Thursday, 8 December 2011

Microcurrent Therapy – Evidenced practice or another way to rip offpatients?

Electrotherapy – the use of electrical currents to treat medical problems and diseases – has a long history in the medical and therapy based professions. By way of illustration, it is often cited that the Romans used electric eels as a means to bring about pain relief. Just because the Romans did it does not necessarily mean that it was a good, nor necessarily an effective way of dealing with a medical problem! In more recent times – say the last 100 years – there have been a plethora of ‘treatments’ using a wide range of electrical, electromagnetic and associated energies as a means to treat a wide range of clinical problems, ranging from obesity through depression to arthritis and sporting injuries. Some of these therapies have a substantial research base whilst others are rather more weakly supported.

There is a trend at the moment for ‘home based’ therapy devices : patients purchase their own machine and carry out their own treatments at home – reducing the need to attend therapy clinics or hospitals in order to be ‘treated’. This can indeed be a very effective way to get an effective treatment at low cost and with minimal disruption to work, sporting or social activities and the reduce the burden on an overstretched Health Service. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) has become a popular application for DIY pain relief. Machines can be easily purchased in high street pharmacies or from web based retailers. There is a good evidence base for its efficacy and is used by therapists and pain specialists the world over on this basis.

Microcurrent therapy is a ‘modern’ version of an electrical stimulation application. It employs a very small electric current (less than one thousandth of an amp) delivered through electrodes placed on the skin. The current is so small, the patient does not actually feel anything. In principle, this small current is designed to stimulate, or enhance, the small, naturally occurring currents in the body which appear to be disrupted on injury, and furthermore, appear to be part of the tissue healing process.

If these small natural electric currents are as important as some of the research suggests that they are, it is logical to use an external device to support their effects, especially when healing is disrupted or stalled as we see in many patients coming to therapy.

There are many types of microcurrent machine. They are relatively inexpensive (from less than a hundred pounds), they are usually small, portable, battery powered and easy to use. This makes them very attractive as a home based therapy device, and the commercial world has recognised this, and the market is getting flooded with machines which are claimed to treat just about everything from pain relief in arthritis through to treating depression and just about everything in between.

There is good research evidence to support their use for various wounds (leg ulcers for example) and for bone fractures which are not healing well. We have been researching the use of microcurrent therapy in other clinical problems such as Tennis Elbow, and some work about to start with low back pain. It would seem that there is an advantage to using these devices, and also support for their use as a home based therapy. That having been said, we did not find that the more expensive machines necessarily provided ‘better’ therapy, nor that the ‘complex’ and ‘patterned’ stimulation sequences gave better results. In fact, it is not actually known yet which is the best way to use these devices, nor do we know for sure, which parts of the microcurrent therapy systems are the most important – time, strength of the current or how it is delivered etc.

Our results to date, certainly with the Tennis Elbow study would suggest that using a small amount of current over a prolonged period of time (hours a day as opposed to minutes) seems to give the best results. This would be in line with the findings from other research groups around the world.

Buying an expensive machine does not necessarily provide value for money – in that more costly does not mean that you will necessarily get better faster. Machines which offer special features – all the bells and whistles – do not necessarily give better results. Some patients are certainly being asked to part with a lot of money for a machine that simply does not do what it says on the label. The treatment therefore gets a ‘bad press’ and is labelled as ‘mumbo jumbo’. To some extent, that is fair enough in that there are claims made which are not supported by the research BUT that does not mean that the whole of microcurrent therapy is ineffective – just that you have to get it right – just like any drug based therapy or exercise or any other treatment.

We are seriously looking at what it is about microcurrent therapy that makes it effective, what it is most effective for and how it should be best used. If it works and is a research supported treatment, it makes sense to use it. If it is simply a way of getting patients in pain to part with their hard earned cash, then it should be dropped and people should not be ‘conned’ into buying the machines.

At the present time, it looks like it is effective for treating some medical problems. Once we know the most effective way of using the therapy, we can be more focussed. In the meantime, there will, inevitably, be retailers who will sell the machines to anybody willing to part with some money. Hopefully, we will be able to find out the real story before another type of electrical treatment gets wrongly labelled as being all ‘smoke and mirrors’ and before patients are tricked into spending money on a treatment that is not really effective.

Scientific Formula for Cutting Christmas Costs

With recent research showing that a massive 40% of shoppers are planning to spend less on Christmas this year, a North West shopping centre has taken the unique measure to step in and create the perfect shopping formula to help shoppers become festively frugal, without being seen as a ‘Scrooge’.

The ‘gift giver’ formula, commissioned by Warrington-based Golden Square Shopping Centre, has been developed by Professor Karen Pine to help people decide on the right amount to spend on everyone on their gift list this year, whether they’re having a cut-back Christmas or a festive blow-out.

“This is the time of year when most people feel under pressure to spend more than they should. The act of giving and receiving gifts has social and emotional significance and so it is a real danger area for over-spenders”, says the University of Hertfordshire Psychology Professor and author of Sheconomics, a book on the psychology of shopping.

“Many shoppers will be tempted to impulse buy, spend too much and risk going into debt – a real issue in the current economic climate.”

With UK households shown to spend most on Christmas in Europe with an average spend of £673.56, Golden Square’s ‘gift giver’ formula is an innovative way of helping apply a more logical approach to your spending budget for the Christmas season.

Ian Cox, Marketing Manager at Golden Square said: “We realise that it may sound strange that a shopping centre is helping shoppers to cut back on their Christmas budget, but this season is the time of year that sees most people slip into debt.

“The Golden Square ‘gift giver’ formula has been designed to help shoppers be practical with their budget this year and think responsibly about how much they can afford to indulge, while keeping the joy of the Christmas shopping experience alive.”

The formula takes into account two key factors: your current financial situation as well as the closeness to the person you are spending for to help cash-strapped customers budget wisely and not rely on debt to help them get through the season.

So what is the magic formula?

Average spend - Financial situation X Closeness = CHRISTMAS SPEND

To work this out you:

1. Take the average amount you spend on most gifts.

Do this by taking the total amount you spend and divide it by the number of people you buy for (exclude your partner or anyone you spend a lot more on).

2. Reduce the amount to take account of your financial situation.

Unless we’ve won the lottery, we should all take off 5% for austerity/inflation or up to 20% if you’ve hit harder times.

3. Adjust that amount for closeness*.

Add half as much again for someone you are very close to. But consider spending just a quarter of that amount for anyone you are buying for out of obligation.

*The Closeness Scale

See where the person you are buying for fits on the scale below. Then adjust the amount that you spend.

I’m just buying this person a present out of habit/obligation.I’m buying this person a present partly out of obligationI’m buying them a present because we are closeI’m buying them a present because we are very close
Divide by 4
Divide by 2

Multiply by 1.2

Multiply by 1.5

So, for example, a person spending £300 on 10 people last year, reduced 5% for inflation and buying it for a person partly out of obligation, should spend just £14.25 on their gift.

With ‘Panic Saturday’, traditionally the busiest day for Christmas shopping, around the corner on Saturday 17 December, this gift giver formula is sure to help savvy shoppers keep festive while analysing their spending habits.

Ian Cox, Marketing Manager at Golden Square said: “Our Golden Square ‘gift giver’ formula will help shoppers stick to their spending resolutions whilst still being able to enjoy the fun of gift giving over Christmas.

“We have some specially trained Customer Service representatives in the centre who are available during the festive season to help shoppers calculate what they should be spending.”

With so many people suffering job losses in the past twelve months the formula considers that if someone has been harder hit financially during the past year this should be reflected in a smaller spend on gifts and more consideration on stopping gift giving for people that we buy token gifts for purely out of obligation. Professor Pine’s retail rules consist of appropriateness, empathy and effort.

Professor Karen Pine concludes: “Gift giving is a social, cultural and economic experience that exists across all across human societies. It is extremely important for maintaining social relationships and expressing feelings. However, sometimes these feelings give way to a sense of obligation, buying for the sake of it, or even competitiveness, spending too much so as not to appear mean.

“Using the ‘gift giver’ formula will help to bring back the real meaning to gift giving. It reminds us to just give presents to those people we are close to. If that means not giving to those who have become an ‘obligation’, that makes sound economic sense.”

New Move to Use Robots for Stroke Rehabilitation

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have just begun a three-year project, which uses robots to help people to recover from strokes.

Dr Farshid Amirabdollahian, an expert in rehabilitation robotics and assistive technologies and a senior lecturer in adaptive systems at the University's School of Computer Science is co-ordinating a new FP7 European project called SCRIPT - Supervised Care and Rehabilitation Involving Personal Tele-robotics.

The project team plans to develop robotic devices, which will facilitate repetitive movement of the hand and wrist to be delivered during the chronic phases of stroke rehabilitation.

"The project focus on hand and wrist exercise presents the least researched area in this field and has the potential to make a big contribution to personal independence," said Dr Amirabdollahian. “Our developed prototypes will be available for home use and in a motivating and engaging context, which should provide easier and more frequently available tools, which should in turn affect the patient recovery”.

Read more

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

New Research into Robotic Companions for Older People

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire are developing a robotic system which will be a suitable companion for older people.

Dr Farshid Amirabdollahian, a senior lecturer in Adaptive Systems and expert in Rehabilitation Robotics and Assistive Technologies at the University is coordinating a new FP7 European project called ACCOMPANY – Acceptable Robotics Companions for Ageing Years – which will develop a robot to assist with everyday tasks in the home. The principal investigator for this project is Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn who has a substantial track record in human-robot interaction studies and companion robots.

Over the three-year period of the project, the researchers will carry out research in the University’s Robot House. They will use a Care-o-bot® 3 to carry out a wide range of studies with older people to assess their requirements and acceptance of the robot as part of an intelligent home environment. Results will then be fed back to adapt the technology so that it better suits user demands and preferences.

“The envisaged relationship between the user and the robot is that of co-learner, whereby the robot and user provide mutual assistance and so that the user is not dominated by technology, but feels empowered by it,” said Dr Amirabdollahian. “Our aim is to use the robot to increase independence and quality of life.”

 Read more

Investigating Food Safety Practices in UK Kitchens

Researchers at the Universities of Hertfordshire and Newcastle have been commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to look at food safety practices in UK kitchens.

Dr Wendy Wills at the University’s Centre for Primary and Community Care will lead an 18 month project to explore what people do in their kitchens and how design, appliances and other resources like hot water influence how food is stored, prepared and eaten and whether this is related to the level of bacteria in domestic kitchens.

The researchers will use a variety of methods to fully interrogate the kitchen life of 20 case study households across the UK, including video recording, photography, drawing maps and swabbing for bacteria. The results will help the FSA in future activity and communication with a range of stakeholders about how rates of foodborne illness can be reduced.

“The importance of understanding domestic food safety practices has become a high priority for the FSA, particularly in relation to groups known to be vulnerable to foodborne disease, including the over 60s and pregnant women,” said Dr Wills. “In order to understand why people do what they do, we need to explore all aspects of the kitchen and the role it plays for the entire household.”

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Care of chronic diseases is moving out of hospitals – but are patients happy with this?

Joan is a patient with diabetes who has been managed by the Diabetes Consultant at the hospital for many years. She has confidence in knowing that she is seen by a specialist. Then she is told that her care can be as well managed by her GP surgery. When she turns up at the surgery she finds that it is the Practice Nurse who will be mainly managing her care now. Joan frets that the standard of care may not be so good as she is no longer being seen by a “specialist”.

Primary care led diabetes management reflects a move of chronic disease care away from the hospital setting, and is seen as the most appropriate way of managing stable long term conditions. However, a paper recently published by myself and colleagues in the International Journal of Nursing Studies explores the response of patients to care being moved out of hospitals. We found that patients were more at ease with their chronic disease being managed by the hospital which they regarded as having specialist expertise in a particular chronic disease. When asked how they would feel if their care was to be managed mostly by a primary care based nurse who had received extra training in that condition, the response was commonly one of mistrust, but they would go onto say that it was probably more because they were just simply used to seeing a consultant.

There appears to be a fundamental issue with patients’ assumptions about who is competent and appropriate to review their condition. It seems that many of the public are not aware of the significant steps nursing has taken in advancing their competencies in chronic disease management. For example,  the majority of nurses working in this area are independent prescribers following extensive training. We suggest there is a need to increase public awareness about what to expect in the management of their condition and the qualifications and experience of those practitioners they are likely to encounter.

Dr Patricia Wilson is the Research Lead for Patient Experience & Public Involvement at the University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Research in Primary & Community Care.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Research Shows the Power of Hand Gestures in Police Interviews

In a research thesis entitled The Misleading Potential of Communicative Hand Gestures in a Forensic Interview, Daniel Gurney conducted a series of four studies based on role plays of police interview scenarios which proved that hand gestures can exert an influence on witnesses and skew their responses when questioned.

"We found that eyewitness could be led to believe they saw something they didn’t when the interviewer performed misleading hand gestures,"  he said.  "For example, many people remembered a man having a beard when they saw the interviewer rubbing his chin."

According to Dr Gurney, this is the first study to show that eyewitnesses can be misled non-verbally and continues research into how gestures can communicate carried out by his supervisor, Professor Karen Pine.

Dr Gurney is now continuing his research and is looking at the influence of hand gestures in more severe crime scenarios, where a ‘stabbing’ gesture can cause eyewitnesses to remember a crime being more violent than it actually was.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

"Philosophy is what you want to keep in a good world"

On 23rd of April 2010, Bill Gates gave a talk at MIT in which he asked: “are the brightest minds working on the most important problems?” By “the most important problems” he meant “improving the lives of the poorest; improving education, health, nutrition”. Unfortunately, the list should probably include improving peaceful interactions, human rights, environmental conditions, living standards… and this is only the beginning. Clearly, the brightest philosophical minds should not be an exception, but turn their attention to such pressing challenges.

The first question is how. Of course, one may stop philosophising and start doing something about this messy world instead. We may, in other words, close down our philosophy departments and never corrupt our brightest youths philosophically. Yet, such solution smacks of self-defeat. It would be like deciding to burn the wicker basket in which we are travelling, because our hot air balloon is descending too quickly. Philosophy is what you want to keep in a good world, not what you want to get rid of in a bad one. So there must be a different way forward. The fact is that philosophy can be extremely helpful, for it is philosophy, understood as conceptual design, that forges the new ideas, theories, perspectives and more generally the intellectual framework that can then be used to understand and deal with the ultimate questions that challenge us so pressingly. In the team effort made by the brightest minds, the philosophical ones can contribute insights and visions, analyses and syntheses, heuristics and solutions that can empower us to tackle the most important problems. Every little effort helps in the battle against idiocy, obscurantism, intolerance, fanaticisms and fundamentalisms of all kinds, bigotry, prejudice and mere ignorance. If this sounds self-serving recall that the longer the jump forward is, the longer the run-up to it should be. Or, with a different metaphor, philosophy takes care of the roots, so that the rest of the plant might grow more healthily.

Read the full article in Philosopher’s Eye

This opinion piece is one of a series of five being released this week and next to celebrate World Philosophy Day and to publicise the upcoming workshop entitled Editor’s Cut – A view of philosophical research from journal editors. the workshop will take place at the University of London on Friday 13th of January 2012.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

‘Legal high’ drugs are misleading and not ‘safe’

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has published a ground-breaking report  on tackling the issue of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), sometimes euphemistically referred to as ‘legal highs’ by retailers and consumers alike.

The concern about such products is they are being used recreationally without consumers actually appreciating what they are taking. Retailers of branded products do not state what is inside the packets they sell i.e. the ingredients – so the potential consumer does not know what they are taking. It’s likely the retailers themselves don’t even know. Even if the names of the active ingredients are listed there is no guarantee as to quality or consistency over time. Because there has been no scientific investigation of these novel psychoactive substances, the pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, metabolism, and toxicity of these products are unknown. Labelling products as ‘legal highs’ can also be misleading on at least 2 counts: (a) ‘legal’ does not imply ‘safe’; and (b) many of the products actually still contain controlled drugs.

Governments have tried to keep pace with these rapid developments, trying to ascertain whether such substances pose any harm to individuals and society. However, it is very difficult to know in real time what is actually being used by consumers as the time taken by many of these substances to emerge and then disappear again off the radar has typically been very short. Many Governments have rapidly controlled these substances through ‘generic’ legislation. The result of this was that these ‘research chemists’ started changing the molecular structures of substances so that they could get round these new controls. Control using ‘analogue’ legislation also has its problems. This report from the ACMD sets out a number of “tried and tested” as well as novel options to regulate/ control such substances. The UK Government will now consider these options. At a European level, similar considerations have started. Our informed international sources say that a copy of the report is on its way to the White House!

We, at the School of Pharmacy welcome these developments to which we contributed through research being carried out by myself, Professor Fabrizio Schifano and Dr Ornella Corazza through her work on the RedNet Project.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Social context must be taken into account when tackling obesity

Even when alone, what you choose to eat is influenced by who you are – your gender, age, ethnicity and background for example. I am particularly interested in the way that social class influences what teenagers and their families eat. For a number of years I have been conducting interviews with teenagers and parents from different social class groups. In the paper I have just published with colleagues in the Sociological Review, we use the example of two families, the working class Watsons and the middle class Connell family to illustrate not just the different foods that they eat but the way that their beliefs and values inform their eating habits.

The Connells had lots of foreign holidays with their daughters, ate in restaurants and encouraged their children to try new foods, widen their tastes and taught them the importance of doing so. It was considered unacceptable by Mrs Connell for her girls to be ‘fussy’ eaters – that is, to not accept the values the family wished to instil in them. In the Watson household, the emphasis was on ‘getting by’ – everyone eating what they wanted, when they needed to, to ensure that daily life could proceed as smoothly as possible.

The context for everyday eating was very different for our families, with the Connells describing a secure lifestyle where food, eating and health could more easily be prioritised. For the Watsons, life was more chaotic and insecure. Some of our working class participants worried daily about their children in terms of who they were with inside and outside school, whether they were drinking or smoking and also whether their neighbourhoods were safe. In this context, whether children were eating breakfast simply became of lower importance.

When trying to tackle inequalities in diet and obesity it is incredibly important that social context is taken account of. This is not easy and very often policy tends to favour the middle class approach to diet and health. This is not helpful for those from lower social class groups and we urgently need to find ways of capitalising on the good things that many disadvantaged families are doing in terms of feeding their children.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Shaping the Future

We have just launched Shaping the Future, a publication which showcases over 30 University of Hertfordshire research activities.

Read about KASPAR, a robot that helps children with autism to communicate, solutions for teenage obesity and the first carbon neutral home that goes a long way to addressing the UK's housing issues.

Let us know what you think and if you would like a paper copy.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Dark Sky Discovery sites

Astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire are taking part in Dark Sky Discovery – a pioneering new national and regional partnership of astronomy and environmental organisations led by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which is being launched this week (24 October).

The Hertfordshire team is working with Exmoor National Park to set up a camera to monitor the sky at Exmoor, which has recently been designated Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. The camera will join a network that includes identical cameras on the Isle of Wight, Guernsey and at the University of Hertfordshire. These cameras can discover anything that changes in the night sky. For example, they are poised to catch a supernova event and Exmoor represents an excellent dark site to do this from. Together the cameras regularly detect meteors and with views from different locations have the potential to find the path of an incoming meteor and help in the recovery of meteorites.

In the Eastern region, University of Hertfordshire astronomers are also considering a number of Dark Sky Discovery sites.

Professor Hugh Jones from the University of Hertfordshire says “An excellent example of an early partnership that we have established is with Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. The park provides a range of locations with access to dark skies along with good public transport links and other amenities.”

Coverage of the story can be found here

And here

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Goal to Build 30 More KASPARs to Help Children with Autism

Our researchers have a goal to build over 30 more KASPAR robots to help children with autism.

Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and her team first designed KASPAR (short for Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics) in 2005, as part of a study for the European Union (EU) Robotcub project. Realising the robot’s potential as a therapeutic tool for children with autism, the team developed the prototype further.

So far, KASPAR has been trialled with 50 children across the autistic spectrum. As a social mediator, the robot has produced remarkable results for some children.

So what next for KASPAR?

“Field results are over and above what we expected. We are hugely encouraged by this progress and by the interest from autism experts, as well as teachers and parents. The fact that KASPAR is one of the three key platforms in the EU Roboskin project, suggests a bright future for KASPAR in this and other application areas. As intellectual property holders of this technology, we’re now looking to extend the project’s scope in the hope of moving it closer to commercialisation, which is a necessary step towards making the robot widely available. Our next goal is to build many more KASPARs, ideally over 30, and to undertake a five-year, larger-scale evaluation study, working with around 200 children,” explains Professor Dautenhahn.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Research into New Technique to Stop Steel Corroding

According to Dr Andreas Chrysanthou in the School of Engineering and Technology, applying electromagnetic fields to steel can protect against corrosion and make savings of  50 percent.

This is good news for the automotive, defence, construction and aerospace industries.

Dr Chrysanthou has now been awarded a further €278,680 for a two-year FP7 Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship (IIF) project to investigate the effect of applying these electromagnetic fields on the properties of structural metals.

“Our previous work has shown that using electromagnetic treatment as a post-processing routine increases corrosion resistance in steel by about 50 percent,” said Dr Chrysanthou. “Now we need to understand the microstructural effects that take place when the field acts on the steel.”

Read more about Dr Chrysanthou's research in this field

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Do you have a Jekyll and Hyde approach to saving energy?

Nadine Page in the School of Psychology carried out some research into people's behaviour around energy-saving and found that 86% of her research sample were more likely to try to save energy at home rather than in the workplace.

"The external drivers of behaviour also differed according to context," she said. "Participants reported that having good leadership and positive role models was important for motivating them to save energy in the workplace whereas at home, they saved energy to be financially rewarded."

These results show that energy-saving actions differ systematically according to context and the reasons for saving energy in the workplace are very different to those that motivate behaviours in and around the home.

"By identifying the similarities and differences between contexts, and gaining a better understanding of people in each of these, we can ensure that interventions have greater success at effecting change in the longer-term," said Nadine.

Read more

It would be good to know about any strategies our readers have adopted to save energy in the workplace, so leave us some comments, please.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

New Mathematical Model to Enable Web Searches for Meaning

A new theory of meaning which has the potential to enable web searches that interpret the actual meaning of queries rather than just searching for words or phrases, has been developed by Dr Daoud Clarke.

In a paper published online in Computational Linguistics, Dr Clarke describes how he has built a mathematical model based on the idea that the meaning of words and phrases is determined by the contexts in which they occur.

“This is an old idea, with its origin in the philosophy of Wittgenstein, and was later taken up by linguists,” said Dr Clarke, “but this is the first time that someone has used it to construct a comprehensive theory of meaning.”

Read more

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Hertfordshire researchers to push forward an asset-based approach to health and wellbeing

University of Hertfordshire researchers are to host an international conference at the British Library next week (26-27 September), which will explore how asset based approaches can enhance health among communities.

A health asset is any factor or resource which enhances the ability of individuals, communities and populations to maintain and sustain health and wellbeing. The conference, Assets for Health and Wellbeing across the life course, will focus on methods identifying, measuring and evaluating assets for health and wellbeing.

“What we aim to do is push forward the argument for using asset-based approaches to health and wellbeing,” said Dr Wendy Wills, one of the organizers at the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Research into Primary and Community Care. “Asset-based approaches are important because they focus on the positive things that people are already doing to protect and promote their own health instead of continually looking at the negatives. We have around sixty speakers from around the world presenting at the conference so this gives us an ideal opportunity to share our research evidence and discuss best practice."

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire will be among those presenting their findings at the conference. Key contributions include The contribution of a community food group to older people’s  nutritional and social well-being in which Dr Angela Dickinson will examine the role community food groups play in terms of nutritional and social support to older people; other Hertfordshire papers will explore the range of social determinants on adolescent health, propose an asset mapping process to facilitate the capturing of children’s wellbeing, and assess the benefit of using Appreciative Enquiry to improve end of life care.

For further information click here

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

It's official - First impressions do count!

It is often said that we make judgments about people in the first three seconds of seeing them. Now new research from psychologists, Professor Karen Pine and Professor Ben Fletcher in collaboration with Mathieson & Brooke Tailors (M&BT),  proves that this is indeed the case and shows how much clothing influences these opinions.

The study shows that wearing a made-to-measure suit, rather than an off-the-peg equivalent, positively affects the judgments people make in those first three seconds. In fact, twice as many people will  view you as confident and successful if you wear a made-to-measure suit rather than an off-the-peg suit.

In the research conducted among 300 participants (males and females aged from 14 to 67) viewed a series of separate images of a man and a woman for just 3 seconds. They were then asked to make ‘snap judgements’ about the person in the picture.

When the man in the picture wore a made-to-measure suit he made a more favourable impression than when he wore a very similar off-the-peg suit of the same colour. People judged him to be more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner than the same man wearing a similar high street equivalent. The man’s face in the picture was blanked out so these different judgments arose purely from observing his attire.

According to Professor Pine, these findings are an important contribution to their ongoing work geared towards reaching a better understanding of the psychology of fashion and clearly highlights the importance of good tailoring.

David Brooke from M&BT acknowledges that a made-to-measure suit is undoubtedly more expensive than some high street suits, but these research findings confirm that it can now be seen as a career investment and an essential ingredient to personal success.

So, see what your first impressions are of the photos below:

Executive summary of Karen Pine's paper on The Effect of Appearance on First Impressions

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New Research Finding Will Protect Vital Global Crops

Light leaf spot on crop
A team of researchers led by Professor Bruce Fitt at the University of Hertfordshire has found a new form of resistance to the damaging pathogen that causes light leaf spot in oilseed rape – one of the world’s most important crops.

In a paper published in Plant Pathology, the team describes a research project done at Rothamsted Research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and KWS UK Ltd, which looked at disease in UK oilseed rape and came up with new findings about crop resistance, which impacts on the global bid to protect arable crops from disease.

Results indicate a novel form of resistance in a specific variety of Brassica napus (oilseed rape) mediated by a single so-called “R gene”. R genes are important for plant resistance to pathogens and they work in various different ways. In this case, the R gene produces a protein inside the plant that can limit pathogen asexual reproduction (which occurs regularly during the cropping season) but allows sexual reproduction (which generally occurs only once a year) and so significantly reduces the chances of a light leaf spot epidemic developing during the crop growing season.

“This is the first time that anyone has come up with a finding like this in crop resistance,” said Professor Fitt, a leading authority on oilseed rape diseases. “Our results could lead to new strategies for breeding resistance against crop pathogens, leading to increased yields and reduced costs both to the farmer and the environment and reduce the need for chemical fungicides.”

Read more

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Social Measures, Education and Rehabilitation of Young Offenders

Guest post by Professor Brian Littlechild, Associate Head of School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work

My recent studies have culminated in a comparative piece of work across the UK and Europe which I undertook for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on 'Social Measures, education and rehabilitation of young offenders', which is being examined by their Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.

My analysis and comments on this subject are based on twenty years of research studies and articles/book chapters, as well as direct practice with young offenders, which is still on-going.

The study looked at how to work with young people and parents to take more responsibility for their actions, whilst at the same time allowing for those young people to still be open to positive socialising influences.  Ethnicity and faith based issues, restorative justice and community programmes, custody, targeting services, young people and their parents in defined geographical areas were all part of this work.

Some examples of some specific programmes recommended were:

  • Provide support for teachers in schools for citizenship and relationship skills, and dealing with difficult behaviour
  • Mentoring, using volunteers, appropriate peers and part-time sessional workers who have credibility with young people in that area/ethnic/faith group
  • Community development/ youth work with ethnic minority/faith   groups in  identified geographical areas
  • Provide parenting programmes based on disadvantaged, high crime, low educational attainment areas
  • Develop restorative justice programmes
  • Develop intensive fostering schemes

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Need for Better Health Management for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have highlighted the need for more effective chronic disease self-management programmes for people with intellectual disabilities.

In a paper published in the Journal of Nursing & Healthcare of Chronic Illness online, Dr Patricia Wilson and Professor Claire Goodman at the University’s Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care recommended that chronic disease self-management programmes across England be modified so that they can help people with intellectual disabilities to manage their chronic disease and access health care.

The researchers used a multiple case study design to evaluate four Expert Patients Programme Community Interest Company (EPP CIC) chronic disease self-management programmes across England. They found that modified versions of these programmes were accessible for people with moderate intellectual disabilities and can influence their disease self-management behaviours, but that these programmes needed to be modified further to be accessible to wider participants. They also found that the programmes which have now been modified by EPP CIC could be particularly effective when integrated with other measures such as exercise classes.

“People with intellectual disabilities are four times more likely to have a chronic disease than the rest of the population, have a shorter life expectancy and experience persistent problems in accessing health services.” said Dr Wilson. “A chronic disease self-management programme modified for people with intellectual disabilities can help this population to manage their chronic disease and access health care.”

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Dr Peter Lovatt: 'Dancing can change the way you think'

Dr Peter Lovatt was featured in the Observer this week claiming that dancing can change the way we think.

At the moment, Dr Lovatt is studying the effects of dance on people with Parkinson's disease and has had some very positive results which will appear on this blog soon.

Now, he also claims that dance contributes to changing thinking patterns. He said:

"We've had people in the lab dancing and then doing problem-solving – and different sorts of dancing help them with different sorts of problem- solving. We know that when people engage in improvised kinds of dance it helps them with divergent thinking – where there's multiple answers to a problem. Whereas when they engage in very structured dance it helps their convergent thinking – trying to find the single answer to a problem."

Read more

Thursday, 28 July 2011

New Protein Structure Model to Inhibit Cancer

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have developed a new structural model of a protein, which makes it possible to develop more effective drugs to target diseases such as cancer, heart disease and influenza.

In a paper which will be published in the Journal of Structural Biology online later this month, a research team lead by Dr Andreas Kukol at the University’s School of Life Sciences, describes how they have developed a new 3D model of a protein which unleashes the inhibition of the growth of cells which, unless stunted, could lead to the spread of cancer or support infections such as influenza.

“Our bodies are made up of proteins and therefore they are important for the proper functioning of the body,” said Dr Kukol. “Malfunction of the protein can lead to cancer. This happens when it becomes over active, so our task has been to identify inhibitors.”

A research team led by Dr Kukol developed a 3D model of the kinase IKK-β enzyme which is a protein that regulates other proteins.

“This enzyme controls proteins like policeman controls traffic,” said Dr Kukol. “If the policeman or the enzyme gets out of control, then there will be chaos.”

The new 3D model can be used to find new inhibitors, such as organic molecules like aspirin that attach to the active site of the enzyme and make it less active thus stopping the spread of cancer or influenza.

The model is now ready for pharmaceutical companies to adopt so that they can develop more effective drugs to target these conditions.

According to Dr Kukol, the comparative modelling and computer simulation methods they used for this protein may be taken up by other research groups. In that way protein structure modelling could lead to more accurate models in the future.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Artist to Portray Cancer in a New Way

An artist at the University of Hertfordshire is developing a large scale artwork to portray cancer to educate people about the disease.

An interview about this can be seen on You Tube launched this week.

Simeon Nelson, Professor of Sculpture at the University has received a £30,000 Wellcome Trust grant to create an artwork on cancer as a complex system at the new UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre, London. The work will be exhibited, included in a book and form part of a symposium once the project ends in April 2012.

As an artist who works with ideas from complexity theory, cybernetics and the philosophy of science, Professor Nelson is fascinated with the biology of the human body, how it assembles itself and how we maintain a sense of self within the growing and ageing process.

“I have always been influenced as an artist by process philosophy,” said Professor Nelson. “I think of things in terms of process and my work addresses growth, decay and the metaphysics of being. I see cancer as a complex system – a group of cells that detach themselves and have a life of their own and then they compete with the body for resources. A minority of scientists view cancer as a complex system, but I am pretty sure that I am the first artist to adopt this approach.” The experience of cancer, issues of mortality, healing and being also inform the artist’s approach.

Professor Nelson has distilled his initial thinking into the following operative metaphors and concepts:
  • viewing cancer as a form of anarchy;
  • looking at the way living systems from cities to cells address and engage with the domains in which they operate (autopoiesis)
  • viewing cancer as a complex system nested within the body and societal system.
The thinking behind this and examples of underpinning artwork and approaches can be seen here

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Twisted ring in the Galactic Centre

Astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire are part of an international team which has observed unprecedented views of a ring in the centre of our Milky Way galaxy with the Herschel Space Observatory.

The ribbon of gas and dust is more than 600 light years across and appears to be twisted, for reasons which have yet to be explained. The origin of the ring could provide insight into the history of the Milky Way.

The new results are published in a recent issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Hints of this feature were seen in previous images of the Galactic Centre made from the ground, but no-one realised what it was,” explained Dr Mark Thompson of the University of Hertfordshire. “It was not until the launch of Herschel, with its unparalleled wavelength coverage, that we could measure the temperature of the dust clouds and determine its true nature.”

The reason for the ring’s twist and offset are unknown, but understanding their origin may help explain the origin of the ring itself. Computer simulations indicate that bars and rings such as those we see in the centre of our Galaxy can be formed by gravitational interactions. It is possible that the structures in the heart of the Milky Way were caused by interactions with our largest neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy.

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. Herschel is a flagship mission of the UK Space Agency, which funds the UK's involvement in the UK-led SPIRE instrument. The SPIRE instrument was built, assembled and tested in the UK at The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire by an international consortium from Europe, US, Canada and China, with strong support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council. SPIRE was developed by a consortium of institutes led by Cardiff Univ. (UK). The images were obtained as part of the Herschel Key Project Hi-GAL, which is led by Sergio Molinari of the Institute of Space Physics in Rome and who is lead author of the new paper.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Doing Something Different for Fitness

Two women who lost over 50lbs as a result of Do Something Different Research (DSD) carried out by University of Hertfordshire psychologists, will take part in Cancer Research UK's Race for Life tomorrow (19 July).

Emma Wedge and Jane Watts got fit using West Norfolk Council's Do Something Different programme.

Both women joined DSD to lose weight and feel fitter. By making small changes to their habits and being aware of the way in which their own behaviour was holding them back, they were able to break the cycle of weight gain.

Now they both feel ready to take on the challenge of the Race for Life at Houghton Hall and raise money for Cancer Research.

THE DSD health and wellbeing programme, created by psychology professors Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire, and based on more than 30 years of research into the field of behaviour change, was adopted by the West Norfolk Partnership in 2009.

The programme uses a variety of easy-to-follow techniques to help people break the habits that are holding them back from making changes to their lifestyles.

Read more about this research

Monday, 11 July 2011

New findings on care home residents’ views on dying

A National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) study which interviewed care home residents over a year to examine how their views and expectations about living and dying and how their views were affected by their experience in the care home has been carried out by Professor Claire Goodman at the University of Hertfordshire.

In a paper entitled An uncertain future: The unchanging views of care home residents about living and dying, which has just been  published online in Palliative Medicine, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire and co-authors from the University of Cambridge, Lancaster University, Surrey , University College London King’s College London, have highlighted the value of ongoing discussions with older care home residents to help staff prioritise and address what is important to the older person.

Contrary to popular belief, older people were no more likely to want to think about advance care plans or advance directives (living wills) just because they were in the last years of their life. Noticing the deaths of other residents did not shape how residents talked about their own mortality and their priorities for end-of-life care. Equally, residents’ views about dying did not change over time and were not dissimilar to the views of the wider population.

The study recruited six care homes and the research aimed to be as inclusive as possible and invited all residents to take part in the study.

One hundred and twenty one residents took part in the study and of these, sixty-three residents were interviewed three times over 2008-2009. The study showed the value of discussions with residents that foster opportunities to talk about dying as part of ongoing conversations. It also suggests that providing opportunities for residents and their families to talk about the future as early as possible, particularly for those with a diagnosis of dementia, may be important.

Read more


Conference to demonstrate how philosophy can enhance quality of life

Motivated by the impact agenda, this week – on July 11 and 12 – Professor Shaun Gallagher and I will be engaged in a new experiment – i.e. learning more about exactly how and to what extent some of our philosophical proposals have made a difference to those that have been inspired beyond academia.

Although we have a lot to say about our philosophical framework in this two-day conference on Embodied and Narrative Practices the philosophy provides only the backdrop. Centre stage is given to the work of practitioners. A range of invited and submitted papers will examine how the philosophical ideas we promote about social cognition have been taken up in applied and clinical work in a variety of areas, including psychopathology and physiotherapy.

Our hope is to learn more, in detail, about why and how adopting the understanding of social cognition we promote matters when it comes to helping improve the everyday interpersonal relations and social understanding of certain individuals – how it makes a real difference to their quality of lives.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Hertfordshire scientists recommend a winning nutrition regime forIronman World Record

Sports scientists at the University of Hertfordshire provided race nutrition advice to Marino 'Bink' Vanhoenacker, who won this year's Ironman Australia.

Testing of Marino's race nutrition involved him coming to the University and riding for three hours and running for two hours, both at Ironman pace. From the data gathered, the scientists were able to determine the maximum absorption level and therefore recommend a strategy based on Marino's anticipated volume of drink consumption and the mixing concentration of the drinks.

Read more

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Fetofit revolutionises foetal monitoring

For years the healthcare sector has been crying out for a revolution in the way that foetal heart rate is monitored during pregnancy and labour. Today, this revolution has materialised due to the work of Midwifery student Betina Andersen from the University of Hertfordshire.

As a student midwife, Betina noticed the pitfalls of the wrap-round elastic belts that are currently used to hold the monitoring transducers in place. As well as presenting hygiene issues, these reusable belts prevent mobility and are reported to be greatly uncomfortable when used for extended periods of time. Identifying a niche in the market, Betina challenged convention and developed Fetofit, a revolutionary strap design that attaches directly onto the front of the abdomen via adhesive pads.

The strap grants mobility in labouring women and a special adhesive means that it can be repositioned and moved easily to trace the foetal heart rate. Because the strap is stuck to the skin, it is also suitable for women of all sizes - a problem that the wrap-round belt has begun to struggle with due to rising obesity levels. The strap has also been designed with added hygiene benefits; as a single person, disposable item, one person is able to reuse their strap but no two women will ever share the same one therefore eliminating the risk of cross-infection.

For her innovative design, Betina was awarded the University’s Proof of Concept award and was also named ‘flare Business of the Year 2011’ in the annual flare competition, an annual enterprise ideas challenge for students and alumni at UH. The strap is patent pending and is ready to be trialled within the NHS.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Consensus virtual screening can reduce costs and time in drug discovery

In the early stages of finding new drugs hundred thousands of molecules are tested for activity. This so-called high-throughput screening is performed using costly robotic equipment. Often it leads to wrong results, which could be false positives or false negatives. Computer-based virtual screening can reduce the high-costs and time required. However, it provides the same or even worse accuracy compared to lab-based screening.

Dr Andreas Kukol, a senior lecturer in Biochemistry at the University has developed methods that combine the results from different virtual screening algorithms in a consensus approach. The results show that some consensus methods can achieve a higher accuracy in predicting active drugs than individual methods on its own.  Dr Kukol said that more efficient computational tools can revolutionise the drug discovery process and shorten the 15 years currently required to develop a new drug.

Read more

Researchers warn about the online availability of the powerfulhallucinogenic drug ‘B-Fly’

Our recently-published research shows that the online availability of a growing number of ‘designer drugs’ such as Bromo-Dragonfly (or simply ‘B-Fly’), a powerful, long-lasting (up to three days) hallucinogenic substance, constitutes a public health challenge.

In a paper entitled Designer Drugs on the Internet: a Phenomenon Out-of-Control? The Emergence of Hallucinogenic Drug Bromo-Dragonfly in Current Clinical Pharmacology published in May,  we describe how increased popularity of the drug has been associated with recent acute intoxications and deaths in a number of countries.

In a comprehensive review of both the peer-reviewed and the anecdotal online data on B-Fly, we explain how the web activity associated with the drug gradually increased since 2005. ‘B-fly’ can allegedly induce profound hallucinations, sound alterations and its high level of toxicity caused a series of hospitalizations and fatalities, especially among young people.

Designer drugs, such as B-Fly, manipulate brain functions in ways we know too little about, and might well have widespread and long terms effects on users. Most of these products are not been approved for human consumption, and they are available online at low prices and thus just a ‘click’ away from our homes. As a response, it is very important to pilot novel prevention and educational models as we are doing at the ReDNet project with the use of interactive technologies and the direct involvement of young people and professionals working with them in our Research Centres across Europe.

Dr Ornella Corazza at the University’s School of Pharmacy is lead author on the paper.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

New atmospheric remote sensing station

A new atmospheric remote sensing station is being set up at the University of Hertfordshire's Bayfordbury Observatory. It will include several optical polarimeters and other instruments for observing clouds and aerosols.

A Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) instrument has been installed - it is like the more familiar RADAR but using laser light instead of radio waves. It detects light from a laser beam reflected from small particles in the atmosphere and provides a profile of atmospheric composition up to an altitude of 20km. One motivation is to make observations of volcanic ash from future eruptions.

The LIDAR is in fact the second of five instruments planned. The station will be gradually enhanced with new instruments over the next twelve months. When the final instruments are installed, the station will be a unique facility not just in the UK but anywhere in the world.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sheconomics: Why more women on boards boosts company performance

‘Diversity prediction theorem’ is now one of the most cutting-edge of all business improvement strategies around. In simple terms, it means adding more women to the mix, a simple strategy that can significantly improve a company’s profitability.

Women currently make up just 12.5% of the board members of FTSE 100 companies. Yet research by McKinsey found a strong link between gender diversity and above-average returns on equity. Data from Gavurin Intelligence revealed that 30% of women on the board tripled a company’s profitability. A study from Pepperdine University showed that companies with at least three women on their boards outperformed competitors by at least 40%. The researchers also found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women in senior management positions scored higher on measures of organisational excellence.

Three, it seems, is the magic number. In Norway one in every three board members is female, following legislative changes made in 2003. Subsequently Norway enjoyed 3% economic growth in 2009 and a budget surplus, while many of its EU neighbours were experiencing economic recession. The data may only be correlational but Norway is now the only country that can be said to have thrived during the economic downturn.

In the UK all FTSE 100 companies have to aim for at least 25% female representation by 2015. If this isn’t achieved quotas will be introduced. I recently gave a talk to company secretaries from twelve of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies. All were in favour of diversity but none wanted quotas. Government recommendations and accountability would alone bring about change, they felt. I wish I could share their optimism. According to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, at the current rate of change it will take more than 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK’s largest 100 companies.

As a psychologist I am interested in the dynamics behind groups that make financial decisions. Homogeneous groups are very similar in their values, beliefs, styles of communication, race and gender. Heterogeneous groups, characterised by wide diversity in these factors, make better decisions and are less at risk of group-think. By adding women to the board, heterogeneity is virtually guaranteed. Balancing male and female attributes and creating a more diverse mix may be the solution to many challenges facing organisations today.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

First images from VLT Survey Telescope open the way for UK-led surveysof the southern sky

The VLT Survey Telescope (VST), the latest addition to ESO’s Paranal Observatory, has made its first release of impressive images of the southern sky. The VST is a state-of-the-art 2.6-metre telescope, with the huge 268-megapixel camera OmegaCAM at its heart, which is designed to map the sky both quickly and with very fine image quality. It is a visible-light telescope that perfectly complements ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope. New images of the Omega Nebula and the globular cluster Omega Centauri demonstrate the VST’s power.

Professor Janet Drew at the University of Hertfordshire is one of the lead astronomers on this study.

Read more

KASPAR Robot celebrated as Big Idea for the Future Research selectedfor leading report

The University of Hertfordshire’s groundbreaking work on a child-like robot it developed to help children with autism, has been chosen as one of the most important research projects taking place in universities today, with the publication today (16 June) of the Big Ideas for the Future report.

The Hertfordshire team led by Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn at the University of Hertfordshire are using interactive humanoid robots as therapeutic ‘toys’ to help children with autism. They developed KASPAR (short for Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics), a child-like robot.

KASPAR can be controlled and tailored to an individual child’s development needs. While obviously non-human, it has simple human features, minimal expressions and predictable movements. The robot acts as a mediator, encouraging children to communicate with people, at first indirectly and then directly. The research has the potential to transform the social and educational development of children living with autism in the future.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Secrets of Coffee Superbrands

I was looking forward to seeing myself on BBC3's Secrets of the Superbrands last night, just to see what I said.  When I filmed the interview last autumn, most of the questions were about the supposed demise of Starbucks, following a very public period of retrenchment.

In the last few weeks, however, we have had a slew of lionising stories about Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ eminence grise accompanying the launch of his new book on how he revived the company.   Things often turn around quickly in the coffee world – after years when stories about the crash in prices paid to coffee farmers surmised that their only hope lay in fair trade,  now the huge spike in prices is generating coverage suggesting growers will not deliver on their contracts with the fair trade  organisation as they chase better returns elsewhere.

As a coffee historian and commentator I try to bring some sense of perspective to these stories, focussing more on the long term processes of change that underlie them  - such as  Italian-style coffee’s  transition from a premium to a mainstream taste, and the rising demand for coffee in producer countries. What did I say last night?  Click here to find out.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Sun at Night

The image below was taken at the University's Bayfordbury Observatory in January by David Campbell  using the Chris Kitchin Telescope and a special filter to emphasis a particular transition of hydrogen.

It's a mosaic of nine images taken with the Tele Vue 102 (4-inch refractor piggybacked in the CKT) and the Lumenera SKYnyx2-1 from the video dome, using the solar H-alpha filter.

It was first broadcast on the Sky at Night on 1st May.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

KASPAR appears on 'Fern' show

A robot which was developed by researchers at the University to help children with autism to learn about social interaction has recently appeared in over 800 news articles nationally and internationally. KASPAR the robot can be controlled and tailored to an individual child’s development needs. While obviously non-human, it has simple human features, minimal expressions and predictable movements.

The robot acts as a mediator, encouraging children to communicate with people, at first indirectly and then directly. Dr Ben Robins, senior research fellow and Kasper also featured on a high profile national programme, the ‘Fern’ show last month, which can be viewed here:

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Can people with Parkinson's Disease dance their way to better health?

Dr Peter Lovatt at the University's School of Psychology, is conducting a study that will look at the types of dance that may alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, which will start next month (June) and needs volunteers.

The study is the first UK study to look at the effects on both physical and psychological responses to dance for people with Parkinson’s. View an interview with Dr Lovatt about the study on You Tube today.

This study will take place in both London and Manchester from early June and needs 15 people who have Parkinson's in each location and 15 who do not have the disease and are willing to act as a control group.

Dr Lovatt and his team will draw on the published research evidence that claims dance can help people with Parkinson's. Participants will do 10 dance classes over six weeks and the research team will measure progress at the beginning and end of the study.

According to Dr Lovatt, existing research indicates that when people dance, their balance and the way they walk improves. In addition early research from the University’s Dance Psychology Lab suggests that dancing can influence the way people think. The challenge now is to find out what kind of dance may help people with Parkinson's.

"We have always known that dance has a positive impact on people's health," said Dr Lovatt. "Dance may be a fun way for people with Parkinson’s to exercise and this study will look at whether this brings physical and psychological benefits.”

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Police hand gestures can influence witness testimony

Hand gestures of police interviewers can make eyewitnesses believe they saw something they didn’t, new research presented at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference this week (Wednesday 4 May) shows.

Seventy-two participants were shown mock-up CCTV footage of a theft by Dr Daniel Gurney and Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire. An on-screen 'police officer' then asked questions about the theft. All participants were asked the same questions, but the questioner varied the hand gestures he performed as he spoke. For example, when asking, 'Did you notice any jewellery?’ he performed a gesture that could ‘implant’ information (e.g. a 'ring' gesture to the finger or 'watch' gesture on the wrist).

A significant number of people reported information that was consistent with the hand gesture they saw. “We were investigating whether interviewers can influence witnesses through nonverbal means”, said Dr Gurney. “By subtle manipulation of simple hand gestures we showed it was possible to make people believe they had seen something that wasn’t there.”

The study ‘Can misleading hand gestures influence eyewitness testimony?’ is the first to examine whether hand gestures can influence witness reports and it adds to the wealth of research on susceptibility of eyewitnesses to misleading verbal questions. “It has long been known that the wording of questions can be misleading,” said Dr Gurney, “but this is the first study to show that gestures, which are often hardly noticed can also mislead.”

“We are aware of the power of nonverbal behaviour in all kinds of human interactions, and this one is no exception”, Professor Pine added. “These findings have considerable implications for interview techniques of witnesses in criminal justice settings and beyond.”

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Do Men and Women Use Twitter Differently?

An analysis of tweets from the Royal Wedding reports that 10,600 UK tweets referred to ‘that dress’ from which an easy assumption could be that most are from women. A study at the University of Hertfordshire throws new light into how men and women use Twitter.

Male entrepreneurs are using social networking sites to compete and dominate whilst women are using them to build networks according to the new research.

Following a study into how male and women entrepreneurs interact using Twitter, the research has shown that men ‘tweet’ about business 46 per cent more than women, showing even their more casual conversations involve business

The study analysed nearly 5,000 tweets from twelve influential entrepreneurs over one-month and found that male users sent 61 per cent more self-promotional tweets than their female counterparts.

Professor Karen Pine, University of Hertfordshire, said: “It’s been interesting to see how men are using social media as an extension of the board room or playing field where they typically have to lead the competition and dominate.

“Women use social media far less aggressively, they tend to use it more socially to build contacts and network with people, as is often the case in the ‘real world’.”

The top 5 entrepreneurs by how much they tweeted in the month (January to February 2011) of the study are below. They have an estimated combined wealth of £1.28billion according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2010.

  1. Michelle Mone 1,030 tweets
  2. Lord Sugar 965 tweets
  3. Duncan Bannatyne 660 tweets
  4. Theo Paphitis 505 tweets
  5. Martha Lane Fox 275 tweets

Germ Genie Kills Keyboard Germs Even C.difficile

Our scientists have found that the new Germ Genie keyboard can even kill C. difficile.

C. difficule (Clostridium difficile) is a bacterium found in the environment, but it is most common in hospitals and areas where symptomatic patients have been present.

C. difficile infection is often hospital-acquired and is more common than infections caused by MRSA.

Germ Genie which was developed by Falcon Innovations and tested at the University of Hertfordshire’s Biodet laboratory was launched in October 2010 at which point the results of the University of Hertfordshire’s tests on E.Coli, Staphylococcus Aureus and Bacillus Subtillis, revealed that it kills ninety-nine percent of germs across most of the keyboard in just two minutes, and across the whole keyboard in ten minutes.

Read more

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dance and Parkinson’s Disease

Dr Peter Lovatt is running a research study into the effects of different types of dance on the symptoms of Parkinson and seeks volunteers to take part. The project examines the relationship between dance and the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. A handful of recent studies has shown that dancing can be good for relieving some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

These studies have found that when people with Parkinson’s engage in several weeks of Tango dancing they show measurable improvements in their balance and walking, improvements that are not shown following several weeks of gym based exercises. Dr Lovatt's study aims to replicate and extend these findings.

Historian Claims Class and Protest History Need to be Revisited

A historian at the University of Hertfordshire claims that historians need to take a fresh look at protest history, particularly now given that protests and demonstrations are in the news again.

In a paper by historian Dr Katrina Navickas entitled What happened to Class? New Histories of Labour and Collective Action in Britain? which will be published in Social History next month (May 2011), Dr Navickas claims that labour historians have moved away from their roots in trade unions and labour history.

“They have moved away from class and are more interested in newer ideas of what the modern Labour movement stands for,” said Dr Navickas. “I think the whole question of class is understudied and it is important for historians to revisit this area.”

Read more

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Friendship and the problem of self-love

Professor John Lippitt, a philosopher at the University of Hertfordshire has just given a public lecture on ‘friendship’ at the Trinity University in San Antonio, USA.

The lecture, which was attended by over 100 people, was part of a series on what philosophy can teach us about friendship. Professor Lippitt was the only scholar from outside north America to be invited.

He chose the theme of ‘Kierkegaard, Friendship and the Problem of Self-love’ as he is currently working on a monograph on the Danish Christian philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard’s views of love and friendship.

In his talk, he discussed some of the philosopher’s key concerns about how friendship is often a form of disguised self-love and how friendship is linked to ‘love of the neighbour’.

“You often hear self-help gurus talk about how important it is to ‘love yourself’”, said Professor Lippitt. “But Kierkegaard thinks it is crucial to grasp that this can be done well or badly. He has much to teach us about the importance of trust, hope and forgiveness in the way we relate both to our friends and ourselves.”

Probably best known for his work on Kierkegaard, Professor Lippitt is also co-editing, along with George Pattison, the Oxford Handbook of Kierkegaard. His books include Humour and Irony in Kierkegaard's Thought (2000) and the Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kierkegaard and Fear and Trembling (2003). Other interests include the virtues, the philosophy of love and friendship, the relation between philosophy and theology, and the relevance of philosophy to psychotherapy.

Read more about Professor Lippitt's research

Thursday, 14 April 2011

British Banking - when did the clock start to regulate the working day?

Modern bankers are notorious for working long hours and neglecting their home and personal lives in favour of their careers. New research shows that at least some of their eighteenth-century counterparts were no different.

A study of business practices at the Bank of England has revealed a hard-working culture and shown that success, initially at least, required commitment and long hours. Indeed, the one striking factor that emerges from the study is the extent to which the clock was used to regulate the working day. Moreover, note was frequently taken of the problems that resulted when clerks could not complete tasks by the allotted time and men often worked late into the evening or gave up public holidays to be at their posts to serve the businessmen of eighteenth-century London.

These findings are significant because they paint a picture of life in one of Britain’s chief institutions. But they also offer insights into an issue that has long exercised historians: when did the clock start to regulate the working day?

This research shows that Britain’s growing financial sector led the way in creating a working environment that was dominated by the clock and in encouraging their workforce to see long hours and commitment to career as a virtue.

University launches carbon-neutral compact home

Researchers at the University have used the very latest technology to develop a carbon-neutral compact home called the Cube.

Built from sustainable materials, mostly wood, it is designed to be comfortable and modern and includes a variety of cutting-edge products with low energy use. If registered for the UK Government’s feed-in tariff, the Cube would have no utility bills (other than for a water supply) and would raise around £1,000 per year in income.

The Cube has an internal space of 3x3x3 metres and includes a lounge, with a table and two custom-made chairs, a small double bed (120cm wide), a full-size shower, a kitchen (with energy-efficient fridge, induction hob, re-circulating cooker  hood, sink/drainer, combination microwave oven and storage cupboards), a washing machine and a composting toilet.  Lighting is achieved by ultra-efficient LED lights, and the Cube is heated using an Ecodan air-source heat pump, with heat recovered from extracted air. It has cork flooring and there is two-metre head height throughout.

Dr Mike Page, Director, CUBE Project, said: “The Cube Project is an attempt to show what is possible in terms of low-carbon living, with readily available technology. Other compact pods have been made, but this is the first to integrate the latest technology into the building to make it carbon-neutral over the year.

“Furthermore, none of the low carbon solutions are specific to a small building and could easily be widely adopted by private homeowners, providers of social housing and by businesses.”

The Cube is highly insulated, with a timber-frame shell, interior surfaces of birch plywood, and sweet-chestnut cladding on the exterior.  It has a south-facing monopitch roof, covered with solar panels - when at its permanent home, the south wall is also covered with solar panels. This generating capacity is expected to make the Cube carbon-neutral over the year.

The first prototype Cube, QB1, will be taken to the Edinburgh Science Festival, 9 - 23 April 2011, where it will be displayed to promote eco-friendly living and to showcase the various technologies used.

Walk through the Cube here

Find out more Cube Project website

Wine drinkers unable to tell the difference between expensive and cheapwines

According to a study released today by psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, people are unable to tell the difference between expensive and inexpensive wines.

A total pf 578 participants at the Edinburgh Science Festival took part in a 'blind' taste challenge. They were offered a range of red and white wines costing less then £5 and other vintages prices between £10 and £30.

Purely by the laws of chance, they should have been able to make a correct guess 50 per cent of the time.

This was exactly the level of accuracy seen, demonstrating that the volunteers could not distinguish between wines by taste alone.

Professor Wiseman said: “These are remarkable results. People were unable to tell expensive from inexpensive wines.

“In these times of financial hardship the message is clear - the inexpensive wines tasted the same as their expensive counterparts.”

The wines tested included cheap and expensive brands of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chardonnay, ­merlot, rioja, shiraz and claret. Two champagne labels costing £17.61 and £29.99 were also compared.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Students who exercise are less prone to depression and anxiety

The positive relationship between physical activity and mental health has been well documented and research concludes that physical activity has a beneficial effect on general mental health.

It is surprising, however, that there has been very little research into the potential benefits of physical activity on a cohort of individuals who are at risk of mental health problems, namely university students.

In these uncertain economic times, with increasing tuition fees, university students are at higher risk of suffering from mental health problems.

Therefore, we examined 100 undergraduate university students from the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Sciences at the University of Gloucestershire and used the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and Physical Activity Questionnaire, to determine the relationship between anxiety /depression and physical exercise. We published our results in the Journal of Mental Health.

Treating our cohort as a whole, we found that as physical activity levels increased, self-reported levels of anxiety and depression both significantly decreased.  Our findings contribute to the growing body of literature demonstrating the positive effects of physical activity on mental health.

Although, there is still work to be done in this field, our conclusions should be of interest to students wishing to maintain and promote their mental health at university and for universities wishing to safeguard their students’ emotional well-being through the promotion of physical exercise.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Connected Histories Transforms Historical Research

Millions of historical records have become more accessible to the public. Connected Histories provides a single point of access to a wide range of distributed digital resources relating to early modern and nineteenth-century British history.

Connected Histories brings digital humanities research to a new level by providing integrated access to several key resources, moving beyond simple keyword searching to allow structured searching of millions of pages of text by names, places, and dates.

In the process, at the click of a mouse, researchers can find rich bodies of evidence for virtually any topic in British history; whether royal weddings, parliamentary reform movements, famous criminals, or the lives of plebeian Londoners (see examples below).

The Connected Histories website is fully searchable and provides access to millions of pages of text, hundreds of thousands of words and tens of thousands maps and images. It incorporates the following digital sources:

  • British History Online
  • Burney Newspapers 1600-1800
  • Charles Booth Online Archive
  • Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540-1835
  • London Lives, 1690-1800
  • Old Bailey Proceedings Online 1674-1913
  • Origins Network
  • Parliamentary Papers
  • Printed Ephemera from the Bodleian Library
  • Strype's Survey of London