Thursday, 17 March 2011

Growing power of online consumers

The ever increasing power of the World Wide Web is becoming very apparent in the travel industry according to research by Pasi Tuominen, a student on the University’s Business Administration programme.

Dr Tuominen's study highlights that reports suggest that 88% of visitors to travel review sites will be affected by what they see in user generated reviews. However, he adds, what is less clear is how these reviews then impact on hotel performance.

Using popular travel review website, Tripadviser, the study presents evidence of the relationship between the reviews, hotel occupancy level, average daily rate and revenue per available room.

A more detailed look into how Tripadviser presents hotel accommodation following a review may help with the understanding of the above findings. The Tripadviser website will showcase the hotel accommodation according to its popularity - which is based on an overall popularity index score taken from customer reviews. This presentation will by default influence hotel choices that in turn will affect the profitability of a hotel - as the study suggests. Therefore, having a clear strategy to manage reviews would prove beneficial for this sector and it is obvious that any tourism manager which ignores the power of social media does so at his/her peril.

An interesting concept in addition to this however (and one to watch), is the evolving tension between two types of travel providers, the traditional tourism industry and the extremely influential online consumer.

Poor Pockets Doesn’t Mean Poor Health?

It is often thought that individuals with poorer life circumstances live ‘risky’ lives and don’t listen to health campaigns. However, not all poorer people have poor health.

Rather than focusing on risk factors such as smoking, diet, depression, poor housing, lack of green space etc, it makes sense to look at assets, which involves identifying what individuals, communities and organisations are doing which acts positively on health and wellbeing.

Assets offer the potential to enhance quality and longevity of life through focusing on the resources that promote, for example, self-esteem and coping abilities.

We don’t currently understand assets or resources or how people and communities work together to promote health and wellbeing. If we can increase our knowledge we might unlock some of the existing barriers to effective action on health inequalities. For instance what are the people and communities who are typically thought to suffer poor health and wellbeing doing that we could help them to capitalise on to bring greater benefits.

We need to find out who isn’t ignoring the health messages the government promotes. What makes these people different? How are they resilient to the challenges that life throws at them?

All these issues are being explored by researchers in CRIPACC (Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care) at a conference in September 2011

If you would like to submit photos of things that help promote health or wellbeing in your lives for use as images during the conference you can send pictures here.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Using Brain Waves to Communicate

A new tool which measures brain waves in children with physical and neurological impairments such as cerebral palsy, is being developed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire and is featured on You Tube today.


Hock Gan, a PhD student at the University’s School of Computer Science is working with Ian Glasscock at Games for Life to use an electroencephalography (EEG) headset to assess cognitive ability in children with severe physical and neurological impairments.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The impact of domestic violence on women and their families

Domestic violence affects about a quarter of the population of the world and in some countries, half of the population is affected.

In all countries, domestic violence brings an unjustified element of shame and has a deep impact on the lives of women and children.

My work with mental health practitioners in Slovenia and Greece revealed that domestic violence topped the list of issues they wanted more knowledge about in the context of mental health and gender.

Despite this, I found that practitioners in the eight demonstration sites I worked with  felt uncomfortable about helping the women who approached them to deal with the issue and tended to refer them on to other agencies, setting the women on a kind of merry-go-round which invariably led them back to them.

I am now the principal investigator of a European Union funded pilot project which aims to address this issue and provide training for the practitioners, so that they are better skilled in dealing with cases of domestic violence. We will be also developing modules geared towards empowering the women involved and in some cases, training them to help other women in similar circumstances. Caroline Meffan,  from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, is the project manager.

If we are successful, we will prove that it is worth replicating this study in each of the countries on a national basis and rolling it out further afield.

This is a global problem and the damage to women and children affected by this issue is phenomenal.

We had our kick-off meeting this week, which is apt given that it is International Women's Week,  so we will keep you posted on developments from then.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

New Research into Problem Solving in Institutional Settings

The School of Humanities' Philosophy Program at the University of Hertfordshire has won a €524,646 Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) grant to investigate how people think, solve problems, make judgments and decisions in interpersonal, institutional, and cultural contexts.

The Philosophy Program, in conjunction with researchers at universities in the United States and Europe, will work to investigate cognitive processes using a variety of methods that include sophisticated modelling and simulation technologies.

Their research will be conducted at the intersection of philosophy and psychology in the domains of cultural expression and performance. It is one part of a larger project that examines social interaction across a variety of contexts, from infancy through childhood to adult.

The four-year project, beginning on 1 March will lead to the development of new tools for measuring social interaction in institutional settings. The use of simulated models in this project, informed by work on cognitive processes could contribute to the smart design of institutional structures.

“This research is important because it will help us understand what works and what doesn’t work in situations where people are using cultural practices and technologies to communicate and solve problems in formal and informal settings,” said Professor Gallagher. “This research has implications for the design of communicative and work environments that may be applied in science, medicine, engineering, business, education, and various cultural institutions.”

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Kaspar the friendly robot helps autistic children


Kaspar, a child-sized robot developed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire has been taken into a school in Stevenage, UK to help children with autism to communicate better.

New Robot to Help People to Walk Again

Cognitive skills for a new robot which will help people with damaged limbs to walk again are being developed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire.

Dr Daniel Polani and a team at the University’s School of Computer Science have just received a European grant of €780,800 for the four-year research project Cognitive Control Framework for Robotic Systems (CORBYS) to build the cognitive features of these robots.

“There are already some robots which help people to walk, but the issue is that they need constant attention and monitoring by therapists and they cannot effectively monitor the human,” said Dr Polani. “In CORBYS, the aim is to have robots that understand what humans need so that they can operate autonomously.”

Dr Polani and his team will contribute in particular to the high-level cognitive control of these robots and their synergy with human behaviour. This is based on biologically-inspired principles and methodologies that have been developed at the School of Computer Science over the last years.

“We believe that all organisms optimise information and organise it efficiently in their niche and that this shapes their behaviour - in a way, it tells them to some extent what to do. We believe it will help our system to take decisions similar to organisms and to better 'read' the intentions of the human it supports,” said Dr Polani. “Furthermore, we will use these techniques to balance the lead-taking between robot and human.”

Over the four-year period, the project will produce two demonstrators, among them a novel mobile robot-assisted gait rehabilitation system which will be a self-aware system capable of learning to enable it to optimally match the requirements of the user at different stages of rehabilitation.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

New research into the paranormal

Professor Richard Wiseman’s new book on the psychology of the paranormal is published on 4 March 2011, and will explore the science behind a range of seemingly supernatural phenomena, including ghosts, hauntings, out of body experiences and psychic powers.

Listen to Richard discussing the topic on the Today Programme today.

Living with kidney failure

A project to promote self-management for people living with kidney failure is being developed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire at the Lister Hospital.

Dr David Wellsted, Head of the University’s Centre for Lifespan and Chronic Illness Research is working with Professor Ken Farrington and Maria Da Silva-Gane, based at the Lister Hospital, on a study to promote self-care among patients with kidney failure, enabling patients to take control of their own care.

The research, which received £247,164 from the National Institute for Health Research through the Research for Patient Benefit Programme, begins today (1 March 2011).

Using a well-established method known as action research, the research team will work with renal service users and staff to explore views and ways of helping people to self-manage. A variety of ways will be developed such as helping people to actively participate in treatment decisions, developing materials like leaflets and DVDs and also providing some direct educational support. During this three year study, participants’ physical and psychological well being will be compared before and after self-management has been promoted.

If patients’ physical and psychological well being show significant improvement, and if the facilitation is perceived by participants as beneficial, then there are plans to expand this programme for wider use in the NHS.