Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Our research, which has international reach, has had significant impacts on securing reliable witness testimony, interviewing procedures to detect deception, and also on public understanding and engagement with science at our zoo-based primate research facility.
Compared with RAE2008 we have more than doubled (from 25%) the proportion of world leading and internationally excellent research, reflecting our strengths in Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Situated Action and Communication and Quality of Life, Health and Wellbeing.
Twenty members of staff (9 female), including four early career researchers, were submitted to REF2014 – an increase of 25% from RAE2008. Our Grade Point Average places us 3rd in the Alliance Group of Universities.
- 100% of our impact recognised as outstanding 4* or very considerable 3* in terms of its reach and significance.
- 67% of our research profile rated as world leading or internationally excellent.
- 57% of outputs regarded as world leading (16%) or internationally excellent (41%).
Research Groups/Research Themes
Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology
The Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology aims to better understand human and animal behaviour and cognition through 1) comparison with other animals, and 2) through consideration of evolutionary processes. Our members are active research scientists, and we collaborate with international scientists and animal institutions, including zoos, international primate research centres, field stations and sanctuaries. We have recently opened a primate behaviour study centre (in collaboration with Marwell Wildlife) and a Dog Cognition Centre on site at the University. We also offer our students summer field courses to study primates in Borneo and Zambia.
The International Centre for Research in Forensic Psychology (ICRFP) has an established international reputation for conducting a broad range of criminological and forensic psychology research. Research in Forensic Psychology has been a cornerstone of the Department of Psychology since 1990 and the Centre now comprises an impressive team of research staff and students.
Our primary aim is to delivery high quality research in Forensic Psychology at both national and international level. Our work has been funded by: ESRC, Home Office, British Academy, Nuffield Foundation, US Government, Leverhulme Trust, British Psychological Society and Prison Service Headquarters. Several members of the Centre regularly serve as Expert Witnesses.
Situated Action and Communication
The Centre has at its core a commitment to studying psychological phenomena in relation to the contexts and situations in which they emerge. Its work covers a multitude of areas – such as developmental psychology, animal behaviour, understanding of object functions, autism and psycholinguistics. It also covers a multitude of methods – such as naturalistic observations, experiments, conversation analysis, cross-cultural studies, longitudinal studies and so on.
Our focus on situation and context takes the body and the social and material world in which we live as fundamental to all Psychology. Many of our studies focus on the processes through which animate beings are not only influenced by, but actually shape their immediate worlds. In this vein, ‘things’ in the world – often seen as physical objects – are often deeply social as well.
Impact Case Studies
Cognitive research leads to improved lie detection processes and training adopted by professionals in forensic, intelligence, security and commercial settings
The innovative Cognitive Load (CL) technique, based on cognitive theory, yields significantly superior lie detection results by capitalising on the fact that interviews can be devised that are more difficult for liars than truth-tellers. This CL technique, pioneered by Vrij, is used for ethical information-gathering interviewing and undercover and interrogation purposes by police, military and intelligence agencies worldwide. Training of these law enforcement professionals as a result of our research has been implemented. An insurance company has adopted a revised protocol as a result of applying our research and has implemented an industry-leading product for reducing fraudulent insurance claims.
Improving public engagement with and understanding of science through a zoo-based primate research facility
We have established a primate research centre (The Macaque Study Centre) in a zoo environment (Marwell Zoo) for research into primate social cognition. Visitors can watch the science taking place, which 1) significantly increases their perception of the zoo as a place of learning, 2) increases their knowledge about the specific research being conducted, and 3) improves children’s attitudes to science as an exciting subject. Marwell Zoo integrate the research into their educational workshops, and similar facilities are now being established in other zoos in light of the demonstrable scientific, public engagement/involvement and animal welfare benefits.
Promoting justice, protecting victims and supporting witnesses: The impact of the Self-Administered Interview (SAI) in investigative contexts
The Self-Administered Interview is a powerful evidence-based investigative interviewing tool designed to elicit comprehensive initial statements from multiple witnesses and victims, particularly in time- and resource-critical situations. Developed in the laboratory and tested in the field, the research underpinning the SAI has resulted in changes in policy, professional practice and training activities within police forces internationally. Operationally, the SAI has contributed to the investigation of major criminal incidents enabling investigators to collect information from witnesses in challenging situations. The SAI has elicited critical leads and compelling evidence for Court proceedings – indicating public benefit arising from service improvements.
Infrastructure and FacilitiesFull-time technical staff provide research support including the provision of bespoke programming and equipment for experiments, as well as space, resource and health and safety management. An undergraduate participant database and a community participant database are available to recruit participants. The department has a range of purpose-built facilities including practical and project rooms, a computing suite, and several specialised laboratories. The Department of Psychology has a number of Research Centres, each with their own facilities:
Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology
The department runs the Macaque Study Centre, a unique facility for cognitive and behavioural research with crested macaques (Macaca nigra), which was opened in 2011 as a joint venture between the University of Portsmouth and Marwell Wildlife (Winchester, UK).
The Dog Cognition Centre, a publicly-accessible venue which welcomes citizens and their pets, enhances the department’s work in comparative social cognition, specifically theory of mind related skills in different species. A centre focussing on canine cognition, rather than behaviour, is unique in the UK.
The Psychology of Applied Cognition laboratory allows for simultaneous and efficient testing of multiple participants under controlled conditions. Researchers investigate a variety of topics relating to perception, memory, social cognition, and decision-making in applied settings with a focus on understanding the causes of human error, and the development of protocols designed to reduce human error and improve judgement and performance.
Situated Action and Communication
The department’s toddler suite is used for research exploring child behaviour in a setting that mimics a domestic living space. Recent research using this laboratory investigated the early social and emotional development of young infants with Down syndrome in dyadic and triadic interactions compared to typically developing infants. The infant laboratory’s purpose built has been used to investigate young infants' sensitivity to contingencies such as responses to synchrynous and asynchrynous intimate face-to-face interactions.
Cross-Centre research facilities
Eye-tracking laboratories allow researchers to monitor behaviour indicative of attention and are equipped with four eye-tracking systems: the SR Research Eyelink II; SR Research Eyelink 1000; the SMI iView xRED and the SMI iView xHED system. The centre’s main observation suite features one-way mirrors, digital video recording and remote audio-visual equipment and has been used for all types of observational work including testing minority influence scenarios and deception studies.
The Psychophysiology laboratory facilities include state-of-the-art, 64-channel (BrainVision) and 32-channel (NeuroScan) systems, which allows the recording and analysis of electroencephalograms (EEG) and event related potentials (ERP). The facilities may also be used for recording electrodermal activity, heart activity, electromyographic activity, blood pressure and respiration.
The digital, audio, visual editing lab has dedicated computing facilities that run the latest version of Observer (TM) video analysis software, InterAct (TM) video analysis software, and Adobe Premier Pro digital video editing software. There is also soundproofed audio laboratory. A pressure mat system produces accurate and reliable measures of body movement, used to explore infants’ anticipatory responses to intentional parental movements, as well as non-verbal behaviour associated with deception. Thermal imaging cameras are used to measure body temperature changes associated with deception and embarrassment. The centre has a motion capture laboratory which is equipped with 12 cameras using Qualisys software, and is used intensively by research in the Situated Action and Communication Centre.