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UOA 44 - Psychology

Heriot-Watt University

RA5a: Research environment and esteem



The development of an internationally-recognised research unit in psychology at Heriot-Watt is a major recent university initiative. The rapid expansion began in only 2003, founded on a group of three experienced staff. Since then, University funding for eight new appointments has produced a team of ten research-active academics of international repute, blending experience (two Professors, a Senior Lecturer, and a Senior Research Fellow) with youth (five ECRs). An early decision was made to organise research around three groups, each addressing aspects of applied psychology that will impact upon policy and practice. Our RA2 indicates that all appointments focussed on recruitment of researchers with a track record or evident prospects for research in these three areas. Our research strategy for 2003-7, published on our institutional web pages, stated that at least half of our publications should be of international standard, with all of the remainder of national standard (see RA2 and (2) below); that our emphasis on applied psychology should have an impact on practice and produce links with research users (see (3) and (4) below); and that our recency meant that our research culture must particularly emphasise support for junior researchers (see (5) below). Our ability to meet these targets was facilitated by considerable University support for staffing and infrastructure (see (5) and (6) below). Through a detailed presentation of this evidence, we intend to demonstrate the success of our strategy in establishing distinctive, sustainable, and internationally-recognised research activity in applied psychology that has considerable positive trajectory and the capacity to thrive in future years (see (8) below).





This section outlines the theoretical significance of the outputs of our research groups (see also web pages for individual groups linked from our home page). Information concerning the practical importance of our research to user groups is provided in (3) below, and these sections together provide clear evidence of high-quality research activity in applied psychology.


(a) Relationships and Well-Being (Brotherton, Holmes, North, Sheridan, and Stewart). This research concerns the overlaps between health and safety, mental health, media effects, and consumer behaviour. North’s research established the social psychology of music as a discipline, with his authored book on the subject published by Oxford UP in spring 2008. His research concerning the impact of music on both consumer behaviour and adolescent well-being is well-known in Europe, the USA, and Australia, and has set out many of the specific fields and detailed working methods that frame other’s research. Sheridan’s research is the first in Europe concerning stalking and psychosexual harassment, and frames the activities of researchers elsewhere in the EU, USA, and Australia. North’s and Sheridan’s research has been the subject of several published replication studies by researchers internationally, and has appeared in several general psychology text books. Brotherton’s work on organisational psychology led to his 2007 nomination for a BPS lifetime achievement award. Since 2001, the group’s members have published 69 peer-reviewed papers, 20 book chapters, and four edited books; and they have supported nine research students, with four more due in 2008.


(b) Applied Cognition and Vision (Green, Lansdown, and Potter). This research concerns the application of knowledge of human perception to problems in (i) way-finding; (ii) mobility in elderly people; and (iii) driving. Green’s work on bird way-finding deserves particular mention, introducing basic evidence from behavioural neuroscience into animal welfare. Green’s co-authored Visual Perception (4th edition published 2003) has played a leading role in defining the new field of vision science that has grown out of a synthesis of visual psychology, neuroscience and AI. Since 2001, the group have published 13 peer-reviewed papers, one co-authored book, two book chapters, and 23 other publications; and they have supported six PhD students, five supervised collaboratively with other UoAs.


(c) Cognitive Development and Education (McGuigan and Muldoon). This group, founded in 2006, concerns educational applications of the development of number concepts, social intelligence, and imitation. Since gaining her PhD in 2003, McGuigan has six peer-reviewed papers published or in press, and Muldoon (first appointment in 2004) has published five papers.


The University has appointed Honorary Professors to support our Category A staffs’ networks of applied psychologists. In addition to numerous smaller-scale activities, Harding (a clinical psychologist) established research contacts between Holmes and clinical practitioners, a key factor in the latter’s success in obtaining Scottish Executive funding in 2006. Lyons-Ruth otherwise directs the Biobehavioral Family Studies Center at Harvard Medical School, and works with Holmes on attachment. Parkes (Chief Scientist, Transport and Road Research Laboratory) collaborates in Lansdown’s driving research. Towner (Head of Organisational Psychology, Royal Bank of Scotland) works with Brotherton on research in China.


Overall, our ten research-active staff have published 93 refereed articles, the great majority of which are in international-class journals. External funding has supported much of this research. Our large number of recent appointees means that much of the funding obtained by our team within the RAE period appears in the RA4 submissions of other institutions. Nonetheless, our team’s track record of attracting funding at Heriot-Watt and elsewhere demonstrates the long-term sustainability of our activities and strong research culture.


In Relationships and Well-Being, North has obtained research funding totalling £140,000 (European Union, British Academy); and Sheridan £49,000 (Home Office). Stewart led a two-person team awarded £52,000 from the NHS. Holmes has obtained £15,000 from the Scottish Executive. Holmes and Stewart have obtained several smaller grants from bodies including the Royal Society and British Academy. Postgrads have been funded by an NHS Trust, the Health and Safety Executive, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), and a university studentship. In July 2007 Brotherton was part of a team awarded £54,000 (Scottish Executive) for research on health.


In Applied Cognition and Vision, Green and Lansdown have each held research council grants (BBSRC - £170,000 and EPSRC - £95,000, respectively), and Lansdown a grant (£55,000) from the Health and Safety Executive. Green is co-investigator on an EPSRC grant (£260,000) marking a major collaboration with Mathematics and Computer Sciences at Heriot-Watt, and has held small grants from, for example, Nuffield. The University funded their gaze-tracking lab.


In Cognitive Development and Education, both Muldoon and McGuigan each received British Academy funding in July 2007. In November 2007, Muldoon was awarded £154,000 from the ESRC (subject to contract) for collaborative research with Towse (Lancaster).





In addition to its academic impact, our research output has significant impact on user communities, as befits a group active in applied psychology. We have an extensive network of user groups (including numerous public-sector bodies concerning health, law enforcement and transportation, plus numerous businesses), and we can cite many instances of uptake by and influence on the policy and practice of public- and private-sector bodies. We are confident that these achievements provide the necessary platform for a positive future research trajectory.


3.1. Impact on the public sector


Sheridan’s typology is used for threat assessment in stalking cases by police forces in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA; and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is currently piloting it in five constabularies, with a view to its applying in all English and Welsh stalking cases. Sheridan is the only UK academic carrying out work of this nature, and one of only a handful worldwide. Sheridan is one of only 20 ACPO-accredited Behavioural Investigative Analysts (or ‘profilers’), carrying out 15 assessments for the police and 10 for private organisations since 2001, and working with police typically four times per year to help manage victims and perpetrators of sex crimes. Sheridan is a member of the Risk Management Authority’s Research Advisory Group, responsible for effective nationwide practice in offender risk assessment and minimisation. Sheridan provides case management advice to Britain’s only stalking-related charity, the Network for Surviving Stalking, and has similarly strong links with Britain’s best-known victims of crime charity, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. Sheridan reviews extensively for research councils and similar bodies (e.g. MRC, Rowntree, and the Home Office).


Lansdown is a member of two major national ergonomics groups (Intelligent Transport Systems Focus and the British Standards Institute Group on Vehicle Ergonomics), leading to the development of International Standards Organisation standards on driver behaviour metrics and representation of Britain’s position in the international research community. Lansdown has undertaken consultancy for the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and the Scottish Executive, feeding into the DfT’s subsequent prohibition of mobile phone use while driving. Brotherton, Lansdown, and Stewart’s review of the Scottish Prison Service’s psychology provision impacted on organisational and career development processes in the Service and Stewart’s NHS-funded project led to strategy development in Lothian’s psychiatric care. Potter’s research is disseminated to policy makers and organisations representing the elderly through newsletters of the Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity and the Better Government for Old People networks.


3.2. Impact on the private sector


North has carried out consultancy work for 35 companies in Britain and overseas (e.g., Boots, British Telecom, Marks and Spencer, NatWest) concerning his research on music in retail and leisure, and also music retailing and radio airplay. North’s research forms the basis by which the UK’s main music industry body, the Performing Right Society, markets statutory licences required for public performances of music (e.g. dedicated leaflets and web pages). North has made five invited presentations to businesses in the UK and EU, and written one court report on musical taste and delinquency. North has led an EU-funded consortium concerning music and well-being in British and Finnish care homes for elderly people. Green received EPSRC funding in 2007 plus matching in-kind contributions from four industrial and public sector collaborators (e.g., IKEA, New York Museum of Modern Art) to develop tools for searching texture databases. Brotherton’s work with the CIPD has involved verbally presenting his and others’ research findings to over 500 businesses. Sheridan carried out consultancy work for Marks and Spencer in 2003 on retailing.





Sheridan collaborates with Davies (10 peer-reviewed articles, e.g., British Journal of Psychology, Psychology, Crime and Law) and Boon (one joint grant, one edited book, four peer-reviewed articles, e.g., Journal of Interpersonal Violence) of Leicester. Sheridan collaborates with Blaauw (Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam) on topics within forensic psychology concerning mental disorder (two edited books, and seven peer-reviewed articles, e.g., Criminal Justice and Behaviour). Since 2001, Sheridan has published 10 other peer-reviewed collaborative papers (e.g. Criminal Justice and Behaviour, Personality and Individual Differences), and has collaborated with academics in Armenia, Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the USA. Sheridan’s outputs have been facilitated (e.g., providing access to data) by links with police forces including the Metropolitan Police, and Cheshire, Durham, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, and Strathclyde Constabularies.


North collaborates principally with Hargreaves (Roehampton). Since 2001 they have produced one co-edited book and co-authored 18 peer-reviewed articles (e.g., British Journal of Psychology, Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour, Music Perception, Journal of Adolescence). Since 2001 North has published nine peer-reviewed articles (e.g., British Journal of Psychology, Media Psychology, Music Perception, Personality and Individual Differences) with authors from Leicester, Liverpool, and Keele. North has also published research (e.g., British Journal of Psychology) in collaboration with several large media organisations (notably Channel 4 Television, The Guardian, HMV, Capital Radio).


Green collaborates with Chantler and Wallace (based elsewhere at Heriot-Watt): five joint postgrad supervisions arising from these two collaborations were described under 2b above. Green collaborated with Haskell (Scottish Agricultural College) and Jones (Roslin Institute) in a BBSRC-funded project. Green’s collaborations have yielded six peer-reviewed articles (e.g., Applied Animal Behavior Science, Experimental Brain Research).


Stewart has collaborated with eight researchers from other institutions, including Deary of Edinburgh (plus others at e.g., Glasgow; Swinburne University, Melbourne). These collaborations generated 11 peer-reviewed papers (e.g. Brain, British Journal of Psychiatry, Personality and Individual Differences).


Holmes leads a group including professorial staff from Harvard Medical School and Pennsylvania State University. Other research involves collaborations with Massachusetts and Harvard. These collaborations led to five peer-reviewed papers (e.g. Harvard Review of Psychiatry).


In July 2007, Muldoon received British Academy funding for work with Yue Guo-an (Nankai University, Tianjin, China). Muldoon researches undergraduate maths teaching with Ashton and Youngson (based elsewhere at Heriot-Watt).

McGuigan collaborates with Doherty (Stirling), Whiten (St Andrews), and Flynn (Durham), leading to four peer-reviewed papers since 2001 (e.g. Developmental Psychology, British Journal of Developmental Psychology).


Brotherton’s research led to his appointment to a visiting professorship at Tianjin University, China, and to visiting positions at other Chinese Universities (Nankai, QuFu, Beijing).


Potter collaborates with Grealy (Strathclyde) leading to one peer-reviewed paper and one in press (in Experimental Brain Research).





Our staffing policy has been to recruit a mixture of experienced and junior researchers. The former bring established research programmes and provide guidance to the latter; and our junior researchers in turn provide the potential for sustainability over extended periods of time. Appointments demonstrate that researchers are recruited for the correspondence between their own interests and those of our research groups, and on the basis of a proven track record of outputs (or clear evidence of potential in the case of junior researchers, such as a small number of high quality papers). The Psychology Research Committee contributes to the short-listing process. The July 2007 appointment of a second Professor and a Senior Research Fellow demonstrates substantial University-level commitment to building resources in this UoA.


With five ECRs, the development of junior staff and research postgraduates is absolutely vital to our research culture, and demonstrable support for this can be found at University, School, and Programme levels. All junior staff attend the University’s research skills development programme; research funding workshops; and Postgraduate Certificate of Academic Practice programme (which contains considerable content on research). The School supports new staff with equipment and consumable expenses for pilot work. At Programme level, the Psychology Research Committee controls a recently-established seed-corn fund and a shared Research Assistant scheme for new researchers. During their first three years, all new staff receive advice concerning publication and funding strategy from a mentor. Teaching and administrative loads for new staff are phased in over the three-year probationary period, and support from a Teaching Assistant releases research time.


All postgraduates attend the University’s Research Students’ Skills Training Programme, which includes organisation skills (e.g. time management), literature survey, report writing, IT, team and project management, business awareness, career development, intellectual property issues, and oral presentations. postgraduates have regularly used the opportunity for informal attendance at appropriate specialist modules from (over 80 available) MSc courses running across the University, and other courses through the pan-Scotland pooling programmes. University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt postgraduates can attend teaching sessions on each other’s programmes. Our postgraduates participate in the University’s annual postgraduate research conferences. At School level, postgraduates provide annual progress reports that are evaluated via mock vivas. At Programme level, postgrads present at least one seminar annually. Each postgraduate has two supervisors, providing continuity and a ‘rounded’ thesis. These administrative measures are supported by considerable University investment in infrastructure, detailed in (6) below.


Support for our general research culture can again be found at University, School, and Programme level. At University level, the team was awarded appointments of a second professor and a senior research fellow in July 2007; and an additional 160 m2 of lab space. We draw regularly on the University’s Technology and Research Services department, which provides notice of appropriate funding opportunities, informed advice, and support for grant proposals. At School level, the School Research Committee disseminates information about research funding opportunities, and allocates funds for travel, scholarships, and small items of equipment. The School supports travel to at least one conference per year, and has itself partially funded a research studentship. At Programme level, the Psychology Research Committee comprises the Programme Director and leaders of our three research groups. We host regular seminars, and each research group meets fortnightly. Virtually all staff have one trimester free of teaching; and an informal short-term study leave scheme complements the University’s existing sabbaticals. Each staff member’s research progress is reviewed annually with the Programme Director. We are invited regularly to make presentations concerning our research in the UK and overseas, hold numerous honorary and visiting posts at other universities, and have held Editorships and Associate Editorships of numerous journals (see (9) below). July 2007 saw recruitment of four more PhD students.





In addition to new staff, our establishment has seen an increase in the library’s psychology coverage since 2001 by around 3,000 books, around 250 journals, and 27 on-line databases; refurbished office space; and refurbished lab facilities. Our positive research trajectory means that 2007 saw a further increase in lab space (by the equivalent of an additional 16m2 per researcher) and new space and computing facilities solely for psychology postgrads: these highlight the sustainability of University support for research infrastructure. Major equipment provision includes remote eye-tracking equipment, a driving simulator, psychophysiological instruments, video editing and analysis facilities, and a test library. The loose inter-departmental boundaries at Heriot-Watt give us access to a range of other major research facilities within our School. For instance, we have used our on-demand access to physiological recording equipment maintained by the Exercise Research Group; the facilities and staff of the Centre for Sports and Exercise, incorporating a £6m facility developed in collaboration with the Scottish Premier League’s Heart of Midlothian Football Club; the University’s new Sensory Suite for psychophysical work in consumer psychology; and the programming expertise and state of the art hardware in computer graphics provided by the University’s Texture Lab. Green and Stewart were directly involved in the development of these facilities. From autumn 2008, research student training will take place in the Postgraduate Centre, a new £6m building providing seminar, lecture, study, and social facilities dedicated for postgraduates and situated directly opposite our office space.





Green is co-investigator on an EPSRC grant with Chantler (Computer Science, Heriot-Watt), and they jointly supervise three PhD students. He has also jointly supervised two PhD students with Wallace (Electrical Engineering, Heriot-Watt). Data for these students, divided 50:50 with the other UoAs concerned, are included in RA3a and RA3b, and a 25% share of the EPSRC grant is included in RA4. The outputs arising from these collaborations are described under ‘Interdisciplinary / collaborative research’. Stewart led a two-person team awarded £52,000 from the Lothian Health Board, although this funding was processed elsewhere (Edinburgh). In November 2007 Muldoon was awarded £154,000 from the ESRC (subject to contract) for collaborative research with Towse (Lancaster). North was awarded £134,000 by the European Union and a small grant by the British Academy; and Sheridan was awarded £49,000 by the Home Office: these three awards were received while both researchers were employed by Leicester. During the same period at Leicester, North and Sheridan supervised a total of six research students (with four completing before July 2007); and four research students (three new, one transfer student from Leicester) supervised by North or Sheridan joined Heriot-Watt in July 2007.





We aim to develop our interests in three specific areas of applied psychology, defined by the three research groupings outlined earlier. This is because, firstly, as a new unit, we are keen to establish a clear impression of ‘what we do’ with prospective postgrads, funding bodies, and research users. Secondly, it maximises our opportunities to continue producing high quality research: a continuing focus on the application of research to practice and policy among opinion leaders and key user groups corresponds with our University’s distinctly outward-facing organisation, and draws on our continually-expanding links outside the University (see (3) and (4) above). Despite intensive development of BPS-accredited teaching, our research outputs since inception have been strong and show a clear positive trajectory over time. Since we now have more time for research, we expect this positive trajectory to accelerate further through three specific measures that will help us to implement our strategy;


1. Development of specific research group activity. Research groups evolve over time, of course. The sustainability of our current groups is demonstrated by research funding (see (2) above); and their ability to identify specific future growth opportunities, and produce pilot research and funding applications in these areas at varying stages of completion.


a) Relationships and Well-Being. Four priorities here are (i) para-relationships with media figures and family dysfunction; (ii) infant attachment and early detection of disorders; (iii) autism spectrum disorders; and (iv) couple communication and well-being.

b) Applied Cognition and Vision. Two priorities here are (i) the perception of surface properties, and implications of the design of computer systems for retrieval of visual textures; and (ii) eye movements and motor control in driving and the mobility of older people.

c) Cognitive Development and Educational Practice. Two priorities here apply socio-cognitive learning mechanisms to two aspects of mainstream and special needs education, namely (i) predictors of improvements in mathematical thinking; and (ii) social constraints on early learning.


2. Enhanced support for research postgraduates. Our emphasis on applied psychology means that many current and prospective research students are in employment. We are developing means to support these students, such as text-based support materials from our graduate training programme and enhanced Library dispatch services.


3. Prime research culture. As noted in (5), we have recently introduced research priming initiatives, including include a shared research assistant; a seed-corn fund; and an informal short-term study leave scheme that complements existing sabbatical opportunities. These support funding applications and the high quality publications and postgrads that result.






1. Invited presentations at the British Association Festival of Science (Leicester, 2002); Conference of the German Society for the Psychology of Music (Weimar, 2001); University of Jyväskylä (Finland, 2001); University of Uppsala (Sweden, 2001); Swedish Music Publishers’ Association (Stockholm, 2006); and Institute for Practitioners of Advertising (London, 2001)

2. Associate Editor of Psychology of Music (2002-) and Journal of Architectural and Planning Research (2003-)

3. Visiting Professor, Roehampton University (2007-)

4. Extensive media appearances concerning his research on e.g., BBC TV 10 O’Clock News on 7th October 2003; BBC TV Breakfast on 26th June 2001; BBC News Online on 10th January 2006 and 14th September 2006 (N.B. similar coverage in national UK newspapers and radio, and in overseas print media)


Sheridan (RA5b)

1. Accredited Behavioural Investigative Advisor for ACPO (2005-); and member of the ACPO Stalking and Harassment Working Group (2005-)

2. Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Leicester (2007-)

3. Invited presentations at the Interdisciplinary Stalking-Konferenz (Frankfurt, Germany) (2005); the 29th International Congress on Law and Mental Health (Paris, France) (2005); conference on ‘Stalking: Possibilities and Borders for Intervention’ (Hamburg, Germany) (2004); and the International Congress of Applied Psychology (Singapore) (2002)

4. BPS Chartered Forensic Psychologist (2004-)



1. Associate Editor, British Journal of Psychology (2000-2006)

2. Editor, Animal Behaviour (2001-2004)

3. External PhD examiner, University of Bristol (2004, 2005)

4. External PhD examiner, University of Portsmouth (2003)



1. Visiting Professor, Tianjin University, China (1999-)

2. Chair of CIPD’s Faculty of Psychology and Management (2000-)

3. Editorial Board of Stress and Health (2005-), and Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology (2005-)

4. Nominated for BPS Lifetime Achievement Award (2007)


Stewart (ECR)

1. External PhD examiner, University of Adelaide (2004)

2. Invited presentations for Scottish Autism Research Group 2007 conference and workshop (2007); Managed Clinical Network Adult Autism Interest Group (2007); and Scottish Autism Research Group (ESRC-funded seminar series) (2006)

3. Awarded Carnegie Trust grants (2006, 2007); and Wellcome Trust Vacation Scholarship (2007)

4. Reviewing for European Journal of Personality, Personality and Individual Differences, Autism, Journal of Adolescence, Emotional Intelligence (2004-)


Holmes (ECR)

1. Associate Editor of International Journal of Relationships-Interpersona (2006-present), and invited Editor on special issue of this journal (2007); Editorial Board of Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research

2. International research activities including invited presentation at Nankai University, China (2006); Visiting Researcher, University of California at Santa Barbara (2007); and conference symposium Chair / Organiser, Society for Research on Adolescence, San Fransisco (2006)

3. Extensive media coverage of research including The Times (29 September, 2006); The Sun (29 September, 2006), The Scotsman (26 November, 2006); The Daily Mail (29 September, 2006), The Scotsman (front page, 28 September 2007); and ITV’s Scotland Today (28 September, 2006)

4. Elected Associate Fellow of the BPS (2007)


Lansdown (RA5b)

1. Member, British Standards Institute Group: EPL/278/23 Vehicle Ergonomics; Member, ITS UK Transport Ergonomics Steering Group (1999-)

2. Invited speaker, Scottish Head Injury Forum (2003); Department for Transportation High Level group (2007)

3. Commissioned by Scottish Prison Services to review prison psychology services (2004) (with Brotherton and Stewart)

4. Ph.D. examiner, University of Leeds (2004)


McGuigan (ECR)

1. Invited plenary speaker, 4th International Symposium on Imitation in Animals and Artefacts, University of Newcastle (2007)

2. Member of Programme Committee, 4th International Symposium on Imitation in Animals and Artefacts, University of Newcastle (2007)

3. Invited session chair, BPS Developmental Section annual conference (2002)

4. Awarded Carnegie Trust grants (2003 and 2006)


Muldoon (ECR)

1. Invited speaker at ESRC-sponsored symposium on microgenetic methodologies, St. Andrews University (2004)


Potter (ECR)

1. Reviewing for Psychology and Aging (2007)

2. Press coverage of first peer-reviewed publication in Scotlandon Sunday (19th August 2007), The Daily Telegraph (20th August 2007), The Daily Mail (20th August 2007), The Guardian (21st August 2007), The Times of India (21st August 2007)