreys and Riddoch is funded by the Stroke Association for 2 rehabilitation project grants, and a Stroke Association programme grant starts in 2001 for studies on rehabilitation of attentional disorders. Romani’s Wellcome Trust grant has also facilitated the development of rehabilitation for developmental dyslexia.

In health psychology, we have seen a rapid expansion of interest among research physicians in evidence-based self-care and treatment compliance practices (Booth), e.g. in Rheumatology, Anaesthesiology, Diabetology, Paediatrics, Cardiology. Successes in developing industrial links, e.g. Wing (Stirling Dynamics, DERA Malvern, Linear Drives, Applied Weighing, and others), G Harris (Nutricia), Booth (CCFRA) have compensated for the termination of a major research contract on the management of industrial change and the early retirement of senior staff (Cochrane). Cochrane's replacement (Crisp) has rapidly secured external funding (Leverhulme & ESRC) for an expanding programme investigating social categorization and inter-group relations.


Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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