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UOA 44 - Psychology

University of Abertay Dundee

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

The Division of Psychology at the University of Abertay Dundee focuses research around a limited number of themes, e.g. eye witness accounts and facial recognition. We have strengths in both experimental and applied psychology (e.g. clinical and e-fit) and occupy a physical space at Abertay which has been specifically designed to facilitate research development. In the 2001 RAE our research was structured in two separate research groups; however, these have now been fully integrated into one group covering 4 main research themes.


1.1 Institutional Organisation
Abertay is a compact Institution (c. 4000 FTE students) and was designated as a University in 1994. Its' mission is "to provide a distinctive and high-quality university education that empowers our graduates socially, culturally and economically, and to generate new knowledge and learning that reinforces national competitiveness".

Since 1995 Psychology has operated as a Division within the School of Social and Health Sciences. Schools are broadly equivalent to Faculties, and Divisions to Departments, with Divisional Leaders holding line management responsibility for research as well as administration and teaching. The RAE2001 submission was based around the Cognition and the Health & Behavioural Sciences research groups and comprised 14 staff including psychologists affiliated to other divisions. A majority of staff (9) were in their first permanent lecturing post and/or within 5 years of completing their PhD. Since then health related research has developed independently, leading to the formation of the Tayside Institute for Health Studies (TIHS), and so some individuals associated with the RAE2001 submission for psychology are now part of a submission to UoA12. This submission is based around members of the Psychology Division, and has been reorganised into the Experimental and Applied Psychology Research Group with the Division Leader (Hardie) having ultimate responsibility for its general activity.

At the University level, Abertay has developed a research strategy (see below) which is implemented by a University Research and Knowledge Transfer Committee (RKTC, reporting to Senate) supported by a Research Development Manager, with additional support from a Commercialisation Manager and a Director of Business Development. At School level, there is a School RKTC (Chaired by Hardie), which promotes research within the four Divisions (Psychology, Sociology, TIHS, Sport), and a Research Ethics Committee, both of which report to the School Board.

Abertay Research Strategy (2002 onwards)
Our fundamental principle is that an active research agenda is a defining characteristic of a successful, modern university. A key issue was the development of research across boundaries, an area where Abertay is uniquely positioned, because of its size and history, to deliver an original contribution. Additionally, the University determined that research should be focussed in key priority areas, and collaboration with groups outside Abertay is strongly supported and encouraged.

This overall strategy determines the direction of psychological research at Abertay, and in particular we are taking advantage of cross-institutional research alliances to build capacity.

1.2 Whitespace
Since 2005, Abertay has had a major strategic project, termed Whitespace, which is designed to facilitate the development of cross-disciplinary activity and take advantage of the compact nature of the Abertay campus. The project includes both a novel physical work area and funding for a series of multidisciplinary reseach consortia and associated studentships. Psychology researchers have played a lead role in developing both the space and the consortia.

A: Physical space: In 2006/7 around £2.04M (part funded from a £420K SRIF3 award) was spent refurbishing space to create new staff accommodation, student space, business development space, and importantly for psychology, a new research laboratory. Termed the HIVE (Human Intelligent Virtual Environment - a multipurpose and intelligent immersion studio environment) it contains state-of-the-art high resolution video projection equipment and sound systems. It provides an immersive environment where participants are surrounded by images and sounds, and their responses can be recorded in real-time. This will be used for many areas of psychology such as social psychology (L. Carson), studies of emotions (Hardie, Wright, Kempe), human-computer interaction (Szymkowiak) and facial recognition and eye-witness studies (D. Carson, Gabbert). It will also be used for the visualisation of complex datasets and models of movement. It is designed to link to a comparable facility at St. Andrews to which Abertay staff and students have access (£150K ESRC funded ‘Social immersion lab for the Tay Social Psychology Group’, Universities of St. Andrews, Abertay & Dundee). This will allow the simultaneous use of two sites, and has the potential to connect to other sites, such as the Scottish Police College.

This resource adds to the capacity and scope of the psychology group, and represents a large investment from Abertay.

B: Consortia Studentships: In 2006, psychology staff were members of Whitespace consortia awarded the following 2 PhD studentships (from only 4 offered in a university-wide competition).

Police Dilemmas of Interpretation and Action
Consortium: Colleagues from Scottish Informatics, Mathematics, Biology and Statistics Research Centre (SIMBIOS), Computer Arts, and Psychology (Hardie).

Visualising Complex Data Sets: An Integrated Haptic Audio-Visual Methodology.
Consortium: Colleagues from SIMBIOS, Computing and Psychology (Szymkowiak).

Both research consortia centre on cross-disciplinary studies and are promoting interconnectedness, innovation and emergence of radically new ideas and ways of looking at the world. The consortia students are housed within the Whitespace facility where they interact strongly with other cross-disciplinary research projects.

1.3 Division of Psychology
Since RAE2001, Psychology has taken a clear strategic focus, seeking to develop both infrastructure and staffing, in a manageable and coherent way. A key strength has been our focus on recruiting promising researchers at an early stage of their academic careers (e.g. Moore, Cunningham, Wright and Gabbert). This allows us to develop a vibrant and enthusiastic group of psychologists that lays a foundation for producing substantial research outputs in future years. More recently, we made the strategic decision to strengthen our research group through the recruitment of a more experienced researcher (Kempe). Our staffing policy is outlined in section 3.

Institutional support provides Visiting Professors, appointed to take a mentoring or advisory role in developing subjects. Their remit is to be an additional source of quality assurance for research standards. Philip Smith (Reading) and Nicholas Wade (Dundee) are Visiting Professors. Professor Michael Cowles (York University, Canada) was resident for a 10 month sabbatical during the assessment period.

1.4 Centre for Psychology
In 2002, the opening of the ‘Centre for Psychology’ represented a major investment and commitment from Abertay in terms of supporting current and future psychological research. This important milestone was partially funded by a £243K SRIF grant and represented 100% of Abertay’s SRIF1 funding. The remaining portion of this £413K facility was funded by institutional investment.

This facility allowed the Division to move en masse to a research environment that has staff accommodation and research laboratories located in close proximity, with clerical and technical support on hand and a meeting/presentation area as an integral part of the design.

The quality of design, and strength of our link between teaching and research, was recognised in the 2006 Subject Review Report which stated that “The Panel identified as exemplary the establishment and development of the physical space associated with the Psychology provision and the use of that space for both teaching and research”.

Research at undergraduate level is supported by 2 large computer laboratories as well as access to the laboratories in the Centre. In summer 2006, we instigated an “Undergraduate Research Volunteer Scheme” to further expand research activity. This proved very successful with 5 staff offering voluntary research positions to 8 undergraduate students. This annual scheme now adds to the vibrancy of the Centre during the summer. Applications for vacation scholarships (Carnegie Trust & Wellcome Trust) are also encouraged and other small award schemes are highlighted as potential sources of research assistant work experience for undergraduates (e.g. British Academy). This strategy has been productive with 4 vacation scholarships and 1 undergraduate research assistantship (BPS) awarded during the submission period.

Laboratory Space
This research area comprises 11 laboratories of various sizes and functions together with a seminar/presentation area. This facility is the focal point for Experimental and Applied Psychology research. Laboratories are equipped with new high specification PC’s and/or Macs all, as a minimum specification, loaded with a series of experimental and other software (e.g. e-prime, superlab4, Nudist, Observer Video-Pro). Our policy of continual research infrastructure investment means that we have fully equipped laboratories, appropriate for running a wide range of experimental research. In addition, staff members have specific agreements to gain access to external laboratories - Social Immersion Laboratory (St. Andrews), and the Living Links Research Centre (Edinburgh Zoo).

1.5 Research Organisation
Psychological research within Abertay is focussed within the Experimental and Applied Psychology Research Group. This represents a broadly based grouping of individuals with a general interest in empirical, experimental and applied psychology and allows its members to actively collaborate, and to exchange ideas and information. Members have regular meetings at which the attendance of postgraduate students and research assistants is strongly encouraged. Research carried out by the group is based around 4 themes.

Experimental & Applied Cognition (D. Carson, L. Carson, Szymkowiak, MacAndrew, Kempe)
Members take an experimental and often applied approach to their individual areas of cognition and social cognition, including selective attention, psycholinguistics, laterality, face recognition and social perception. Szymkowiak studies the perceptual aspects of driving and CCTV usage. D Carson and MacAndrew investigate the structure of semantic memory, Carson in normal familiar face processing and MacAndrew in Parkinson’s patients. File was a key member of this group until her retirement in January 2007, and brought in grants from the EPSRC (Co-I on £132K grant with the University of Dundee, PI on subsequent £40K Partnerships for Public Awareness award: An interactive, multimedia demonstration of a communication aid for people without speech) and the Carnegie Trust (£30K). Kempe is a psycholinguist with important international collaborations (e.g. Brooks, CUNY). Notable publications appear in QJEP, JEP: Learning Memory and Cognition, Psychology and Health, and Vision Research.

Biological & Evolutionary Psychology (Hardie, Wright, Kempe, Moore, Cunningham)
There is a strong focus on primate behaviour (Hardie, Cunningham), as well as biological aspects of psychology, such as brain imaging (Kempe), attractiveness (Moore) and emotional processing (Wright, Hardie). Cunningham and Moore have been appointed to enhance research in this theme. Notable papers appear in Animal Behaviour, Laterality, Brain and Cognition, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, American Journal of Primatology and Human Brain Mapping.

Hardie is a core member of the Scottish Primate Research Group (SPRG), a grouping of collaborating primatologists from St Andrews, Stirling, Edinburgh and Abertay. Joint research seminars are held across the participating departments, with visiting national and international speakers contributing to the research culture. This collaboration has led to the £1.6M ‘Living Links’ research facility at Edinburgh, funded by the Scottish Funding Council’s Strategic Research Development Grant (SRDG) in 2004. Hardie was one of the co-applicants and will be working in this centre, and Cunningham has been recruited specifically to strengthen this collaboration.

Clinical & Health (D. Carson, Lindsay, L. Carson, Hardie).
Professor Lindsay (Head of Learning Disabilities and Child Health for Tayside Primary Care Trust) holds an honorary appointment at Abertay, and has collaborated extensively with researchers in psychology. By focussing research activity in the Psychology Division, he has ensured that the long-standing collaboration has been maintained and indeed strengthened. For example, Lindsay has organised a conference/workshop series at Abertay for more than 5 years. This has brought world experts in various areas of clinical psychology into Abertay, including:

2003 Vern Quinsey (Canada), Jos Frenken (Netherlands), risk assessment.
2004 Doug Boer (New Zealand), risk assessment and Intellectual disabilities.
2005 Tony Ward (New Zealand), sexual offending.
2006 Peter Sturmey (USA), applied behaviour analysis.
2007 Charles (Steve) Holburn (USA), person-centred planning.

Hardie has collaborated with Lindsay in the supervision of research students investigating profound learning difficulties. D. Carson has a successful track record of collaborating with Lindsay. Together they have supervised 3 PhD students (2 current, 1 awarded in 2003). They represent Abertay in collaboration with clinical psychologists and psychiatrists drawn from the Universities of Cambridge and Northumbria. In 2004 this group were awarded a grant in excess of £200K from the NHS Forensic Mental Health Research and Development Programme, to investigate the care pathways of offenders with learning disabilities. D. Carson and Lindsay also collaborate on the treatment of sex offenders with mild learning disabilities. This work has recently been published in Legal and Criminological Psychology and Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities. L. Carson has an ongoing programme of research into career expectations of dental students, with collaborators at University of Dundee Dental School.

Psycho-Legal (Gabbert, D. Carson, Szymkowiak)
There is a strong focus on applied cognitive and social psychology in forensic/investigative settings. Researchers have strong end user links with various British Police Forces and other groupings within the criminal justice system. In addition, each researcher is an active member of various external research groupings investigating the role of psychology in such diverse topics as driver behaviour, use of facial composite systems and interviewing of eyewitnesses. The applied nature of this work is reflected in the fact that, as well as leading to peer-reviewed publications in mainstream psychology journals, it periodically provides the basis of talks given to end users (e.g. Association of Chief Police Officers). The results from Gabbert’s BA funded grant (to investigate a self-administered interview tool) have the potential to have a major impact on police practice and procedures. Notable papers appear in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review and Journal of Applied Psychology.

This theme is the second area where Abertay has had a strong influence on capacity building developments. Carson, Gabbert and Szymkowiak were co-applicants on the successful bid for a Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), by a consortium of 13 Scottish HEIs. Funded by a £2.1 million SRDG grant from the Scottish Funding Council and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, its remit is to conduct independent research of relevance to policing in Scotland. It has 3 separate networks, and a member of Psychology with strong knowledge transfer links to the Police was appointed Network leader for the police-community relations network. We are playing a leading role in SIPR. For example, D Carson and Gabbert were awarded a SIPR PhD Studentship (one of only 4 awarded in the first round of the studentship competition) to investigate the ability of witnesses with learning disabilities to engage in current identification tasks such as facial composite construction. Gabbert (as a co-applicant with colleagues at Aberdeen) was also awarded a Postdoctoral RA position (out of only 3 available in competition) to investigate the most effective methods of extracting information from young witnesses. These awards are in addition to Abertay’s core funding from SIPR (£204K), which includes provision for the creation of a new SIPR-related psychology lectureship, and for “visiting overseas fellowships” and “practitioner fellows” to be brought into Psychology to further build up this internationally important area of research.

Research culture is also supplemented by the affiliation of most individuals to external groups (e.g. Psycholinguistic Seminar Group at Dundee, SPRG, Fife Tayside Vision Group (FTVG), Face Perception Lab at Stirling, Social Psychology Discussion Group at St Andrews).

Appropriate research seminars are organised on an ad hoc basis. For example, the Division regularly hosts the FTVG (vision scientists from the Universities of Dundee, Abertay and St Andrews). We host the Abertay Psycho-legal Society, where researchers from Abertay and external institutions (e.g. Professor Memon, Aberdeen) meet with interested students and representatives from the legal, police, criminal justice, and forensic care professions. Both postgraduate and undergraduate students regularly attend meetings.

These research meetings are supplemented by our long-standing invitation to attend the research seminar series at the University of Dundee, which reflects a history of collaboration between individuals at these 2 institutions (e.g. Szymkowiak & Fischer (Dundee)). Our research group also collaborates with psychologists who are members of Divisions other than Psychology (e.g. see Whitespace consortia, detailed earlier), and the research culture is supported by regular research seminar programmes and visits from international scholars organised via the School of Social and Health Sciences. There are also less formal research seminars where postgraduate students have an additional opportunity to present papers.


2.1 Achievements since RAE2001

Since RAE2001 we have made excellent progress in developing our physical research infrastructure.

  • New SRIF funded Centre for Psychology and major role in ‘Whitespace’.
  • Partners in SRDG grants creating ‘Living Links’ & SIPR.

The marked improvement in our research infrastructure has enabled us to to benefit from our collaborations (e.g. SIPR and Whitespace funded studentships, consolidation of Clinical Psychology links via Prof Lindsay). In terms of grants for research, effort was initially targeted towards smaller sources such as the British Academy (of which during the assessment period, 3 applications have been funded). File received EPSRC funding, and Gabbert recently secured one larger BA grant (£55K). In parallel, we are in a position to increase the quality and quantity of applications to the Research Councils, often in conjunction with our collaborators.

2.2 Long-Term Research Plan
We seek to maximise the quality and quantity of research and to build upon interdisciplinary research collaboration.

To achieve this, it is essential that a greater focus be made towards gaining external funding to ensure the sustainability of our research. Accordingly, a major theme of our research plan is an increase in the number of high quality external research grant proposals and the facilitation of staff in conducting and in submitting their research to good quality journals.

We propose to do this via the following mechanisms.

  • Continued participation in i) research pooling initiatives with external partners; and ii) internal interdisciplinary consortia.
  • A fund to support: enhanced networking and proof-of-concept studies, to facilitate the development of further grant applications.

These mechanisms are considered to be of central importance to our short-term and mid-term planning and will make a considerable impact on achieving our long-term aim. This strategy is financed through the SFC Research Development Foundation Grant (of which £30K was awarded to Psychology, following an internal bidding process).

Outcomes: We aim to substantially increase external funding during the next five years (aiming for a minimum of £250K per annum by 2010 - £100K in the psycho-legal area, building upon the success of Gabbert and colleagues, £150K in other areas combined) making use of Research Councils’ schemes as well as applied research funds, with Knowledge Transfer Partnerships set as a key priority (at least 2 partnerships to be achieved within this period).

We expect more outputs and funding opportunities to arise from our existing collaborations. For example, we are principal or co-investigators on SIPR and Living Links projects which have PhD and/or postdoctoral positions associated with them, and will benefit from publications and related grant applications. Further capacity building in policing research through the new SIPR lectureship and visiting fellows, whilst not producing immediately visible outcomes, will have considerable impact in the longer term, as will knowledge transfer activities in this area; in this respect, Gabbert's self-administered interview tool shows great promise for commercial exploitation and she is currently pursuing development funding, in discussion with a regional development agency, in order to develop the product for market.


Divisional policy is to fully support research, ensuring that new staff are given the opportunity to develop their research career. At the start of their two-year probation, we assign them a research active, experienced mentor who is working within the mentee’s main research theme (e.g. in the Psycho-Legal theme, D. Carson has mentored Gabbert). We also encourage them to maintain and develop any external links and to set up interdisciplinary links outside the School. Financial support to attend conferences, in order to develop collaboration and assimilate current knowledge within their chosen areas of research, is also made available. One key principle has been to give new staff a reduced teaching load (around 50%) during their first year of employment, to maximise time available for research. They are also given a small amount of start-up equipment and/or funds (circa £1K) over the first year, and are asked to make an appointment with the Research Development Manager, in order to identify possible sources of external funding. Finally, the probation process involves target setting, and in the research part of their role, key performance indicators are agreed and progress towards them monitored.

Alongside this, a general management strategy for Psychology staff has been designed to enable research and in recognition of the type of opportunities provided by being in a small institution. The strategy is based on three key principles:

  • All staff are required to be active in research and scholarship, and receive institutional support relevant to targets specified in individual annual research plans;
  • Staff participate in internal and/or external collaborative research groupings. This is a clear strategic focus and staff members aspire to be part of clearly-defined research groups with international impact;
  • Teaching is organised through the operation of an efficient modular scheme, in such a way as to maximise productive research time, and there is a strong link forged between psychology teaching and research.

These principles are reflected in, and supported by, broader University structures and policies (e.g. Abertay electronic research funding opportunities bulletin).

At the individual level, staff members complete a Research Plan each January, which reviews their research activities in the previous calendar year, and sets goals for the next three-year period. This plan is discussed in a research appraisal interview with the Divisional Leader. The School allocates a small amount of institutional research funds and the Division Leader agrees to requests to help fund conference attendance, pilot projects, meetings, etc. (c. £250 per request). These supplement small grants from e.g. the Royal Society and Carnegie Trust. Institutional support has been available via a competitive Research Development Fund which can be used to initiate new and innovative research projects. The core psychology funds (section 2.2) are used to fund additional equipment.

The group described in this submission forms a coherent and ambitious research community which carries out research into 4 main themes. A clear programme of investment in research infrastructure has allowed this relatively small and developing group to make clear progress since RAE2001. The plan is a progression towards gaining substantial external funding, new and innovative collaborations and promoting an applied focus in much of the work. We have some early signs of success in our strategy in terms of studentships and research collaboration.


All staff in the group provide regular reviews for journals and grant applications, including early career researchers (e.g. Gabbert for Legal and Criminological Psychology and Moore for European Journal of Social Psychology).

D. Carson
Non-Clinical Scientist Member & Vice Chair, NHS Tayside Medical Research Ethics Committee (MREC) (2003 - 2006).

Member, NHS Tayside Scientific Review Group (From 2005).

Member, Forensic Special Interest Research Group, part of the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities (IASSID).

Doctoral examiner – University of Stirling.

L. Carson
Member, BPS Social Psychology Section Committee.

Non-clinical scientist member, Tayside MREC.

Media coverage of Research on Career Expectations of Dental Students: Scottish Parliament: debate 17/11/2005.

Member of SERVE (Surveillance, Evaluation, Research, Validation, and Exploitation) EPSRC funded multi-disciplinary network led by experts in environmental criminology (Professor Hirschfield, Huddersfield) and visual cognition (Professor Troscianko, Bristol).

Reviewer, Animal Behaviour

EPSRC PPA grant – interactive exhibit at Sensation Science Centre, Dundee, June 2003 to present.

Consulting Editor Journal: Augmentative & Alternative Communication.

Invited member, University of Portsmouth’s ‘International Centre for Research in Forensic Psychology’, from 2006.

Organiser, Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition international conference (2003) with Prof. Amina Memon.

National TV interview: “Abertay-led team develops new tool to ‘freeze’ crime-scene memories” related to £55K British Academy Grant, North Tonight (News)10/05/ 2007. Also widely reported in local radio and BBC Scotland.

Member of “Living Links” Board since 2006.

Convener, Scottish Group of Professors and Heads of Psychology since 2006.

EUROCORES/ESRC grant reviewer.

Reviewing Committee Member, Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 2006-7.

Reviewing Committee Member, Congress of the German Psychological Society, 2002.

Invited Speaker, Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, October 2002.

Member, Dept of Health Forensic Mental Health R&D Committee.

Associate Editor, Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability (IASSID).

Awarded Fellowship of IASSID, 2004.

Blackman Lecture 2001, New York, Columbia University.

HEAPN Special Coordinator for Innovation in Assessment – from 2000.

HEAPN Scotland Coordinator – from 2006.

Guest editor, Special Issue on assessment of Psychology, Learning and Teaching, (Volume 3 March 2004).

Public Exhibition: July 2004: Should we judge a book by its cover? Summer Exhibition of the Royal Society of London, 2004.

National and international media coverage in 2006 on publication of Moore et al. (2006) [FM4].

Committee Member, Accessible Design in the Digital World Conference, August 2005, Dundee.

Reviewer for: Personal & Ubiquitous Computing, British Journal of Psychology, International Journal on Universal Access in the Information Age.