Psychology Student Conference

Psychology Student Conference

An opportunity for students to share their research

The Psychology Student Conference 2016 took place on Wednesday, 6 April in the James Parsons Building. Talks were given by students from our Psychology programmes.

If you would like further information about this conference please contact Anna Law.

Abstracts from the 2016 conference

During our 2016 conference we were treated to some excellent student talks on a wide range of topics including:

Happiness in Older Generations: A correlational study exploring factors which predict well-being and satisfaction with life - Emma Kinley, supervised by Dr Mark Forshaw

Background: Satisfaction with life in older people is massively under-researched. To address this gap, the present study aims to specify what influences a person’s state of happiness in relation to attitudes towards money, amount of social and physical activities and a person’s religiosity and beliefs.
Sample: Sixty participants were recruited by approaching the co-workers of a major UK retailer’s local branch, 30 male and 30 female.
Methods: This quantitative research study follows a correlational design. It used regression analyses to try to predict wellbeing from attitudes to money, engagement in social and physical activity, and religiosity.
Results: The most significant predictor of well-being was physical and social activity. Interestingly, the second most influential was a person’s attitude towards money. However, this variable predicted wellbeing negatively; revealing that as a person’s value and importance for money in their life increases, their satisfaction with life score decreases. Religiosity did not predict a person’s well-being. Separate models were computed for men and women, revealing some differences in the strength of predictors.
Conclusions: The evidence from the present study provides a basis for how an older adult could increase their overall state of well-being. For example, from the data provided, it is obvious to suggest involvement in physical activity could increase someone’s happiness/subjective well-being.

Investigating Concepts of Body Image in Adults with Congenital Blindness: A Qualitative Analysis - Elenya Harston, supervised by Dr Mark Forshaw

The concept of body image has been explored in a myriad of populations, and yet there is a paucity of research pertaining to body image in blind and visually impaired adults. The current research wishes to address this void using qualitative methods, exploring the experiences of adults with congenital blindness in relation to body image and appearance related topics via semi-structured interviews. Through purposive sampling from Bradbury Fields in Liverpool and the Manchester RNIB, 3 females and 1 male volunteered to participate in hour-long telephone interviews. All participants had congenital blindness, and were between 28 and 54 years of age. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was utilised to explore salient themes within interview transcripts, and four super-ordinate themes emerged: The Body and Image as the ‘Self’; Sources of Construed Bodily Importance; Potential Barriers Resulting from Congenital Blindness; and Adaptive Methods in the Absence of Visual Feedback. These themes are closely linked via eight sub-ordinate themes including Weight Concerns and Internalisation of Thin Ideals, Embodiment and Functionality, which will be explored in depth. This research wishes to highlight the ways in which body image experiences are altered in those without prior vision, including experiences of body image dissatisfaction and the requirement for further investigation.

Cyberchondria: The Impact of Health Anxiety and Health Related Searching Online on Health Perception: An Experimental Study - Simone Conway, supervised by Dr Laura Mirams and Dr Naomi Fisher

Background: Excessive searching for medical information online has been found to exacerbate health anxiety (HA). Previous research has found a relationship between personality traits typically characterized by high anxiety, and poor self-perception of health.
Aims: This study investigated whether participants with high HA would have poorer self-perception of health than low health-anxious participants, and whether health-related internet searching (HRIS) would decrease participants’ self-perception of health.
Sample: 34 female LJMU students between the ages of 18-25 were recruited after their completion of a pre-screen questionnaire.
Method: A 2X2 mixed design was used. 17 participants from the highest (18>=) and lowest (11<=) anxiety score quartiles of a prescreen questionnaire (Salkovskis et al, 2002) completed a face health judgement task (FHJT) (Mirams et al, 2014) which assessed their self-perception of health. After this, participants researched common medical symptoms online for 15 minutes, and then completed the FHJT for a second time.
Results: No significant differences were found between self-perception of health in high and low health anxious participants, and no significant reductions in participants’ self-perception of health were found in the FHJT after HRIS.
Conclusions: Further research in this particular area is necessary in order to further develop knowledge around cyberchondria.

The Effect of Pleasant Olfactory-induced Auto-Biographical Memories on Affective State - Nathalie Reese, supervised by Dr Susannah Walker

Background: Odour-induced memories are often described more vividly and are more emotionally weighted than those of other modalities.
Aims: The present study examined whether olfactory-induced positive autobiographical memory retrieved using personally significant scents could buffer participants from induction of a negative affective state.
Method: 20 participants were recruited and split into two groups. In the control condition participants were exposed to a rose odour and those in the experimental condition to a perfume that they had previously identified as being personally significant. Subjective affective state was measured before and after a negative image viewing task using the PANAS scale (Watson, Clark, and Tellegen, 1988). Heart rate was measured throughout the test session. It was hypothesised that participants in the fragrance condition would have a lower heart rate during the task and report lower negative affective scores than those in the control group.
Results: This small scale study did not find evidence to support the hypothesis that smelling a personally significant scent was associated with lower negative affect or heart rate whilst viewing negative emotional images.
Conclusion: Suggestions are made for future studies, including investigating the impact of significant smells by utilising a larger sample size and by inducing negative affective state using alternative techniques such as social anxiety paradigms.

To explore opinions into retributive and reductivist approaches to punishment with key emphasis on violent offenders with anti-social and borderline personality disorder: a grounded theory analysis - Juliette Wallace, supervised by Dr Emma Murray and Dr Sue Palmer-Conn

Background: With around 60-70% of offenders suffering from some form of personality disorder (Ministry of Justice, 2011) and the Howard League (2011) suggesting prison is not the answer for those suffering with a mental illness, there is room for research into what is the best form of punishment for such offenders.
The aim of this study is to discover opinions on which is the best approach to punishment, retributive or reductivist theory, with an emphasis on violent offenders with anti-social and borderline personality disorders.
Method: Six participants with various experiences and career paths within the Criminal Justice System were chosen by the researcher; semi-structured interviews were carried out and then analysed using grounded theory analysis. Open codes were then generated followed by axial codes resulting in the creation of superordinate categories and finally an overriding theme.
Analysis: Upon analysis of the data seven superordinate categories were created: Support, Offence, Rehabilitation, Punishment, Individual Needs, Personality Disorder Offender and Society. From this the central theory was developed; Circumstantial. The findings of this research are evaluated and a model around the theory included.
Discussion: The results of the research are conversed with reference to relevant research. Implications and limitations are presented and a possible area for future research mentioned.

Effect of mobile phone usage on physical activity, sleep quality and life satisfaction; introducing the Locus of Control concept as a mediator - Katy Foster, supervised by Dr Daniel Roberts

Recent evidence is progressively linking mobile phone use with various aspects of well-being, particularly in young adults. The present study aims to expand upon current literature regarding mobile phone use affecting every-day life, by investigating whether prolonged use of a mobile before bed time has an effect on physical activity, sleep quality and satisfaction with life. Furthermore, the Locus of Control concept will be integrated as a main predictor of the extent to which individual’s use their phones at inopportune times such as before bed. 50 participants completed a questionnaire, including; general questions about age and location, the Satisfaction with Life Scale, International Physical Activity Questionnaire, Bergen Insomnia Scale, Locus of Control Measure and Mobile Use before Bed. Results showed that overall, mobile phone use before bed had a significant effect on physical activity and sleep quality but not for satisfaction with life. When the locus of control concept was included, results were significant for all variables including mobile phone use before bed and satisfaction with life. These results indicate that individuals with an external locus of control have less control over environmental influences and are more likely to use their phones at inopportune times such as before bed.

The influence of social networking sites on eating disorders and self-harm in adolescent females - Amy Houghton, supervised by Dr Rachael Steele and Dr Caroline Brett

Background: With the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, plus others such as Instagram, more and more teenage girls are logging on and creating accounts, sometimes when they’re younger than the minimum age requirement which is usually 13. The government also conducted its own research and the rates of reported eating disorders and self-harm cases have been on the rise in the last 10 years – this can be attributed to the growing popularity of social networking sites and the anonymity options available to some users; because of known statistics, only females were asked due to the higher volume of females with eating disorders.
A questionnaire using the Likert scale was created to assess various factors for the 50 female participants, such as; time spent on social networks, what social networks were being used, whether participants had ever come across images designed to encourage unhealthy habits, whether their diet or lifestyle had changed because of these, and safety precautions for families.
The study found that 63% of females had been affected by the “thinspo” images they had seen and at least 40% had self-harmed in the past because of how these images made them feel. It was also interesting to see the percentage of people who thought a computer used by a family should be kept in a family room such as the living room, around 80% of participants thought this – although teenagers may not think it’s fair, it protects them from being able to search for media that could cause psychological damage.
Social networking sites are a fun way to communicate with our friends and family whom we do not see often, but it’s also important to remember the dangers they pose too – teenagers are vulnerable individuals while their bodies are growing and changing, and the influences that can be found online, from not only my results but the articles I’ve read to put my dissertation together, an alarming rate of people have been and continue to be affected.

The effects of cognitive and social abilities on the transition into primary school - Carla Sullivan, supervised by Dr Catherine Willis

Background: The transition into primary school is a critical time in a young person’s life, introducing a number of cognitive and social demands that some children find challenging (Hughes, 2015). Recent research highlights the importance of these two individual factors as separate indicators of predicting a successful school transition, and how this can potentially effect children throughout their educational experience.
Aims: To establish the relative importance of children’s pre-school social experience, knowledge on school entry and cognitive abilities to achieve a successful transition into school.
Sample: The sample included 52 children (52% male) aged between 4 and 5 years old, recruited from three different local primary schools across Liverpool.
Methods: The children completed three different individual tasks including; the head-toes-knees-shoulders (HTKS) task, Smarties task and the Tower of London task. The transition into primary school was measured using a questionnaire completed by the children’s parents. School readiness was measured using The Brief Early Skills and Support Index (BESSI) teacher rating scale. A baseline academic assessment was carried out by the primary schools providing a mathematics score and a communication, language and literacy score for each child upon entering school.
Multiple regression showed the HTKS task testing children’s individual inhibitory control, working memory and self-regulation was the strongest indictor of successful school transition.
Conclusions: Self-regulation is a key skill for successful transition to school, reasons for this are discussed.

Topics from the 2015 conference

At our 2015 conference there were some excellent talks from students on a wide range of topics including:

Self-reported alcohol consumption, cognitive functioning and food intake - Natasha L Bloor

Previous research has investigated the effects of recreational drinking on memory function and confirmed detrimental effects of alcohol on both cognitive functioning, and brain structure. Moreover, research suggests that student populations are an at-risk group for heavy alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use is a risk factor for obesity, poor-diet and depression in present and later life, raising health concerns about alcohol consumption that are not directly related to the pharmacological effects. The current study aims to investigate the effects of heavy social drinking on working memory, body mass composition, nutritional intake and mood. Thirty-four participants were assigned to heavy and light alcohol use based on a median split of their AUDIT score. Data was entered in to SPSS and a MANOVA was used to determine group differences in nutritional intake, cognitive functioning, bodily measurements and mood. The findings show that heavy alcohol use had a significant effect on cognitive performance and mood, with heavy drinkers performing worse than light drinkers. No significant differences were found in nutritional intake and bodily measurements. The study concludes that heavy alcohol use has detrimental effects on cognitive performance and mood that are related to alcohol’s pharmacological effects and not food intake. In light of the present findings, it is important to educate young people about the potential dangers of heavy social drinking.

Differences in secondary and tertiary student behaviours and beliefs affecting learning? A cross-sectional multivariate analysis - Mark Jellicoe

Background: Achievement stakes in higher levels of education have rarely been more important. Personality traits and students’ beliefs drive academic behaviours salient to academic performance (AP). However, research suggests that these remain malleable during late adolescence and early adulthood. A greater understanding of the relative importance of non-intellective factors, at different educational stages, may provide useful interventions particularly during intra-phase transition.

Aims: Between group differences in, and relative importance of, factors that inform academic study strategies employed by university (US) and school (SS) students are examined. These include academic self-efficacy (ASE) and test anxiety (TA).

Sample: N = 100 SS (98% females; 2% male) and 100 US (81% female; 19% male) were recruited by convenience sampling during three prearranged data collection sessions. Appropriate ethical considerations and approvals were sought and granted.

Method: Five validated self-report measures were used to test the five factor model of personality, ASE, academic conscientiousness, implicit theories of intelligence and TA. Data were analysed to understand important relationships and differences.

Results: A number of constructs known to be important in AP are strongly endorsed. Both groups supported ASE; and conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism from the five factor model of personality. These were differentially expressed with US supporting openness and SS endorsing conscientiousness more strongly, highlighting important associations with educational experience. Path analysis supports ASE as an important mediator of personality factors, particularly conscientiousness and openness, on TA. Unsurprisingly, neuroticism had a negative direct association with TA.

Conclusion: The current study supports previously identified non-intellective academic behaviours and strategies considered important to optimal AP. Findings are discussed in relation to the relevant academic stages. Limitations and future research directions are discussed.

The experiences of students with learning difficulties transitioning from secondary school to college: a grounded theory study - Katie Hughes

Background: Participation in further education is increasing for students with learning difficulties (LD) (Cook et al., 2015). However, for many their transition is not always a pleasant experience (Dixon & Tanner, 2013). For students with LD, the progression from secondary school to college can be met with great uncertainties and in some cases can lead to young adults not being in education, employment or training (NEET).

Objective: To explore the experiences of students with LD in their transition from a secondary school environment to college with reference to their expectations, needs, quality of life and wellbeing.

Sample: A purposeful sample of 13 students, 2 female and 11 males, aged 15-16 with LD participated in this study.

Design: Using a grounded theory approach, semi-structured interviews were used to gather data.

Outcomes: Valuable insights into students’ transitional experiences were explored in this study. Two central categories emerged and these included: students’ ‘motivations to remain in college’ and ‘barriers to students progressing with education’. These two central categories are bound together by the theme ‘individual differences’ that has a significant influence on how the sub-categories are perceived. Sub-categories include institutional infrastructure, friendships, professional support, desire to prove themselves, perceptions of college (compared to the reality), ability to travel independently and the students’ disability itself. These findings can be useful to identify factors that facilitate successful transition periods in the future.

Gender difference in spelling strategies during connected writing - Kate Slade

Background: National Curriculum data and a number of research studies highlight the existence of a gender gap in primary school children’s writing performance, and it is proposed that this difference is predicted by spelling ability. The way in which boys and girls use differing spelling strategies during writing may help to explain and further our understanding of the gender gap. Aims: To investigate possible gender differences in spelling strategies used during connected writing. Sample: N = 29 Year 5 children aged from 9 years and 5 months to 10 years 4 months from 2 schools in Merseyside participated in this research.

Methods: Using an experimental between subjects design, boys and girls completed a range of standardised spelling, writing and cognitive assessments.

Results: The data provides support for a gender differences, favouring females, in writing and partially in spelling. Boys were also found to make significantly more phonological spelling errors during connected writing but not when writing single words.

Conclusions: The use of verbal working memory and the ‘inner-voice’ during the process of writing may force a phonological spelling strategy in boys, but not in girls; which may ultimately affect their writing performance.

Maths anxiety and the potential relationship with phonological loop capacity and mathematic performance: a comparative study - Oliver Hewitson

Maths anxiety is a phenomenon which has been shown to occur in some people when attempting to perform mathematics. Research has generally shown that those with a higher maths anxiety also have lower mathematic competence and perform worse in math-related areas. It has been hypothesised that this is due to components of working memory being impaired and being unable to function correctly. The aim of this study will be to test whether or not the phonological loop is responsible for the impairment in mathematic performance due to maths anxiety. The study used N = 22 students as sources of data, who were split into a high and low maths anxiety group. Three verbal working memory span tests were applied, along with the Single Item Maths Anxiety rating scale and a GCSE level maths test. Results showed that there was a difference between groups for the phonological loop capacity and mathematic performance, but there was no relationship between these two differences. From this we can conclude that another variable that is affected by maths anxiety is responsible for the lower mathematic competence displayed.

Learning in video games: the effect of tutorial presentation style on video game performance under varying time pressures - Chloe Middleton

Background: Video games are one of the fastest growing forms of media, and for a game to appeal to consumers it is vital for early tutorial levels to be engaging. There is limited research into what makes an effective tutorial, with both observational and experiential learning methods being viable options. Similarly, for a video game to be engaging, it must be presented at the optimal difficulty – too easy and it is it boring, too difficult and it is frustrating, either way the player quickly loses interest. This research attempts to investigate the factors that contribute to an effective video game tutorial, specifically tutorial presentation style and perceived game difficulty.

Sampling and methods: An opportunity sample of N = 30 individuals (12 female; median age 20; 10 non-gamers, 11 low-gamers and 9 high-gamers) participated in the study. Participants were allocated into one of four experimental conditions: easy-video, hard-video, easy-audio and hard-audio. Those in the video conditions watched a five-minute tutorial video on how to survive in the wilderness survival video game, “Don’t Starve”, whereas those in the audio conditions listened to the same tutorial whilst playing the game themselves. Following this, participants played “Don’t Starve” for 15 minutes whilst completing a set of tasks, with perceived difficulty manipulated by lengthening or shortening the in-game day. Gameplay was recorded using screen capture software. Data were collected through structured observation of the participants’ game footage on three parameters – quantity of food collected, number of deaths and score, as calculated by the game.

Results: An independent-measures MANOVA revealed no significant main effect for tutorial presentation style: (F(3,24) = .842, p>.05, Wilks λ = .905) or perceived game difficulty: (F(3,24) = .299, p>.05, Wilks λ = .964), with multiple ANOVAs also showing no significant effect on in-game score, quantity of food collected or number of in-game deaths.

Conclusions: These results indicate tutorial presentation style does not affect learning in video games, and therefore observational and experiential learning are equally valid methods to use within complex video games. Furthermore, contrary to the literature, the results suggest perceived difficulty does not affect learning within video games. Implications are discussed.

Positive music assisted mindful breathing meditation on stress - Jacob Harosh

Mindful breathing meditation is a central component to mindfulness-based practices, in which individuals focus their attention towards their respiration whilst allowing thoughts to enter their mind non-judgementally. Previous research has identified that this technique can prevent stress-related memory impairments, heighten and sustain attention, and reduce anxiety in stressful situations. It is also well-documented that relaxing and self-selected ‘positive’ music can reduce negative emotions and prevent stress-induced increases. Studies into the implications of music assisted mindful breathing meditation inductions on well-being, have generated mixed findings that this study aims to clarify. N = 42 volunteers were evenly distributed into 3 conditions based on self-reported trait measures of emotional regulation, stress and mindfulness. All three groups were subjected to a mindful breathing meditation exercise, whilst listening to either ‘Positive’, ‘Negative’, or ‘No Music’. Participants were measured for self-reported state anxiety and mindfulness before and after the exercise, whilst heart rate was measured before and during. Results showed that Positive Music did not significantly enhance the stress-reduction effects of the meditation any more than No Music, although these 2 groups showed a marginally significantly greater decrease of stress than the Negative Music group. The music did not have an effect on state mindfulness as there was a similar, non-significant increase across all 3 groups. There was no effect on heart rate. Findings indicate that there is a possibility that positive music can enhance the stress-reduction effects of mindful breathing meditation, whilst negative music appears to neutralise this effect. Further research into this technique is discussed.

An investigation into the effect of physical activity on overall well-being - Chloe-Louise Gunn

Taking part in physical activity appears to directly impact overall wellbeing, as past studies have found that by including some physical activity into one’s daily routine, wellbeing levels improve. The statistics also show that wellbeing seems to worsen between the ages 18-25, and this warrants further investigation (McAuley & Rudolph, 2010). The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of physical activity on overall wellbeing. The objective is to bridge the gap between the understanding of the biological and psychological experience that individuals have when taking part in physical activity. This study intends to do so by analysing the effect of higher and lower levels of physical activity on such variables as self-esteem, productivity and emotional response. A grounded theory approach was adopted using semi-structured interviews with N = 8 participants aged 18-25 from Liverpool John Moores University. The results revealed that higher levels of physical activity have a positive effect on overall wellbeing. Moreover sedentary behaviours appeared to have a negative effect on overall wellbeing. An unexpected finding was some forms of sedentary behaviour appeared to have similar positive effects on overall wellbeing. This study’s findings are restricted due to the target population only being within the age range of 18 to 25, therefore they can only be applied to this demographic.

A study into the efficacy of motivational quotes as an effective well-being intervention in young adults - Nicole Phillips

To some extent, all individuals are in pursuit of happiness throughout their lives. Positive psychology interventions aim to improve wellbeing and positive feelings by provoking individuals to change their thought processes and behaviour in order to experience happiness. Research shows the valuable effects of increased wellbeing include increased productivity, positive mood and feelings of self-esteem; as wellbeing affects every aspect of life from physical health to relationships and careers. The current study presented a novel suggestion to test the efficacy of motivational quotations as an intervention to increase subjective wellbeing scores on two wellbeing scales, the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener et al., 1985) and the Scale of Positive and Negative Experiences (Diener et al., 2009). A convenience sample of N = 48 participants aged between 18 and 25 were recruited to take part, of which 28 fully completed the study. Participants completed the web-based questionnaire containing the two wellbeing scales three times per week for four weeks. Additionally, in the second and third week they also received a pre-selected motivational quotation by email to read, which acted as the intervention phase. The results indicated there was no significant effect on the scores for the SWLS or the SPANE during the intervention phase and therefore no improvement on subjective wellbeing. The results found may be due to resource constraint issues experienced with regards to sample size and length of the study. Further research and development is needed in order to fully explore this new idea of motivational quotes as an intervention.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the upcoming conference please get in touch:

Anna Law
Call: +44 (0)151 904 6227

School of Natural Sciences and Psychology
Liverpool John Moores University
Tom Reilly Building
Byrom Street
L3 3AF