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Case Studies

University lecturer examines attitudes to children's participation in art

Esther Burkitt is developing a line of research that began with a Lerverhulme Trust funded project to examine how the attitudes and practices of key parties involved in children’s art and drawing education shape practices and subsequent benefits that children experiences through artistic process. 

The recent governmental Drawing Campaign has called for an increase in childhood artistic activity and the project sought to ascertain how drawing can be better encouraged in schools and at home. The initial series of studies used an extensive interview and survey design to talk to teachers, parent and carers and pupils through Key Stage 1-6 about a whole range of influences that were thought to influence children‘s artistic behaviour.

It was found that the key parties held different views about the values of art, the best ways to encourage drawing behaviours, the best ways to teach art and drawings and the kinds of cognitive and emotional benefits that the activities afford. The good news was that there was not such a decline in drawing behaviour that some studies had identified in late childhood yet the project revealed that there was a conflict in key perceptions of how to encourage these behaviours between the key parties.

The current phase of the project has taken this research one step further to examine views of the key parties across different educational systems, for example  mainstream and performing arts contexts,  to further understand the ways in which artistic and drawing behaviour which can be appropriately facilitated to maximise children’s enjoyment of the activities and the benefits thereof.

Esther is also involved in a project that seeks to understand how children with autism use drawings to communicate emotional information. There is body of work that shows that, given awareness of the situation where drawings are produced, elements of children’s drawings, such as colour use, may be viewed as forms of communications yet little is known to date about how we can reliably understand the verbal communication of children with aytpical development.

Find out more about Esther's work on Children's Drawing.

Lifespan Panel

We currently explore the psychological and brain systems involved in development and ageing so as to further a deeper understanding of their impact on everyday well-being and quality of life at work and at home throughout one’s life.

Our research has been greatly helped by our panel of over 170 volunteers who have kindly agreed to take part in studies developed by our well-being focused research center, the POWER Centre.

The Lifespan Panel is always looking for volunteers to take part in our research. 

Pictures that tell a thousand painful words

Almost 500 people have taken part in a first of its kind, academic study to explore what drawing a picture can tell us about the pain that they are suffering. The research, conducted by the University of Chichester for Lloyds pharmacy, was undertaken to find out if there is common ground among people when it comes to the articulation of pain.

The drawings study, which included different types of pain sufferers, found that people were equally likely to depict their pain literally as abstractly. Of those using abstract imagery, many included stormy weather and ‘evil’ characters, such as the devil or an executioner. Not surprisingly, the majority of participants used the colour red to express raw pain. When it came to gender differences, women were more likely to use abstract drawings than men - perhaps reflecting their general willingness to express emotion to a greater extent than men.

Alongside the drawings study, over 2000 UK adults were surveyed about their experiences of pain. The poll found that over half of people across the UK (56%) suffer with pain at least once a week; worryingly, more than one in four (28%) said they suffer from severe pain every single day. When asked about the type of pain they suffer from, 60% of people confirmed that they regularly suffer from neck and back pain, while nearly half (46%) admitted to suffering from migraines and the same number from joint pain.

Dr Esther Burkitt, Reader in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chichester and consultant with the POWER centre, carried out the study: “To date there have been few adult studies to examine the drawn representation of negative experiences such as pain, so this research provides interesting insight into the ways that people express their pain. Even though I found shared themes in people’s expressions of pain through drawing, what came across most strongly is that pain is a very individual thing.”

How do prison tours affect students' decision making abilities?

Dr. Roy Spina, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Counselling, explored the effects that a prison tour would have on Forensic Psychology students.

The research focuses on the effect of the prison visit on students' career decision-making processes. As part of the research, Roy will take 45 Birmingham City University students to HMP Grendon providing them with a first-hand practical experience, including both direct meaningful interaction with prisoners like those many hope to help rehabilitate in some capacity in the future, and an open discussion with people employed in various roles in such a rehabilitation capacity. 

The students toured the jail, viewed an exhibition of artwork created by the prisoners, have lunch with the prisoners on one of the prison wings, take part in a debate with the prisoners on a preselected topic, and engage in a discussion with Grendon staff about their careers.

Following this, Roy will evaluate the effect of this first-hand practical experience on students’ career decision-making, compared with students who do not attend the visit.

Existing research has shown that people who make more effective career decisions tend to experience greater career satisfaction (Seibert & Kraimer, 2001), which significantly predicts career success (Ng, Eby, Sorensen & Feldman, 2005). More specifically, workers who are more satisfied with their jobs display superior performance, exhibit less withdrawal behaviors such as absenteeism, and are less likely to be unemployed.

Considering the link between career satisfaction and success, such findings are of particular concern in the criminal justice system, when you consider that the financial cost of recidivism has been estimated at 12 billion pounds (Social Exclusion Unit, 2006), and the psychological impact on victims of these crimes is immeasurable. Every year many criminology graduates enter the workforce with career aspirations of helping rehabilitate criminal offenders in some capacity. It is thus immensely important for researchers in this area to examine the effects of practical first-hand experiences which supplement theoretical knowledge, to provide students with the necessary experiences to help refine their chosen career paths.

Students who make informed choices based on first-hand experiences should be more likely to experience career satisfaction and success. By increasing career success, the criminal justice system stands to benefit from satisfied and committed workers, which would then positively impact on criminals in their rehabilitation process. The ripple effects should then spread to society as whole, via reduced recidivism rates.

Researchers use Nintendo Wii to map people's decision making

Dr Ian Tyndall worked as part of an international collaboration with researchers from Ireland and the USA to explore the potential for harnessing the power of everyday consumer technology to exam action dynamics in behavioural response patterns.

Action dynamics are the patterns of a person's responding in any situation, an analysis of their physical movements which can give us an insight in to how the human mind makes choices and decisions before the person is even consciously aware of the decision they have made. For example, in an action dynamics experiment, a person might be asked which of two stimuli on a computer screen is the correct choice in a particular context.

Before the person is often able to verbalise or articulate their choice, their hand is often moving over the computer mouse (or similar device) in a particular direction which suggests that the brain has sent a signal down the spinal cord to the hand to make a move in a particular direction. A little later the person is able to make a verbal statement about what their choice is but the behavioural movement occurs before the verbal behaviour.

Ian explains: "My colleagues and I saw the potential in using the Nintendo WiiMote device as it tracks a person's hand and arm movements while they are making decisions and performing actions while playing computer games. Thus, the brain sends signals to the arms and hands on what response to make depending on what is currently happening on the screen. We designed a study where participants used the Nintendo WiiMote to make a choice between two stimulus words on screen, one which was designated as correct and the other as incorrect depending on the particular contextual cue."

The study aimed to test the processes involved in human reading as the researchers presented incorrect words that either sounded alike, looked alike, or both sounded and looked like the correct words, to examine if it was whether the incorrect word actually looked like the correct word or whether it rhymed with the correct word that would cause most interference in responding.

Ian said: "In most psychological studies you are just aware of whether the participant made the correct or incorrect response. You are not privy to the underlying thought processes behind the decision, but with the WiiMote we are able to track a person's decision. Most interestingly, an analysis of the trajectory of a person's hand movement can detect whether a person was initially going towards making an incorrect choice with their hand movement but then suddenly changed course and changed their decision and chose the correct word instead. In most experimental paradigms it is not possible to detect that, which makes this technology really innovative and exciting."

The first study has been submitted for publication and Ian presented a paper on the research at the Association of Behaviour Analysis International Annual Conference in Seattle, USA in May 2012. Earlier work developing this research paradigm was presented at international conferences in Chicago, Phoenix, and Amsterdam.

Academic collaborates to develop new cognition test

Dr Ian Tyndall has been part of a collaborating team of international researchers, including Bryan Roche and Anthony O'Reilly at National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Amanda Gavin at Teeside University, UK, and Maria Ruiz at Rollins University in Florida, USA, who have recently developed a behaviour-analytic test of implicit associations called the 'Functional Analytic Speed Test' (FAST) that is similar to a popular test in social cognition, the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

The FAST test is an exciting new development as it has the potential to demonstrate the strength of connections or associations between two concepts (e.g. a person's attitude towards an object, person, or event) by showing how easy or difficult it is for the person to form or learn new functions or associations for that object, person, or event. For example, if a person demonstrated a negative 'implicit' attitude towards people of a different ethnic or racial origin to themselves, performance on the FAST test can potentially indicate how easy or difficult it is for that person to form or learn new and more positive and healthy associations to people from the different races and ethnic origin.

The FAST test is rooted in the behaviour-analytic tradition which appeals to relations between a person's environment and behaviour to explain the emergence of their particular behaviours by focusing on their previous reinforcement history.