Research Impact

We are proud of the research that we conduct within the School which meet our aims of being internationally distinctive, working across disciplines and maximising our impact. 

Our research has extensive impact within academia. We also strive to ensure our research is relevant to modern societal needs and helps to generate economic impact that benefits everybody. Our research was judged – in the Research Excellence Framework of 2014 – to be world-leading and internationally excellent in terms of impact beyond academia in the areas of emotion and computing, animal welfare and children’s learning.

As well as our REF recognised research, we are also proud of the impact that we have made globally in terms of our research in movement, child development (typical and atypical), sport, ageing, fetal behaviour, understanding of conflict and prejudice, decision-making and emotions.

We work collaboratively to secure access to equipment, facilities and stimuli.  We are committed to research integrity and governance and we are fully engaged with professional bodies and societies. Examples of our impact include:

Identities, Groups & Social Change:

  • Relations between different social groups can be improved through positive contact which encourages friendship development, and even by learning about the positive contact experiences of others. Empathy, perspective taking, and reduced anxiety at the prospect of social contact have also been shown to encourage intergroup tolerance.
  • The analysis of trust at different levels has allowed us to understand how trust operates between individuals, between members of different groups and between different nations. It has also allowed us to see how trust improves intergroup tolerance and harmony.
  • Our research has examined the role of humour in intergroup relations, specifically how people react to racist humour, and how men and women have different perceptions about its acceptability.
  • We consider how social identity affects interactions (e.g. crowd behaviours, displaying identity in public places). We also examine community identity as a basis for well-being and resilience, as well as social exclusion.

Animal Behaviour, Health and Wellbeing:

  • Research into Alzheimer’s disease has led to the development of a novel drug.
  • New psychological interventions developed by researchers in this group have helped improve the quality of life in patients suffering from chronic illness (e.g. cancer, heart disease).
  • Research has demonstrated the effect of alcohol on the behaviour of the fetus, and has been used in debates about the appropriate recommendations for alcohol consumption in pregnancy and to guide policy in this area.
  • Research has demonstrated the importance of early intervention for drug abuse, and the need for trauma counselling/therapy, in people with major mental health problems, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • Research has shown that dogs are able to detect the onset of hypoglycaemia and epilepsy.
  • Housing of a range of animals (including dogs, elephants and primates) has been improved as a result of the research conducted in the Animal Behaviour Centre. This has led to new practices being implemented by many organisations, e.g., Guide Dogs for the Blind, San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Belfast Zoo.

Cognition, Development and Education:

  • A novel movement-based programme known as Primary Movement has been successfully implemented in nursery and primary schools across Northern Ireland and further afield. This programme has been shown to have a positive impact on children’s educational performance and their fine motor skills.
  • Reading development depends on an earlier ability to properly distinguish sounds in speech. Our research which uses techniques to measure brain activity (known as EEG) suggest that individuals with dyslexia may have problems with certain aspects of speech processing.
  • Children often have difficulties with very basic types of scientific reasoning. Our studies of children’s reasoning about cause and effect suggest that they do not always integrate even quite simple patterns of evidence to draw proper conclusions about how the world works.
  • Older Northern Irish children educated in an integrated context are less likely to base inferences about other children on information about their gender or religion than children educated in maintained or controlled schools. Cross-cultural work has shown that North American children resemble children from integrated schools.
  • Men who smoke, who are most at risk for prostate cancer, are less likely to take part in screening programmes, and have difficulty understanding risks which is usually associated with low numeracy levels.

Perception Action Communication:

  • Using immersive, interactive virtual reality technology in the Movement Innovation Lab to understand decision making in professional sport (e.g. Ulster rugby, Northern Ireland goal-keeping and Ireland cricket).
  • Helping Adidas Innovation Football team analyse the effects of graphics and ball flutter on a player’s perception of where a ball is heading.
  • Testing the effects of animated work instructions to improve assembly line production for Bombardier Aerospace.
  • Developing bespoke balance training games using the Nintendo Wii to help reduce falls in older adults.
  • Being involved in the development of a new product Adoreboard that can analyse emotional content of digital media.
  • Improving the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s by developing sonic guides that help them walk better.

Sensum Partnership

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Aperture Collaboration

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