Monday, 20 March 2017

Research Seminar: Visiting Speaker Dr Andrew Dunn (Nottingham Trent University)

*** Everyone Welcome! No need to book in advance***

Date: Thursday 30th March
Time: 16:00-17:00
Room: College Building C126

Dr Andrew Dunn (Nottingham Trent University)

'Cold Words and Rich Comments: Environmental Primes and Person Perception' 

Humans are categorical creatures who readily and rapidly make judgements of others based on the way they look or sound. These judgements can be remarkably accurate or wildly off the mark. Irrespective, they can have a significant impact on our behaviour and of those being judged. Here we will explore unpublished data from several experiments looking at the effects of context information (race, socio-economic status and perceived pathogen threat) on judgements of perceived criminal culpability, attractiveness and health. I will show that subtle changes in contextual information have a nuanced but significant impact on how we perceive and judge others. I will argue that there is no such thing as a context free experiment because we are inherently sensitive to our environment and that it leads us to naturally categorise the world with unexpected consequences. Accordingly we should be mindful of such effects as Psychologists but also as citizens of a democratic industrialised society, under threat from an artificially heightened fear of others. 

Dr Andrew Dunn is a senior lecturer in Psychology and an experimental psychologist with interests in the functional mechanisms of perception, attention, memory, motor action, and the application of evolutionary theory and methods to understanding human behaviour.


Friday, 3 March 2017

Research Seminar: Visiting Speaker Dr Joe Levy (University of Roehampton)

*** Everyone Welcome! No need to book in advance***

Date: Thursday 16th March
Time: 16:00-17:00
Room: College Building C133

Dr Joe Levy (University of Roehampton)
'Why Statistical Representations of Word Meaning are Interesting for Psychology' 

For the last twenty years there has been increasing interest in the use of computational methods to capture certain aspects of word meaning. These methods capture how words are used by looking at the other words that they co-occur with, building patterns of co-occurrence or “semantic vectors” that can be used to measure the semantic distances between words. The techniques used have been driven by technological concerns but there has always been an interest in them from some psychologists. I will describe some current techniques and argue that semantic vectors may be able to play an important role in computational/statistical models of human behaviour. I will illustrate these points by examining the use of semantic vector methods in solving vocabulary multiple-choice tests.

I am a cognitive scientist with interests in language, memory and social cognition. I have used techniques from computational modelling, cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience.

Along with colleagues from Roehampton, recent projects have included:
the use of experimental methods, EEG and fMRI to examine action observation and perspective taking; the use of fMRI to measure the association of the default mode network and measures of empathy; accounting for variation in children’s reading performance with measures of metacognition.

A current focus is work with my colleague John Bullinaria (University of Birmingham) that continues our long collaboration of working on computational measures of word meaning. Our techniques have been very successful in generating numerical representations of the patterns of usage of different words in large bodies of text. The differences or distances between these "semantic vectors” can be shown to reflect the semantic relationships between different words. Recently, we have applied our technique to successfully improve models of cortical activation during word meaning processing tasks. Currently, along with Dr Samantha McCormick at Roehampton, we are looking at the various ways our semantic vectors can explain the linguistic structure of and human performance on vocabulary multiple choice tests. Plans for the future include exploring further applications of these semantic representations in the modelling of linguistic, cognitive and neuroscientific phenomena.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Next Seminar in the Psychoanalysis and Liberation Series

Impossible Spaces Johan Siebers (Middlesex University) 

This seminar explores the requirements for critical theory - a form of theory, as Horkheimer says, that aims to liberate people from forces that enslave them - in the present geopolitical constellation. Freud observed that there are three impossible professions: government, education and psychoanalysis, "in which one can be sure beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results". But each of these has to do with the aim of critical theory: liberation. Government's utopian goal is the free society; education's goal is the enlightened, autonomous person, in control of their own thought process; the goal of psychoanalysis is "where id was, the ego shall be". What, then, makes the professionalisation of liberation impossible? Is this impossibility total or is there a different path to freedom, or perhaps a freedom in becoming aware of the nature of the impossible? What would it be to create a possibility for utopia, the non-space that is a good space (Thomas More), in other words, for impossible spaces? What can politics, education and psychoanalysis learn from each other, as possible ways of doing what is impossible? The seminar will explore ways of thinking about these questions by contrasting Freud's theory of the no-longer-conscious with Bloch's theory of the not-yet-conscious, and by indicating the centrality of hope borne out of the encounter with the darkness of the lived moment.

Johan Siebers is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Middlesex University and Associate Fellow and Director of the Ernst Bloch Center for German Thought at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. His research and publication interests are in metaphysics, critical theory and the philosophy of communication. He is founding editor of Empedocles: European Journal for the Philosophy of Communication.

Venue: Room C205, College Building, Middlesex University, Hendon, London


Contact: Maaike Engelen (

Monday, 20 February 2017

Research Seminar: Prof Olga van den Akker (Middlesex University)

*** Everyone Welcome! No need to book in advance ***

Date: Thursday 2nd March
Time: 15:00-16:00
Room: College Building C133

Prof Olga van den Akker (Middlesex University) 
‘Unusual Reproduction' 


Hundreds of thousands of babies are born across the world each year via assisted conception techniques, many of these with a genetic link only to one of the parents, and some with no genetic and no gestational link. Assisted conception treatments are in huge demand for social and medical reasons. Despite the opportunities and demand, inequality in access to these services is evident at home and abroad. With the increasing international commercialisation of gamete, embryo and surrogate services, further amplification of inequalities develop. Many treatments also mimic as closely as possible traditional conception, but the resultant conceptions, pregnancies and babies are non-traditional, despite frequent attempts by the parent(s) to deny difference. Similarly, some offspring who know they were conceived in non-traditional ways report identity conflict and require knowledge about their origins. These conflicts are not sufficiently addressed in research, policy and practice. Human rights and psychosocial welfare issues in building families using third party assisted conception, in addition to allowing for equality in access, also demand accuracy of birth and genetic information. Psychosocial research can do much to contribute to the evidence and to debates.

Olga B.A. van den Akker is Professor of Health Psychology. She completed her BSc in Psychology at the University of East London, and was subsequently awarded an MRC studentship at St George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London to carry out a PhD investigating the Psychophysiology of the menstrual cycle. This was followed by post-doctoral research at the Institute of Psychiatry and St. Mary’s hospitals London, and senior academic posts at the University of East London, University of Birmingham and Aston University. She has been funded for research into chronic diseases and aspects relating to sexual and reproductive health by the British Academy, Charitable organisations, regional health authorities and the NHS Research and Development. In 2007 she became Head of Department of Psychology at Middlesex University, London.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Research Seminar: Prof Tom Dickins (Middlesex University)

*** Everyone Welcome! No need to book in advance ***

Date: Thursday 16th February
Time: 12:00-13:00
Room: College Building C133

Prof Tom Dickins (Middlesex University) 
'Life on the Edge: The First Two Years of a Long-Term Study of Kittiwakes (Rissa Tridactyla)' 

The Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) is a much studied colonial cliff-nesting seabird.  Kittiwakes are of interest due to their behavioural adaptations to cliff nesting but also due to their canary status.  Kittiwake populations have been in marked decline for the last 25 years and are now red-listed.  This is thought to be due to climate induced food stress.  The majority of studies have focused upon northern colonies.  In the U.K. these have predominantly been around the north east coast off North and South Shields, and the north west coast of Scotland.  The status of southern Kittiwakes, especially on the Atlantic fringe, has been less well studied.  In 2015, after some years of initial scoping, we began a formal study of a focal colony on Lundy, an Atlantic island off the north Devon coast.  Kittiwakes colonies on this island have been in decline for many years, and a number of colonies have failed.  It is not clear whether or not this failure is due to food stress.  Other issues, including predation, seem to play a role in reducing the population; especially the predation of eggs and chicks.  In this talk I will discuss the pressures faced by Kittiwakes, and some of what is known about their behavioural adaptations.  I will also overview two years of what we plan as a very long term study.  Thus far we have been developing our methods for estimating average clutch size at the colony, as this is a key index of investment by breeding adults.  Typically, colonies are only monitored by counting apparently occupied nests, but this measure introduces a number of inaccuracies and fails to fully capture Kittiwake decisions.  Finally, I will broaden the discussion with some speculations about the broader food web dynamics on the island, and how predator decisions may be influenced by human actions.


Tom Dickins is professor of behavioural science at Middlesex University.  His background is in psychological sciences (BSc; CNAA), philosophy of science (MSc; London) and evolutionary psychology (PhD; Sheffield); and much more recently, ecology (PG Cert; Oxford).  His research interests fall into behavioural ecology and theoretical concerns within evolutionary biology.  Previously Tom has worked on reproductive scheduling in humans, evolution and development, and concepts of causation in evolution.  Presently he is working on gull species; the Kittiwakes of this talk and urban gulls (Laridae) in London and Bath.



Thursday, 19 January 2017

Research Seminar: Dr Jon Silas (Middlesex University)

*** Everyone Welcome! No need to book in advance ***

Date: Thursday 2nd February
Time: 16:00-17:00
Room: College Building C133

Dr Jon Silas (Middlesex University) 
'Methods in the Madness: Non-Invasive Stimulation and Imaging Techniques in Cognitive Neuroscience'

In this talk rather than focus on research related to a particular psychological phenomena or topic I will outline and consider different approaches to understanding cognition by probing the brain. Modern cognitive neuroscience is punctuated by advances in technology that allow for a better examination of brain structure and function. These new neuro-methods have allowed for the examination of psychological process and function that have hitherto remained unobservable. Using examples from my own research I will discuss several different, relatively recent, advances in brain imaging and stimulation technologies that allow for us to explore brain structure and function and elaborate on a mechanistic account of cognition. Much of my research has examined the human mirror neuron system and how such a system might contribute to social cognition. I will largely draw on this research, and some examples from my research into olfaction and memory, to explore different methods in cognitive neuroscience. I will mostly be discussing Electroencephalography (EEG) and Transcranial Electrical Stimulation (TES) with some consideration of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). 

Jon Silas joined the department of psychology at Middlesex last year in April. He completed his doctoral research at the University of Roehampton in 2010 where he used Electroencephalography and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to study the role of the so-called ‘mirror neuron system’ in social cognition and action understanding. He completed a post-doctoral research programme at the University of Pennsylvania in a position funded by the Department of Defence to explore olfactory dysfunction in early-onset Parkinson’s disease. Jon then returned to the University of Roehampton to take up a lecturing post where he continued his research into mirror neuron system functioning, olfaction and developed an interest in broader cognitive neuroscientific methods including functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Transcranial Electrical Stimulation.