Department of Psychology

Research student insight

Joe Walsh
 

Joe Walsh

  • Department of Psychology / Department for Health
  • First supervisor: Dr Ed Keogh
  • Second supervisor: Professor Chris Eccleston
  • Research title: Individual differences in the communication of pain through body posture
 

Do certain people or specific behaviours change how we experience pain? Are people such as doctors or other health care professionals better at recognising pain than others? Are there specific cues to pain which we can teach and train in order to improve pain recognition?

Joe Walsh is conducting research as part of his PhD to answer these questions and find out exactly how social cues can influence our understanding of pain.

The psychology of pain

During his undergraduate Psychology degree at the University of Hull, Joe developed an interest in the social processes that influence how we understand the world around us. Then at the University of Bath he completed a placement in the Centre for Pain Research as part of his MSc Health Psychology.

During my placement I started to think about how these social processes influence our understanding of one experience in particular; pain.

Pain is a complex process, and our perception of it is dependent on a number of factors, all of which interact. Social factors, such as having supportive friends or effective helping behaviour from others, contribute to our perception of painful experiences and can help to alleviate pain.

Joe’s research is focussed on further investigating how these social factors influence our pain perception, and how we understand pain in others.

Pain, body posture and emotion

 

Recognising pain in others

Joe's research has required him to make, edit, and test 374 video clips of actors performing a number of emotions.

These videos are then show to participants who are required to identify which emotion is being experienced.

 

So far, Joe has created and validated a set of body posture stimuli which appear to show that pain can be effectively communicated through body posture in a similar way to other emotions, such as happiness and sadness.

Overall, people are very good at recognising pain in others, which may be afforded a high level of importance in social processing because of the threatening nature of pain.

In order to conduct this research, Joe had to make, edit, and test 374 video clips of actors performing a number of emotions.

This was very painstaking and time consuming, in particular when I had to reduce the set down to a core of just 144 clips.

He is currently working on a study using the stimuli for the first time, investigating whether there is a difference between males and females in their ability to recognise pain in others, both in isolation and in crowded environments.

Life at the University of Bath

Like many research students, Joe has completed a number of postgraduate skills courses. He has also benefited from the Faculty Conference Support grant, which has enabled him to take his research to conferences within the UK, as well as in Milan, and talk to other researchers from all over the world.

The academic staff are amazing. Not just my supervisory team, who have been incredibly helpful, but also other members of the staff who interact through research groups like the Cognition, Affective Science & Technology Laboratories (CASTL) group to help each other and discuss research ideas.

Joe was also nominated for the Trainee abstract prize at the British Pain Society conference in Bournemouth earlier in the year.

I had to do a presentation to 200 delegates and answer questions about my research. I came second in the end, but it was still a great experience which I really enjoyed, and hopefully will have another crack at next year!

Further information

To find out more about Joe’s research, you can contact him by email: j.a.d.walsh@bath.ac.uk

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