Congratulations to Billy Campbell
Psychology graduate Billy Campbell receives the BPS UG Project Prize
I applied for the BPS Psychobiology Section UG Project Prize under the recommendation of my thesis supervisor, Professor Richard Carson.
The basic premise of the study was to use secondary data from the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing to determine if simple tests of cognitive and motor ability could be used to predict neurological health in old age. It is no secret that cognitive abilities such as memory and processing speed decline with age, while measures of handgrip strength and gait speed have been repeatedly shown to predict functional impairment and mortality in old age. We proposed that each of these abilities reflect the health of underlying neurological mechanisms, with the results supporting this hypothesis.
This knowledge can have practical implications as it promotes the dual-assessment of cognitive and motor abilities in older individuals in clinical settings, with these measures offering a quick and simple method of estimating neurological health and potential functional decline. To the same effect, the findings additionally suggest that treatments solely targeting improvements at a physical or cognitive level will have minimal effectiveness, and instead treatments should aim to improve neurological health in order to preserve both cognitive and motor functioning.
This project extended me beyond what I expected from my undergraduate thesis. It involved pushing me out of the comfort of SPSS and starting as a fresh coder on the statistical programme ‘R’, which – as a technological novice – proved a steep learning curve. A further difficulty came from our choice of statistical analysis as we moved out of traditional undergraduate methodologies and used Structural Equation Modelling (SEM). If, like me, you haven’t had to use SEM before, it is a bit like combining regressions and confirmatory factor analysis and putting it on steroids!
I presented my work at the annual BPS Psychobiology Committee Conference (7 September 2021) alongside other researchers in the field of psychobiology. This was my first time speaking at any type of educational conference, and although the virtual nature of it this year limited the event, it was definitely a good experience. I will also be writing a short article for the BPS monthly newsletter, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to escape PSY3114 just yet!
Being recognised by the BPS for my thesis is a reflection of the many tedious and stressful hours watching YouTube SEM tutorials, reading through R support forums and (like most thesis students) growing increasingly frustrated of reading journal articles. However, I did enjoy my thesis topic and found it very interesting, and given the difficulties it caused me, I can now say I’m proud of my effort. I can only recommend upcoming thesis students to pick an area of research that you are interested in and embrace the slow grind.
I’d like to extend my thanks to the BPS Psychobiology Section Committee for awarding me with this prize as well as Professor Richard Carson and the Psychology staff for the support.
To learn more about our research in this area: https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/psy/Research/OurResearchThemes/PerceptionAction/