You are probably aware that the University’s four schools of study contain a number of dedicated, specialised research groups. But how much do you know about the kind of research that happens in these Groups? Through this new series of regular features, Aspects hopes to introduce members of staff from across the University to Aston’s research groups, starting with the Health and Human Research Group (HHD) in the School of Life & Health Sciences.
The Health and Human Development Research Group (HHD) carries out research that can be broadly classified as health psychology.
The Group’s research has real relevance to current health issues and problems and the new challenges health researchers and professionals will face in the future. Members of the HHD research group at Aston are researching human development across the lifespan, including the psychological processes involved in ageing.
The media regularly run stories about how the UK population is ageing and what this might mean for future medical care, research, the treatment of disease, and professional clinical practice. The many ways in which an ageing population might have an effect on society include areas of everyday life that we all take for granted. So, for example, researchers in the Group are looking at how ageing may affect driver and pedestrian behaviour. How we react to hazards and judge risks when driving or walking is a long-standing and ongoing research theme in the Group.
Members of the Group are looking at the possible reasons why people act in particular ways and exhibit behaviour which enhances or damages health. These results could help in disease prevention in the future. So, for example, researchers are interested in the effects of parental behaviour on children’s health, or the reasons why people binge drink. This in particular is a relatively recent health issue but one that may have severe repercussions for young people’s health in the future.
Looking at ways in which medical professionals or people themselves manage disease is also an area of interest in the Group. The Group investigates the impact of new treatments and technologies on patients and professionals and is currently undertaking several studies on self testing for signs of serious illness. Other work explores the psychological factors that underlie the successful management and self-management of chronic diseases, particularly diabetes. The incidence of type 2 diabetes is increasing in the UK population, so developing effective strategies for self-management of the disease is a crucial issue in current and future health care. Group members are also interested in identifying effective methods for preparing people for procedures such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanning and surgery.
The familiar phrase ‘you are what you eat’ has become clichéd now, but nutrition and behaviour are certainly linked very closely. So researchers in the HHD Group are looking at how nutritional status can affect human neuropsychological function and mood. Their research has already had an impact on current issues in the food and health food industry (for example looking at the efficacy of co-called ‘superfoods’) and dieting.
Reproductive health and behaviour is also a strong research theme in the Group. Academics are looking at psychological issues around infertility, sexual health, voluntary childlessness, health behaviour during pregnancy, fatherhood, same-sex relationships and civil partnerships.
Members of the HHD Research Group conduct field based research in clinical, health-care and educational settings across the West Midlands and beyond, which means that their results can have a real impact on society. HHD members also contribute to several Masters Programmes at Aston, namely the MSc in Health Psychology, the MRes in Qualitative Methods and the MSc in Rehabilitation Studies.
A wide range of primary and secondary research methodologies are employed by members of the Group, from interviews and focus groups to surveys and experiments. Secondary research includes not only systematic reviews and meta-analyses but metasyntheses of qualitative research. Critical psychological approaches are also important in the Group. External speakers who are renowned in their field visit regularly to present seminars. For example, Professor Wendy Stainton Rogers from the Open University (who is author of the influential and excellent book Social Psychology: Experimental and Critical Approaches), gave an inspiring session recently on the need to critically examine some aspects of current health care. She challenged the negative way that some policy makers and practitioners regard people who do not comply with their prescribed treatment and/or take risks with their health, without acknowledging alternative explanations for why they may be acting as they do.
The next HHD research seminar is on Tuesday 9th June (1 - 2pm in MB640). Dr Lisa Dorn from Cranfield University will present a seminar on Driver Competencies and Road Safety.
For further information about the HHD Research Group contact Dr Liz Peel on ext 4074.
Words by Sally Finn