About the Group
Applied Cognitive Psychology
The Applied Cognitive Psychology group takes theory and research in cognitive psychology and applies them to more practical situations that may form part of many individuals’ everyday experience or may be specific to certain individuals.
As such, our areas of interest are wide-ranging and often overlap with each other’s as well as other areas of psychology and disciplines such as health and forensic psychology.
Distraction and performance
We are interested in how background sound affects task performance and how certain individuals may be more affected than others. At its core, the research has focused on the irrelevant sound effect, which uses serial recall, but has extended into other tasks such as reading comprehension, creativity, spatial awareness and mental arithmetic. Interruptions are another type of distraction, requiring the temporary switching of attentional resources towards a separate intervening activity, before subsequent resumption of the primary task. We investigate those factors exacerbating the cost of interruption to performance, and how disruption can be minimized.
Attraction and Relationships
Another vibrant and burgeoning topic of ongoing research concerns the identification of factors surrounding mate attraction, the features of attractiveness, and relationship formation and termination. Particular attention is directed at delineating the contextual cues surrounding attraction and how such cues differentially influence the sexes, to age preferences expressed by online daters, and in how sex differences in jealousy manifest following the discovery of infidelity-revealing mobile phone messages. Combining an evolutionary approach with the use of modern technology this research is currently endeavouring to inform, not only our knowledge of the complexities of human mate attraction but also how this knowledge is used to enhance relationship satisfaction and harmony.
Emotion, Mood and Cognition
Processing emotional information can cause biases in cognitive performance (attention, memory and reasoning) and we are interested in how different people are affected by these.
Core cognitive deficits in schizophrenia analogue samples
There is a growing realisation that patients diagnosed with schizophrenia have such a broad range of impairments and are compromised so much by medication that they can make only a limited contribution to our understanding of the central cognitive processes underlying the disorder. A growing body of research now employs normal, non-clinical samples (who vary along a continuum in their similarity to the symptom clusters of schizophrenia). We have historically considered the possibility that schizophrenia may reflect an underlying deficit in ‘theory of mind’ but our more recent work has been exploring the possibility that high levels of negative schizotypy reflect a hybrid deficit in contextual working memory and outcome processing. We are currently preparing a number of journal manuscripts based on this work.
Decision-making and Reasoning
Making decisions and reasoning are fundamental aspects to human behaviour and we are interested in how internal factors, such as emotion and background knowledge, affect these processes. Further, we explore how these processes are undertaken in specific situations.
Cognitive bias and psychiatric triage
Cognitive bias (including ‘anchoring’ and heuristic strategies) has been widely demonstrated in the decision making of clinicians operating in the full range of health care settings. Little is known however about decision processes around the allocation of psychiatric patients to different levels of security. We are currently evaluating the decision making of psychiatric gate keepers in their direction of patients to community, low secure and medium secure services. Our most recent study is using a recently published standard for psychiatric triage (The DUNDRUM-1 (Flynn, G., O’Neil, C., McInerney, C., & Kennedy, H. G. (2011))) as a benchmark against which the extent of un-evidenced cognitive bias in decision making can be gauged.
The ability to diagnose a cancerous cell is vitally important in the prevention and treatment of cancer yet little is known about the cognitive processes that underpin such skills. Current research focuses on the modality of the diagnostic image and the effectiveness of different training techniques.
Diet, Mood and Mental Performance
Certain elements of our diets and dietary patterns can affect the way we feel and the efficiency with which we perform mental tasks. For example, much is known about caffeine and how it can increase alertness and vigilance, especially when tired. Less is known however about its interaction with glucose. How often we eat can also affect mental performance, possibly by affecting blood glucose. The type of tasks examined ranges from logical reasoning to simple reaction times.