Can we develop standard units for cannabis, as we have for alcohol?
Cannabis is used by approximately 200 million people worldwide. This number is set to increase further as it becomes available as a legal drug in the USA, Canada and beyond. Despite its widespread use, consumers have limited information on the contents of what they are using, and no guidance on safer use limits.
This contrasts with alcohol, where drinks are labelled with the number of standard units (one unit = 8g alcohol). Furthermore, public health guidance is available to help people use alcohol more safely, such as the recommendation not to exceed 14 units per week for men or women.
This project will investigate whether we can develop standard units for cannabis as we have for alcohol. You will build on recent work conducted at the University of Bath and Australian Catholic University defining the ‘standard THC unit’. In 2021 the standard THC unit was endorsed by the US National Institute of Drug Abuse, the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, and the American Psychological Association, demonstrating international support for the initiative.
You will develop this work further by investigating the real-world application of the standard THC unit, and what the potential benefits or harms might be for individuals and society. You will have the opportunity to shape the scope of this work according to your own interests and training goals (such as focusing on mental health, addiction, physical health, social or economic outcomes).
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Interoceptive awareness as a susceptibility/sensitivity factor
Why do individuals differ so greatly with regards to the impact external events have on them? This question has been at the centre of scientific exploration in the social sciences for decades. Differential Susceptibility Theory and Biological Sensitivity to Context Theory both argue that individuals vary in their developmental plasticity and susceptibility to environmental influences, such that susceptible individuals are most negatively affected by stressors and also profit the most from environmental support and enrichment.
The current project sets forth predictions that have been substantiated for a wide range of variables and populations. We suggest an extension of these models, adding susceptibility to internal stress. Using the special case of parenthood, we will examine whether reactivity to internal and external stimuli has an impact on the stress-parenting link.
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Mapping the shared brain
Successful human interaction is built upon the formation of shared identities between individuals. The ability to detect the formation of a shared identity between interacting individuals would be hugely significant because it would reveal the psychological framework that underpins social behaviour.
Recent advances in EEG technology and in the emerging ‘social neuroscience’ field indicate that it is now feasible to use EEG to detect neural patterns that indicate the presence of a shared ‘social space’, what we term the shared brain (Gutsell and Inzlicht, 2012; Hatfield, 1993; Nummenmaa et al., 2012). Exploring how the shared brain is formed will bring clarity to the subconscious and conscious processes underlying the formation of a shared identity.
This project is multidisciplinary, drawing on research and methodologies within cognitive neuroscience and social psychology, and modelling techniques from the discipline of mathematics. You’ll be a key part of a multi-disciplinary team that will develop and implement innovative procedures for identifying, via EEG, neural markers of the emergence of the shared brain and how the shared brain is associated with the formation of a social identity between interacting individuals.
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Predictors of intervention uptake and treatment outcomes in an online smoking cessation treatment as part of NHS routine psychological care for people with common mental illness
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable cancer in the UK and worldwide. Although smoking prevalence has declined, it remains twice as high in people with mental illness.
We know that quitting smoking can significantly improve people’s mental health, but smoking cessation treatment is not currently integrated into NHS routine psychological care for common mental illness. This is known as ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’, or IAPT. IAPT patients are initially offered online self-help CBT via a platform called SilverCloud.
Self-help and computerised interventions for smoking cessation are known to be effective, and such a platform could describe the mental health benefits of stopping smoking to provide an appropriate method to improve smoking cessation in people with mental illness at low cost.
You’ll complete three main projects:
- Project 1: Systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of internet-based interventions for smoking cessation
- Project 2: Predictors of uptake of the SilverCloud intervention. This project will aim to identify what factors predict uptake of the intervention. This project will aim to inform a larger RCT to help identify these and reduce health inequalities that result from differences people who do not engage with smoking cessation interventions
- Project 3: Predictors of treatment outcomes in the SilverCloud trial. Outcomes included smoking cessation at follow up, and change in mental health (depression and anxiety). This project will also identify predictors of improvement in mental health after smoking cessation.
The overall aim is to increase understanding about the effectiveness of internet-based interventions in people with anxiety and depression and the feasibility of integrating smoking cessation intervention into SilverCloud for use in low intensity IAPT services. This work could also inform a larger Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT).
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Remembering faces: Exposure, context and individual differences
The human face is a rich source of information from which we draw inferences such as how attractive, healthy, happy, or trustworthy a person is.
This project addresses two broad themes and aims to:
- Document relationships between face traits and perception.
- Examine individual variation in perception/memory of faces.
For aim 1, this would involve ratings or force-choice judgements of faces which vary in traits such as masculinity, symmetry, and emotion. For aim 2, this would involve relating individual variables, such as personality and relationship status, to the findings from aim 1. For aim 2, additional studies would examine context effects on the findings for aim 1, for example asking participants to imagine different scenarios for their ratings, such as long-term versus short-term relationship contexts for the judgement of attractiveness, or priming participants with contextual stimuli cues that may impact on their subsequent judgments/memory, such as happy or sad emotional faces.
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Soothing fears and bolstering bravery: parent socialisation of emotion in young anxious children
This project aims to understand how parents can best support anxious children to manage strong negative emotions during challenging situations, and to bolster positive emotions when children display bravery.
Through this project, you will work directly with families and receive training in family observation methods (parent-child reminiscing conversations, parent-child play, parent-child exposure task), diagnostic interviewing and projective techniques with young children (doll play and story stem completion). You will also develop coding schemes for these tasks by integrating cognitive-behavioural and emotion socialisation models of the development of anxiety in children.
There will be the opportunity to complete a secondment at the College for Medicine and Health at University of Exeter, hosted by Professor Helen Dodd. During this, you will undertake training in observational methods to assess parent-child play interaction.
The results of your work will improve our understanding of parental responses to children’s emotions as a potential therapeutic target in young anxious children. This work will greatly progress our understanding of the role of parental emotion socialisation in supporting their child to develop the confidence and independence needed to achieve their unique potential.
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Sex differences in child and adolescent post-trauma mental health
Following trauma exposure, children and young people are vulnerable to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological disorders. Sex differences exist in such responses, with girls being particularly vulnerable to PTSD.
Research by our Child Mental Health and Development research group has demonstrated that these differences in vulnerability by sex emerge particularly in adolescence and are not present in younger children. Very little is known about the reasons for the developmental emergence of sex differences in psychological vulnerability to trauma. This is an oversight, as trauma exposure is a major risk factor for poor mental health, and understanding why girls are more vulnerable following trauma than boys could help to explain wider sex differences in levels of emotional disorders. The proposed project could tackle this question through analysing existing national and international datasets, or through collection of new data, depending on student interests. This project would suit a student with an interest in developing excellent data analytic skills.
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The epistemic emotion ‘awe’ and its effect on attitudes and motivated information processing
Aesthetically pleasing imagery and exceptional achievements often evoke an intense emotional response, best summarised as a sense of ‘awe’. Awe is a reaction to experiences that are vast and that exceed people's expectancies (watching a starry sky or a breath-taking art installation). Drawing on insights from social and cognitive psychology, you will investigate the attitudinal and epistemic consequences of awe.
This project will explore whether experiences and feelings of awe have the potential to change attitudes regarding important topics - such as health or the environment - and whether they motivate people to think (un)critically and seek information on those topics. You will conduct experimental and survey studies in laboratory and in field settings, as participants undergo experiences evoking awe.
The results of your work will help us understand the utility of awe for improving attitudes and information processing regarding desirable (related to health or sustainability) attitudes.
For an informal discussion about this area of research contact email@example.com