Alumni Profile: Rob Bell
Looking back - reflections on a career in the School of Psychology
Early interest in Psychology
My interest in Psychology was triggered by an A-level Biology project that examined rodent learning in a maze test. The results sparked an interest in the relationship between brain and behaviour that lead me to apply to QUB Psychology and enter the School (then Department) in 1970. Intellectually stimulating lectures by John Cowley, Steve Cooper and Ken Brown strongly encouraged my interest in brain- behaviour relationships, particularly the role of neurotransmitters in aggressive behaviour.
Life as a student in Belfast during the Troubles
The early seventies in Northern Ireland witnessed a very violent era of political unrest, now referred to as “The Troubles”. I vividly recall, with many fellow students of that time, the dreadful sense of uncertainty when we started to revise for our final examinations. Indeed, the nadir at this time was the onset of the Ulster Workers Council strike in 1974 that resulted in electricity cuts and food shortages. Reading by candlelight was very tedious! Fortunately, with much support from Psychology staff, we managed to graduate successfully.
Embarking on an academic career
Following completion of my PhD, supervised by Ken Brown, I completed a short sojourn teaching at UUJ and returned to a lectureship in QUB Psychology in 1980. I developed my research to focus on the behavioural pharmacology of linked aspects of animal and human behaviour.
Overview of my research
In collaboration with colleagues in QUB and elsewhere, I established the following paradigms:
Aggressive behaviour in mice
Our investigations concerning the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) have delineated a role for the sub-receptors 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B in the control of murine aggressive behaviour. These results suggested the important potential of 5-HT1A agents for the control of anxiety and aggressive behaviour. From this view point, I examined, in collaboration with Dr Paul Mitchell (Dept. Pharmacy and Pharmacology, University of Bath), the influences of new 5-HT agents in the control of animal and human aggression.
Closed Head Injuries and Aggressive Behaviour
This work, performed in collaboration with Dr Robert Rauch, School of Psychology, QUB and Kevin Dyer, PhD student, was designed to determine why patients who have suffered some form of closed head injury often display aggressive behaviour. The background to this research lies in the relationships between specific brain areas and behaviour.
Psychosis - Latent Inhibition (LI) in rats and LI in schizophrenic patients / healthy volunteers
A constructive approach to investigating the biological basis of schizophrenia has been to use information processing models of the disease to link psychotic phenomena to their neural basis. Schizophrenic patients are impaired in a number of experimental cognitive tasks that support this approach, including models of selective attention such as latent inhibition (LI).
LI refers to a process in which noncontingent presentation of a stimulus attenuates its ability to enter into subsequent associations. The development of a rodent LI paradigm was performed in collaboration with Professor David King, Department of Therapeutics and Pharmacology, QUB and two graduated PhD students Karen Trimble and David Gracey. The purpose of this research was to use the model of latent inhibition in the rat to assess the potential clinical efficacy of new compounds developed to treat schizophrenia. Professor King and I also developed a human paradigm to evaluate LI in schizophrenic patients and healthy volunteers. This paradigm was used in conjunction with other psychological (CANTAB software) and physiological (eye movement) tests to assess the onset/treatment of schizophrenia.
Looking back on my career in Psychology, I certainly found my research and teaching to be fulfilling for myself and I hope my students. During my years as Associate Dean in the Faculty of Science, I met many colleagues in other departments in the University. I was sometimes left with the impression that the teaching and research performed by the Department of Psychology was not fully understood and appreciated for attracting many students to the Faculty. Since my retirement, however, I have been very pleased to watch the School of Psychology grow from strength to strength.