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City University, London

UOA 44 - Psychology

RA5a: Research environment and esteem




In the period since the last exercise the research activity of the Department has increased substantially. Average annual research income has grown from a total of £385,000 to £442,000. The Department has evolved considerably with the recruitment of younger research active staff who gained their PhDs during the assessment period. The average impact factor of submissions has risen from 1.35 to 3.53 (despite the departure of some senior members of staff). Current publications are in highly-ranked journals such as Nature, Brain, Neuropsychologia and Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory and Cognition. The number of PhD students has remained steady at around 16 FTEs as has the number of PhDs awarded. Currently, two full-time students are funded by external bursaries. The Department is now recognised for the tenure of ESRC 1+3 studentships and offers an MSc in Research Methods and Psychology. There are strong collaborative research links both within the institution and in the wider UK as well as internationally. The Department can justifiably claim to be an internationally recognised centre for research in the areas of autism spectrum disorders, memory and cognition, neuropsychology and psychophysiology and organisational psychology, using obtained funding and research outputs as criteria.


The Department has moved into new, purpose-built accommodation, which includes a dedicated suite of general-purpose testing laboratories, a suite of testing cubicles with networked PCs and five fully equipped, specialised laboratories. Technical staff support to these laboratories has increased from 3 to 4. The significant improvements in research income, research infrastructure and quality of research outputs together with the strong emphasis on recruitment of research-active new appointments and maintenance of a critical mass of research students all demonstrate the commitment of the Department and the University to maintaining a high-profile research environment.


Research Structure

Currently, research activity is centred on two broad themes: cognition/neuropsychology, and organisational/applied psychology. Two other strands of research activity – health psychology and counselling psychology – are returned under the Nursing UoA because of the close fit between their work and that of the School of Nursing and Midwifery.


There are currently five formal research groupings that are centred primarily on the research activities of grant-holding members of staff.  These are the Memory Research Unit (Poirier), the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit (Forster, Yarrow), collaborative work on decision-making carried out in conjunction with the School of Informatics (Ayton), the Autism Research Group (Bowler) and the Organisational Psychology Research Group (Flaxman, Patterson, Silvester).


Cognition/Neuropsychology (Ayton, Boucher, Bowler, Croucher, Forster, Gardiner, Hampton, Kaminska, Poirier, Tan, Yarrow)


Research in this theme centres on memory, concepts, decision-making, the psychology of autism spectrum disorders and the neuropsychology of touch and time perception.  Kaminska’s work on basic processes in reading and writing also contributes to the Department’s profile in the area of cognition.


(i) Memory Research Unit

Research on memory has been a long-standing strength in the Department, enhanced by the establishment in 2003 of the Memory Research Unit under the direction of Poirier as well as by the appointment to a Lectureship in 2006 of Tan and the addition of Croucher as post-doctoral fellow in 2007. Gardiner has also re-joined the Department as an Emeritus Professor, and contributes to the work of this Unit as well as to that of the Autism Research Group, described later on.  In its first year the Unit has been successful in gaining ESRC funding for an investigation of short-term memory in autism spectrum disorder (in collaboration with Bowler – see autism section later).  The Unit currently consists of two full-time members of academic staff, one full-time post-doctoral fellow, one half-time research assistant and two full-time and two part-time PhD students. Active collaborations exist with other members of departmental staff (Ayton, Bowler, Hampton) as well as with staff in other UK and overseas establishments, including the Universities of Warwick, Purdue and Moncton, Canada.  The Unit has hosted several visiting professors including Dr James Nairne, Dr Aimee Surprenant and Dr Ian Neath from Purdue University.  The internal collaboration has resulted in a successful grant award from the British Academy into memory biases in the assessment of past events. 


(ii) Decision-making

The second strand of cognitive research centres on decision-making (Ayton). A major part of this work centres on a £1.2 million EPSRC research grant in collaboration with the Centre for Software Reliability and the Actuarial Science faculty (Cass Business School) at City University - recently renewed with further grants totalling £759k from EPSRC and Cancer Research UK. Ayton has published 10 articles in peer-reviewed journals and 7 book chapters since the last exercise and was appointed to a Department of Transport Working Group to produce a monograph recommending interventions for convicted traffic offenders.  


(iii) Conceptual representation

A third focus of cognitive research in the Department is on conceptual representation (Hampton).  This work addresses investigations of factors influencing vagueness and ambiguity in conceptualisation, conceptual combinations and stability of typicality judgments, and has yielded 9 peer-reviewed articles and 3 book chapters since 2001. Much of the work is carried out in collaboration with colleagues from Warwick, Lund and Leuven Universities. Visiting collaborators in this area have included Drs Eve and Herbert Clarke from Stanford University.


(iv) Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit

Recent additions to the research activities of the Department comprise the work on the neuropsychology of touch led by Forster and that on the cognitive neuroscience of temporal perception and the relationship between perception and action carried out by Yarrow. Forster’s work is conducted in collaboration with Dr Martin Eimer at Birkbeck College, London and Yarrow’s in collaboration with Drs John Rothwell and Peter Brown at the Institute of Neurology, UCL and Dr Patrick Haggard at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL.  These strands of work have resulted in over 30 peer-reviewed articles (Forster authoring 15 and Yarrow authoring 17) as well as a major £310k project grant from the BBSRC. Part of this money was to cover the costs of enhancing the features of the Department’s new electrophysiology laboratory.


(v) Autism Research Group

The Autism Research Group is led by Bowler and has recently been strengthened by the addition of a part-time professor (Boucher) and an Emeritus professor (Gardiner).  The group also has two research assistants (one full time and one part time) and four PhD students.  Two other members of staff have formal involvement in the work of the Group (Hampton, Poirier) and there have also been collaborations with scientists from institutions both inside and outside the UK.  Bowler’s collaborations with McGill University (Professor Jacob Burack) and the Université de Montréal (Professor Laurent Mottron) have led to contributions on matching procedures in research into Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Gardiner’s collaborations with scientists from the Institute of Child Health, University College London have enhanced our understanding of the effect of early medial temporal lobe damage on the development of episodic memory and Boucher’s collaboration with Professor Andrew Mayes at the University of Manchester has contributed significantly to the role of language and intellectual disability in the development of memory in the autistic population.  The Group has built up a panel of over 50 individuals with Asperger’s syndrome and 100 matched comparison participants.  The psychometric, neuropsychological and memory database of this panel offers an important research resource for students and visiting scientists. The research consists principally of investigations of episodic and source memory in autism spectrum disorders within a conceptual framework of impaired relational encoding in this population.  The work of the Group has made a major contribution to our understanding of the nature of episodic memory difficulties in people with autism spectrum disorder.  In particular, it has demonstrated a diminished sense of self-involvement in the recollection of past experiences.  It has also shown that memory difficulties experienced by individuals with autism are in part due to difficulties with relational encoding which are compensated for by enhanced item-specific encoding.  This and other work has established the Group as the foremost centre in the world for memory research in autism. Since 2001, its members have published over 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals and 10 book chapters. Bowler is Co-Editor with Boucher of a major edited work on memory in autism to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2008, and is also the author of Autism Spectrum Disorders: Psychological Theory and Research published by Wiley in 2007, which won the 2007 National Association for Special Educational Needs/Times Educational Supplement Academic Book Award. He was also co-convenor, along with Dr Laurent Mottron of the Université de Montréal, of a symposium on memory in autism at the 2006 International Conference on Memory held in Sydney.  Other work by members of the Group includes the role of emotion in autistic memory, concept formation and use, configural processes in face perception and the causal role of mother-infant dialogue in the development of mental state understanding in children with autism spectrum disorders.  A new programme of work is under way into the electrophysiological correlates of episodic memory in autism spectrum disorder.  The work of the Group is supported by substantial grant income from the Wellcome Trust, the Nuffield Foundation, the MRC and the ESRC (in conjunction with Poirier), and applications are currently lodged with the charity Autism Speaks for postdoctoral and project grant support. The Group also houses the editorial office of the journal Autism, of which Bowler is joint editor.



Organisational/Applied Psychology (Flaxman, Patterson, Silvester)


The Organisational Psychology Research Group is committed to the application of theory and research to work performance in public, private and political organisations.  The Group’s three academic members focus on individual differences and healthy productive working.  Areas of research include employee selection and development, diversity and performance, occupational health, and political leadership. A strong theme of the Group’s work has been its impact on policy.  Patterson is acting as advisor to the Department of Health and Royal Colleges of Medicine in relation to the Modernising Medical Careers programme.  She has also been appointed as an advisor to the DTI. Silvester has worked with all three major UK political parties to shape selection and development programmes for politicians.  She designed the selection process for prospective Parliamentary candidates for the Conservative Party and has recently been approached to undertake similar work for the Liberal Democrats. Recent work for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has involved developing a national skills set for local politicians.


The Group has a strong record of publishing in international research journals (e.g. Journal of Applied Psychology, British Medical Journal, Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology), but to maximise engagement it also employs a strategy of disseminating findings more widely in technical reports and practitioner journals.  Recent projects related to health and politics also received widespread coverage in national and international media outlets.  Over recent years the Group has also been successful in securing research council, government and private funding to pursue research into topics such as medical selection, leadership, health and well-being, political working and innovation.  Silvester and Patterson received ESRC funding to investigate cognitive and behavioural predictors of empathy in physicians.  Silvester, Patterson and Flaxman have an ESRC project to evaluate impact of ESRC-CASE studentships on host organisations.  Patterson has been funded by the Department of Health to design and validate medical selection procedures, and Flaxman (who completed his PhD in 2006) has been working on Health and Safety Executive sponsored projects to investigate ‘Management Standards for Stress’.  Silvester has also been funded by government agencies including the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (now CLG), Improvement and Development Agency, and Leadership Centre for Local Government to investigate individual differences and political performance.


The Group has attracted ESRC, EPSRC, private and self-funded PhD students, including ESRC studentships co-sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and J.P. Morgan.  Recent work has led to a joint submission to the ESRC with the Home Office for a studentship investigating leadership and ethnicity.  Members of the Group also act as associate editors for international journals such as the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology and the International Journal of Selection and Assessment.


Research Culture

Within the different research groups, members hold regular meetings where staff and graduate students discuss theoretical and practical issues connected with their research.  The frequency of such meetings varies from weekly (the long-standing CWRKS, or cognitive workshop) to once or twice a term, depending on the size of the research group.  These meetings also provide a forum for outside speakers to present their work to the Department. In addition, the Department funds and helps organise the London Judgment and Decision Group, an Intercollegiate seminar held on a weekly basis.


Graduate research students form an important aspect of the research life of the Department.  Selection of graduate students is made both on the basis of academic potential and of fit between the student’s proposed work and that of the supervisor.  In this way, graduate students become part of the supervisor’s research team and can benefit immediately from the support networks and resources provided by that team.  In order further to develop collaborative and support networks, wherever possible students and research assistants working on similar projects or for the same supervisor or group of supervisors are accommodated in the same office or group of offices.  All full-time PhD students are provided with their own desk, bookshelves and filing cabinet space in a shared office.  Each student has their own networked PC with statistical, word processing and bibliographic software, email and internet access and a shared telephone.  In addition to access to post and photocopying facilities, each student is given an allowance of £1,000 to cover incidental costs connected with their research.  Where exceptional expenditure, such as large mailshots or specialised software or equipment, arises in connection with their research, application can be made to the Departmental Research Committee for support.  A graduate research student seminar runs fortnightly throughout the year to which all graduate students must present regularly.  In addition, the annual graduate research student review days provide a forum where all students must present a summary of the year’s work to their fellow students and to other members of the Department.  The requirement to present at both these events gives students experience of presenting their work orally.  This practice is reinforced by the policy of giving each student full funding to attend one international conference connected with their research, provided they are making a presentation at the conference.  All students who cannot demonstrate equivalent qualifications are required to take at least four modules from the MSc in Research Methods and Psychology.  This course fulfils the requirements for breadth and depth specified by the ESRC and has been approved for tenure of their 1+ 3 studentships.


Collaboration across research themes

Members of the Department collaborate regularly.  Examples from among existing staff members include that of Bowler and Poirier, who have an important collaboration investigating short-term memory processes in Asperger’s syndrome.  Conceptual representations in autism have also been the focus of research by Bowler and Hampton and are currently the basis for an application to the ESRC for a post-doctoral fellowship on conceptual development in autism spectrum disorder.  Poirier and Ayton have a joint project on biases in judgments of past events.  Hampton, Poirier and Ayton have submitted an ESRC grant proposal to investigate conceptual and memory factors in judgment and decision-making.  Bowler and Kaminska are jointly running a project on click migration in speech and music perception in autism.  Collaborations between more established and newer members of staff are also under way.  Bowler and Forster propose to develop ERP-based studies of episodic memory in Asperger’s syndrome, a development that will be taken forward by a PhD student who started in the autumn of 2007.


Staffing Policy

The main criterion for recruiting new members of academic staff is that they have a strong track record of research outputs commensurate with their stage of career development. Candidates for more junior positions must demonstrate potential for successful grant applications; those for senior positions must have a strong track record in this regard.  The application of this policy is evidenced by the three most recent appointments in the Department (Flaxman, Yarrow, Tan), all of whom obtained their PhDs during the assessment period, yet all of whom have outstanding track records as evidenced by their publication profile.  The research interests of candidates for vacant posts must show some potential for collaboration with those of existing staff members.  All new members of academic staff are assigned to a mentor whose job is to monitor closely the research development of the staff member.  The mentor’s role includes ensuring that the member of staff allocates sufficient time to plan and implement a research programme, to write it up and publish it as well as to engage in other forms of dissemination, such as conference and seminar presentations.  Practical advice is also provided about sources of financial and other support available in the Department and the University as well as wider national and international sources of finance. The University also provides training programmes in grant application and project management.


The Department also has a number of policies designed to foster the research activities of new and existing members of staff.  New staff members are provided with start-up funds to enable them to get their research off the ground quickly.  An example of this is the construction of the ERP/EEG lab to facilitate the work of Forster.  Existing members of staff can apply to the Departmental Research Committee as well as the University Research Pump Priming Fund for sums of money to support small projects to collect pilot data for larger grant applications to research councils or charities.  Examples of successful use of pump-priming funds include the purchase of an eye-tracker which provided pilot data for a successful MRC grant application (Bowler); and the collection of pilot data that enabled a successful application to the British Academy for further funds (Ayton, Poirier).  Current pump-priming money is providing participant payments to enable Yarrow to collect pilot data to support an equipment grant to the Royal Society for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation apparatus.  The Department also maintains a policy of allowing staff members to concentrate their lecturing duties in a single teaching term so as give sufficiently large blocks of uninterrupted time in other terms to devote to research.  Staff are encouraged to apply to the Departmental Research Committee for financial support for conference attendance with the expectation that they will be funded for attendance at one overseas and one UK/European conference per year where they are presenting a paper.  There is also a generous policy for sabbatical leave entitlement.  Members of academic staff are entitled to a full year free of teaching and administration duties after six years of service or a six-month sabbatical after three years of service.  All staff are encouraged to avail themselves of this opportunity.  Research plans and achievements form an important part of the annual appraisal process for staff members.  Demonstrated research achievements are also weighted heavily in decisions to promote staff to senior lectureships, and are (save in exceptional circumstances) the sole criterion for promotion to a readership or a chair.


The Department is also mindful of the need to promote the careers of research assistants and postdoctoral fellows.  To this end all such staff are encouraged to participate in all aspects of the research process from project planning to contributing to the writing up of articles for publication.  Research staff without a PhD are eligible and encouraged to register for a research degree free of charge, a privilege that continues for three years after they leave the institution.  Research staff at all levels are encouraged to avail themselves of the wide range of training opportunities in research methods provided by the Department and the University.


There have been a number of changes in the staffing of the Department since the last exercise.  Of the members of staff who were returned in the 2001 exercise, five (Alcock, Bond, Golombok, Hines, Honess) have left the institution, one (Legg) has taken ill health retirement, one (Silvester) left and has since returned, and three (Kuczmierczyk, Marks, Willig) are being returned to the Nursing UoA.  The loss of research activity of departing members is compensated by new appointments (Croucher, Flaxman, Forster, Tan, Yarrow) all of whom are early career researchers with outstanding track records for their career level (see staffing strategy above).  The Department has also been successful in attracting some eminent senior staff on an honorary or part-time basis (Boucher, Gardiner); their contributions are outlined above.


The impact of staff changes on PhD supervision is managed through a policy of having a primary and a secondary supervisor for all research students.  If a primary supervisor leaves, then either a new primary supervisor is appointed, or the secondary supervisor takes a leading role, the primary supervisor becoming an external consultant.  Continuity of supervision is thus maintained.


Research Infrastructure and Strategy

The Department and the University are demonstrably committed to investing in research; in the period since 2001, both have made considerable funds available for stimulating research (funding of PhD bursaries; Croucher’s appointment is funded by a University Research Fellowship) and the development of research infrastructure.  The move to new, purpose-built accommodation has enabled the building of enhanced testing facilities including a suite of soundproofed testing rooms and cubicles with networked PCs.  A Decision Making Laboratory has been built as well as a state-of-the-art babylab with digital video editing and data collection equipment.  A major investment has been in an EEG/ERP laboratory with a 50-channel EEG recording equipment and dedicated software.  This is located in its own pair of testing rooms equipped with a Faraday cage.  Plans are in place to extend this facility to enable studies of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Investment has also been made in an iScan Eye-tracker which has its own dedicated testing space. The Autism Research Group also has its own dedicated suite of testing rooms including a behavioural observation laboratory.  All these infrastructural investments reflect a conscious strategic decision to enhance the research performance of the Department by promoting the research of individual staff members whose track record demonstrates continued promise in terms of research output.  The functioning of these items of capital expenditure is underpinned by a commitment to the salaries of technical staff as well as an annual budget of £30k which is made available to the Departmental Research Committee to finance conference attendance along with incidental research costs such as participant payments or travel or test items and equipment.


In addition to investment in facilities, the Department, in conjunction with the School of Social Sciences and the University, has made substantial investments in people.  A scheme of Departmental, School and University research studentships has resulted in the funding of 12 full-time PhD students and two 2-year post-doctoral fellows.  The resultant critical mass has considerably enhanced the level of research activity and created a vibrant postgraduate community.


A second strand of the strategy for growth was to encourage collaboration both within the Department and outside it.  The result was the emergence of the two thematic groupings listed above.  As a result of the drive to encourage collaborations, a number of grant applications have already been submitted or are currently being planned.  For example, in collaborating with colleagues at UCL and University of Teesside, Ayton has submitted a grant on protective decision-making.  Ayton, Hampton and Poirier are preparing a joint submission to the ESRC for a project grant investigating the role of conceptual processing and memory in judgment and decision making.  Forster has submitted a grant application to the MRC to investigate the role of experience on vibrotactile processing and, in collaboration with colleagues from Queen’s University Canada, is planning an application to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research into the effects of posture on visual and tactile stimulation.  A collaboration is also under way between the Autism Research Group and the Department of Educational Psychology at McGill University, Montreal into self-awareness and self-esteem in adolescents with Asperger’s syndrome.  An application has been made to Autism Speaks to support a project on visual electrophysiology in collaboration with Dr Paul Constable and Professor Geoffrey Arden of City’s Department of Optometry and Visual Science, and a further collaboration on context effects in low-level visual perception has also begun with Professor Michael Morgan FRS of the same Department.  The data from the latter study will form the basis of a grant application to the Wellcome Trust or the MRC.  A further collaboration is about to start with Professor Declan Murphy of the Institute of Psychiatry on fMRI studies of fear conditioning in adults with autism spectrum disorder.  Yarrow is in the process of making an application to the Human Frontiers Science Program for a collaborative grant linking colleagues at McGill University, Montreal, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston and the University of Queensland.


In addition to these planned research initiatives the Department has longer term plans for the next five years to recruit five more members of staff in line with the policy of recruiting high-calibre candidates whose research will be congruent or show potential for fit with the current interests of existing staff members.  Following the successful investment in staffing and infrastructure to re-create research activity in Neuroscience the aim is to maintain and develop research in this area.  Following improvements in research income, research infrastructure and quality of research outputs it is intended to continue with and reinforce the successful policy of strongly encouraging staff to seek external funding to support their research and to submit research outputs to high impact journals.  It is also intended to maintain sources of graduate student support in order to ensure that the Department remains a centre for the training of future researchers.



Esteem Indicators


Ayton:  Winner of 2005 Herbert M. Stauffer award for best clinical paper by the Association of University Radiologists. Invited keynote speaker International Conference on Affect, Motivation and Decision Making, Ein Boqeq, Israel, 2006. Editorial board member of three journals.


Boucher:  Member of the Psychology Committee for the Medical Research Council's Review

of Autism Research (2001).  Member of Editorial Board for Autism (1997 – present).


Bowler:  Invited member of the evaluation committee of the Fonds québecois pour la recherche sur la société et la culture (Quebec Government Research Council).  Joint Editor Autism (2006- present).


Croucher:  Newly appointed early career researcher (gained PhD in 2007).  Winner of competitive City University Research Fellowship, 2006.


Flaxman: (early career researcher)  Member of the Executive Committee of the European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology.  Member of the National Health Service (NHS) Occupational Health Psychology Network.


Forster:  Invited talk to the 8th International Conference of Cognitive Neuroscience, Porquerolles, Frances, 2002.  Invited talk to the 8th Meeting of the Federation of The European Physiological Society, Bordeaux, 2003.


Gardiner:  Member of editorial board, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory & Cognition, 1985-2006; Memory and Cognition, 2000-2007.


Hampton:  Member ESRC Research Grants Board (2000-2003).  Invited Keynote Presentation at Cognitive Science Conference on Mass Terms and Generics, Vancouver, February 2006.


Kaminska:  External PhD examiner, University of Wales, Bangor.


Patterson:  Appointed as Academic Adviser to the Department for Trade and Industry, 2001.


Poirier:  Elected member of the Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science Committee for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada 2000-2003.  Guest Editor for a double special issue on short-term/working memory of the journal Memory.


Silvester:  Invited to advise on the establishment of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister [ODPM] funded Local Government Leadership Centre (June 2004).  Contributor to Customer-Focused Leadership ‘think tank’ at the Office for Public Sector Reform (Cabinet Office) (2005).


Tan:  Rapporteur for ESRC project grant.


Yarrow:  Invited talk to symposium on time perception at the Second International Conference on Cognitive Science, University of Allahabad, India, December 2006. Research featured on ‘Quirks and Quarks’ science programme of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; The Economist; New Scientist; Metro.