Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Gull cognition

I’m a PhD student conducting animal behaviour research. My research involves field observations and experimental studies of animals in natural settings as they interact with their environment. This is often referred to as ethology or behavioural biology, but, as I’m particularly interested in the cognitive mechanisms animals use to negotiate the environment and solve problems that impact on fitness (survival and reproduction), my research falls under comparative cognition.

Generalist species are those that can live in and invade a number of different environments.  It is likely that complex cognition, or ‘intelligence’, plays a key role in generalist behaviour. I am currently developing and conducting a number of studies to assess the assumptions of the Cognitive Buffer Hypothesis (CBH; Sol, 2009) using gull species (Family: Laridae) as a model system.

The CBH proposes that large brains, and by assumption sophisticated cognition, evolved to buffer organisms living in stochastic ecologies enabling them to produce flexible behavioural responses. Gulls are a family of generalist species that have invaded novel environments and particularly urban areas in the UK. I hope to provide a direct test of the CBH by assessing differences in neophobia, exploratory behaviour, innovative problem-solving and social learning among gulls in mixed-species foraging aggregations in coastal and urban areas.

My urban field sites are Billingsgate Market, a large seafood market in East London, and ZSL London ZooBillingsgate attracts a large number of gulls that aggregate in the car park areas to exploit waste from fish processing as a food resource. At present I am conducting observational research at this location assessing differences in foraging strategies used by competitively unequal gull species in mixed-species foraging aggregations.

The penguin enclosure at London Zoo attracts gulls of various species that exploit food provisions. At this site I am assessing the responses of gulls to a novel environmental object containing food.

These research projects are being conducted with the support and assistance of a number of institutions, including the Corporation of London (Billingsgate Market) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL); and I am collaborating with the North Thames Gull Group, an ornithological group that study the migration and movement of gulls around the Thames region.        

Robert Spencer

Friday, 24 May 2013

Childhood exposure to pornography: A report from FPS Middlesex University and partners

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner calls for urgent action to protect children from exposure to pornography based on Rapid Evidence Assessment conducted by Forensic Psychological Services at Middlesex University in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire, Canterbury Christchurch University and University of Kent.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England is calling for urgent action to develop children’s resilience to pornography following a research report it commissioned which found that:

  • a significant number of children access pornography;
  • pornography influences their attitudes towards relationships and sex;
  • pornography is linked to risky behaviour such as having sex at a younger age;
  • and there is a correlation between holding violent attitudes and accessing more violent media.

"Basically... porn is everywhere" - A Rapid Evidence Assessment on the Effects that Access and Exposure to Pornography has on Children and Young People, a report published today, also found that:

  • Children and young people’s exposure and access to pornography occurs both on and offline but in recent years the most common method of access is via internet enabled technology
  • Exposure and access to pornography increases with age
  • Accidental exposure to pornography is more prevalent than deliberate access
  • There are gender differences in exposure and access to pornography with boys more likely to be exposed to and deliberately access, seek or use pornography than girls.

It concludes that there are still many unanswered questions about the effect exposure to pornography has on children: a situation the Office of the Children’s Commissioner considers requires urgent action in an age where extreme violent and sadistic imagery are two clicks away.

The report is based on a review of published evidence led by Middlesex University in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire, Canterbury Christchurch University and University of Kent, supplemented by a focus group of young people. The researchers identified 41,000 items of academic literature about pornography undertaking an in-depth analysis of 276 to draw its conclusions.

The report welcomes the work being done by Claire Perry, MP on internet controls, in her role as advisor to the Prime Minister. It makes a series of recommendations in addition to carrying out further research.

Dr Miranda Horvath, Senior Lecturer, Middlesex University said:

It is clear that children and young people want and need safe spaces in which they can ask questions about, and discuss their experiences with pornography. The onus must be on adults to provide them with evidence based education and support and help them to develop healthy, not harmful relationships with one another.

When pornography is discussed, it is often between groups of people with polarised moral views on the subject. Rather than adopting a particular ideological stance, this report uses evidence based research to draw its conclusions and further the debate.

A BBC News report can be found here.

Dr Miranda Horvath
Deputy Director of Forensic Psychological Services

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Fully funded PhD at Strathclyde

Fully funded PhD Studentship

Closing date for applications: 28 June 2013

Application of theory of planned behaviour to understanding teacher attitudes and behaviour in including learners with intellectual disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

Applications are invited for one full time, 3 year PhD studentship to address the above topic, commencing in October 2013.

Previous research indicates that mainstream teacher attitudes may well be a contributory barrier to successful inclusive practices in mainstream classrooms. The theory of planned behaviour (TPB) provides a useful framework for understanding the complex relationships among attitudes, intentions and behaviour.  To date, it has not been applied in this area of education.

The project provides an exciting opportunity for an ambitious graduate student to contribute a novel test of a major theory and to develop skills in both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

The successful applicant is likely to have a strong background in developmental, educational and/or social psychology; interests in children with special needs would be an advantage.

The successful applicant will need to have a First or 2.1 degree in Psychology at the start of studentship in October 2013. Strong preference will be given to applicants with post-graduate qualifications (e.g., an MSc) or relevant postgraduate research experience.

The studentship, funded by the University of Strathclyde, will cover Home (UK/EU) fees, plus a stipend equivalent to current Research Council grants. Overseas students can apply for the studentships but will be expected to fund the difference between Home/EU and Overseas student fees.

Informal enquiries can be made to Professor Lisa Woolfson (

Monday, 20 May 2013

Impact: The Earth is Burning

This statement, from the editor of Science on Friday and which follows on from the DORA statement, makes interesting reading and appears to signify another nail in the coffin of the IF.

Much debate from Bishop et al, elsewhere

Neil Martin

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Visiting speaker: Ed Morrison

Something in the way she moves: motion and physical attractiveness

University of Portsmouth

Date: 23 May 2013
Time: 4pm
Venue: HG09

Much has been learned in recent decades about physical attractiveness in humans. Computer graphics techniques have given us much insight into the biological basis of beauty. However, a potential limitation of much of this research is that it relies on static images, whereas real-life judgments are made on dynamic, moving stimuli. In the animal kingdom, movement is certainly important when it comes to courtship, but not much is known about whether movement itself is important in human attractiveness. I will present evidence using motion-tracking and motion-capture technology that movement of the face and body does contain important information about attractiveness. Furthermore, the way you move may be as important as the way you look for some aspects of attractiveness. New technology for studying movement is opening up a previously unexplored research avenue.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Music and Communication

I have been invited to attend this conference – anyone interested? Updates will be posted on the Nordoff-Robbins website.


Inaugural Nordoff Robbins Plus Conference
Music and Communication: Music Therapy and Music Psychology
20th September 2013, Nordoff Robbins, London Centre

One of the key reasons people engage with music, whether as performers, listeners, therapists, researchers, or teachers, is because of its communicative potential. We would like to explore together with you what we mean by music and communication and would like to invite you to our conference on Music and communication: Music Therapy and Music Psychology, at Nordoff Robbins, London Centre, UK, on the 20th of September, 2013.

This will be the first in a series of Nordoff Robbins Plus Conferences. The series aims to provide multi-disciplinary and cross institutional thinking – each time we will be organising the conference with another institution. This time we are working with the Centre for Music and Science, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge.

The conference will bring together leading researchers and practitioners from different areas related to music and communication. We will begin with invited keynote papers and responses from the perspectives of music therapy and music psychology. These will be followed by poster presentations and group and panel discussions arranged around the following question:

What should we all know about music and communication?

Abstracts for submissions of posters that report on empirical and theoretical research on music and communication are invited. These contributions are welcome from a broad range of disciplines, including but not limited to the following: Cognitive science, Composition, Education, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Performance studies, Philosophy, Psychology, Psychoacoustics, Sociology, and Therapy.

Submission guidelines and dates

Maximum length of the abstracts is 250 words for posters of size A1.

Abstract submission deadline: 14th June 2013.

Notification of acceptance: 17th July 2013

Registration deadline: 1st of September 2013.

Regular fee: £60 / Student fee: £30

Please visit for more information, or contact Neta Spiro at .

The conference website will be updated regularly over the coming months, so please check back for up-to-date information concerning the speakers and more.

Looking forward to seeing you in September,

Neta and Mercedes

Dr Neta Spiro
Conference Chair

Prof Mercédès Pavlicevic
Director of Research


Let me know if you are.

Fabia Franco

Australian Journal of Psychology Special Issue

The Australian JP special issue on Psychology & Teaching is freely available and includes a 5-year study of plagiarism reduction and other interesting snippets on applying psychology to learning.

Neil Martin