Psychology MRes projects
Here is a list of the possible project topics and potential supervisors.
You should contact staff members directly by email to discuss the projects that you are interested in.
Body Image and Mental Health in the Digital Age
Dr. Beth T. Bell
Using a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches, my research examines the role of media, social media and technology in the lives of adolescents and young adults. More specifically, I examine how media and technology are involved in the transmission of dominant appearance and body-related messages and the impact of such messages on body image, body-shaping behaviour (such as diet and exercise) and mental health.
I am interested in supervising quantitative or qualitative projects aligned with my research expertise. In particular, I would welcome the opportunity to supervise examinations of the role of diet and exercise mobile phone apps (e.g., MyFitnessPal) and /or social media messages (e.g. #fitspiration) in the aetiology of negative outcomes such as self-objectification, body image concerns, negative thought patterns and/or maladaptive exercise and eating behaviours.
Pain Management and Virtual Reality
Dr Matthew Coxon
Clinical trials have demonstrated that immersing individuals in virtual worlds can help manage a wide range of situations where some degree of pain or discomfort is normally experienced (from changing bandages on wounds to pain during childbirth). Since 2017, the literature base has expanded rapidly with beneficial effects of VR distraction being demonstrated across a rapidly growing number of labs across the world, with a wide range of clinical populations, and many different forms of pain. However, the theoretical basis of this effect, and the conditions under which it works best, have been relatively neglected within this rapid expansion of the literature. It is generally hypothesised that any effect occurs because virtual reality experiences recruit attentional resources that might otherwise be allocated to other stimuli, although some theorists have more recently argued that the degree of ‘presence’ an individual feels in the virtual world may also be important.
Projects in this area will make use of a cold pressor test (as a source of pain/discomfort), and the latest VR headsets, to further develop our theoretical understanding of how the effect works, and the conditions under which it works best.
Children’s problem solving and tool innovation
Dr Nicola Cutting
We all know that children are brilliant at learning to use tools. By copying others, children quickly master how to use a spoon, a cup and even an iPad. In contrast to children’s ability to learn from others, children are surprisingly poor at working things out for themselves. My research investigates the difficulties children have with innovating simple novel tools to solve problems. The evolution of human culture (tools in particular) is due to our faithful imitation of others actions, and innovations. Much research has focused on our ability to replicate what we see, but much less is known about innovations. My research focuses on why innovation is so difficult and what makes someone an innovator. I am interested in supervising projects aligned with the following topics:
- Collaborative Problem Solving – How do people work together to solve problems? Innovations are often the product of people working together. I am interested in whether two heads are really better than one or if we are only as good as the best person in the group.
- Scaffolding Problem Solving – Projects on this topic would explore how we can help children to solve problems with the minimum amount of intervention.
- Social Influences on Problem Solving – Projects on this topic would explore the effects of contextual factors on the ability to solve problems (e.g. presence of an unfamiliar experimenter).
Will children with a diagnosis of Autism who have an IC differ in their ToM ability from those without ICs?
Dr Paige Davis
Children with Autism have been found to have significantly lower scores on theory of mind (ToM) tasks when compared to typically developing children. They have also been found to have less imaginative play episodes. Recent research has found that although children with Autism show less imagination behaviour, in terms of having an imaginary companion (IC), their ICs are qualitatively similar to children who are typically developing. These data bring up a new research question as typically developing children with ICs have been found to have more developed ToM than those children without ICs. Note, potential students must have access to children with autism in order to do this project.
Truth and Morality in Brexit Discourse
Dr Mirko Demasi
A contemporary view on political discourse – something often dubbed as “post-truth politics” – is that there has been a lamentable decline in truth in how politicians talk today. This is a view I have taken issue with in my past work. Instead I argue that ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ are not a simple reflection of objective reality, but, instead, are rhetorical tools in political argumentation. That is, seemingly objective facts are used to subjective ends. From this perspective, we are not in an era where truth no longer matters. Instead truth is a rhetorical resource. To this end I am interested in studying how politicians use facts as rhetorical resources. My past work has looked at this, and I am now interested in studying how truth and morality intersect in political argumentation. Put crudely, how do facts and ideology intermingle in discourse?
I am currently overseeing the development of a database of political discourse, with the intent that in the future it will become publicly available. This project involves drawing on and building this database, with the above research theme in mind. Analysis of the data will draw on discursive psychology and rhetorical psychology. While the aim is a focus on truth and morality in political discourse, discursive psychology is a data-driven analytical approach and there is room for other avenues of research if the data supports this.
Intra-sexual Competition: Sexual Scripts, Promiscuity, and Gossip
Dr Melanie Dawn Douglass
Based on differential obligate parental investment, men and women have different optimum mating strategies. Where gender ratios are skewed, or where access to potential mates is restricted, competition for mating opportunities occurs. Research suggests that this leads to female-female competition in the form of gossip aimed at limiting sexual behaviours of rivals and, where promiscuity is detected, reduced intrasexual cooperation. Specifically, evidence suggests that women spread gossip more frequently than men (Davis, Dufort, Desrochers, & Vaillancourt, 2018), they are more likely to punish women who exhibit sexual-accessibility signals (Muggleton, Tarran, & Fincher, 2019), and such in/direct opposition is more likely in individuals who perceive women as more economically dependent (Price, Pound & Scott, 2014). This relates to my own research and projects I am supervising that focus on the underlying factors that affect (primarily negative) interpersonal interactions (e.g. sexual assault). I have expertise in experimental and survey research methods and would be interested in supervising quantitative projects aligned with the following topics:
- How self-perceived attractiveness and sex ratio affect intrasexual competition.
- How different sexual scripts affect intrasexual cooperation and the tendency to spread gossip about rivals.
- How individual differences (e.g. personality) affect sexual scripts and intrasexual competition.
Investigating the role of stories in the development of theory of mind
Dr Lorna Hamilton
Through childhood and adolescence, young people develop an increasingly sophisticated ability to understand, infer and reason about mental states (i.e. the thoughts, beliefs and feelings of themselves and others). This ‘theory of mind’ is central to social functioning and is known to develop differently in young people on the autism spectrum. Recent research has begin to examine how explicit theory of mind might develop through processes of social transmission; for example, children can learn about how people’s mental states relate to behaviour through exposure to stories. Storybooks contain more complex references to mental states than everyday conversation and, in order to understand the behaviour of characters in books, readers have to reason about their thoughts, beliefs and feelings. I am interested in supervising quantitative or mixed methods projects aligned with the following topics:
- Experimental investigations of how book characteristics influence parent-child discussion and/or children’s reasoning about mental states
- Investigation of the relationship between engagement with stories and theory of mind over developmental time
- Exploratory investigation of engagement with narrative media by young people on the autism spectrum
Opening the “black box” of psychological laboratory experiments
Dr Bogdana Huma
In psychology, experiments are the tool of choice for generating data, testing hypotheses, and observing causal relationships between psychological variables. Experimental control techniques are key to ensuring the internal validity of the research design. However, standardised and artificial experimental tasks have been seen as a threat to a study’s ecological validity; that is, the degree to which the results generated in the experimental setting are similar to results obtained in a naturalistic setting. For instance, reviewing experimental research on cognitive processes in decision making, Tetlock (1985) pointed out a key feature of decision making presumably missing from laboratory research: the accountability of participants’ judgments and behaviours. Instead of dismissing laboratory research for its inadequacy in reproducing other settings, it might be worthwhile to open the “black box” of psychological experiments in order to better understand how this environment shapes participants’ behaviour. Taking a reflexive approach, this project seeks to uncover the organisation of experimental settings. Students will have the option to either (1) record an experiment that is being conducted at YSJ or (2) work on an existing corpus of video recordings of a psychological experiment on impression formation. They will transcribe the data and analyse an interactional phenomenon that they identify in the data. The following are examples of research questions that could be pursued:
- How do individuals enact the identities of “participant” and “experimenter”?
- How do participants accomplish experimental tasks?
- How do individuals draw on the material environment (experimental props, objects, furniture) in their activities within the experiment?
Processing sounds: Experimental/EEG approaches to studying when word meaning matters
Dr Nicola Savill
My expertise is in experimental research in the domains of language and memory, using both behavioural methods and physiological measures such as electroencephalography (EEG). My interests are in cognitive aspects of reading and verbal short-term memory, both in 'normal' and language-impaired populations (e.g., dyslexia). My recent research has focused on influences of semantic properties (by manipulating word meaning) on phonological measures in different contexts. I’m interested in supervising quantitative projects addressing similar questions and building on this work.
I am particularly interested in (i) experimental projects investigating semantic influences on word-level processing (especially, but not exclusively, if applied to developmental dyslexia); or (ii) projects that make use of event-related potentials (ERPs; making use of our EEG facilities) to explore questions related to the time course of semantic/ phonological/other cognitive effects during language tasks. (Note that ERP projects are generally demanding from conception through to completion and would require careful development in discussion with me). I would be happy to hear from potential students with related interests and project ideas.
The Psychology of Elite Athlete Expertise and Performance
Dr Robert Vaughan
An extraordinary physiological capacity combined with personal characteristics and cognitive functioning are crucial for high performance in sports. Despite wide-spread attention there is still much to understand regarding elite performance in sport. My research focuses on three areas of sport and exercise psychology, namely, executive function, personality, and psychometrics. All three intersect across athletic expertise and the individual differences associated with elite athletes. Specifically, I am interested in the mechanics driving athlete expertise and performance. In that, my work looks at a range factors across different methodologies. For example, my previous research has explored the effect of Dark personality traits (e.g., narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy) on health-related outcomes such as physical activity, whether expert decision-making interacts with emotional competency to predict sport related outcomes such as risk-taking, and whether self-report questionnaires capturing personal dispositions such as mental toughness successfully differentiate individuals across athlete expertise. I am interested in supervising projects in the following areas:
- Psychometric properties of self-report questionnaires and their measurement invariance (e.g., across sample characteristics like athletes vs. non-athletes).
- The role of executive function in predicting performance and/or performance related variables (e.g., penalty kick success under situational pressure).
- The relationship between Dark personalities and sports related variables in athletes (e.g., doping attitudes, burnout and so forth).