The Why Factor: Fear vs. Fact

Elaine features in the BBC World Service’s latest instalment of The Why Factor. In the episode – entitled Fear vs. Fact – presenter Mike Williams asks if we now live in a post-factual age — where messages of fear dominate and the truth goes unspoken or unheard. He investigates the ‘Backfire Effect’ which means that entrenched views can become more entrenched when confronted by contradictory facts. Elaine comments: ‘Fear is a very powerful emotion – I guess the first thing to remember is the reason all of us are here is because our ancestors had very effective threat detective systems.’

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the why factor


Publication: The contribution of cognitive biases and genes to psychological wellbeing

Elaine and Chris Beevers recently published a paper in Molecular Psychiatry that discusses how some genes can make people more sensitive to the effects of their environment – for better and for worse – leading to both mental ill health and enhanced mental resilience. They suggest that the same genes that make us prone to depression could also make us prone to positivity. Find out more…


The paper, Differential sensitivity to the environment: contribution of cognitive biases and genes to psychological wellbeing, was published in Molecular Psychiatry on 19 July (doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.114).

BAP 2016 Summer Meeting

Desiree Spronk attended the Summer Meeting of the British Association for Psychopharmacology which was held from 17th- 20th of July, 2016 in Brighton. The main purpose of the visit was to learn about the latest psycho-pharmacological and neurocognitive research in Great Britain, specifically in relation to addictive and binge eating behaviours. It was a very good meeting with lots of high-quality and interesting science!

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Dr Desiree Spronk

On the 9th of March 2016, Desiree Spronk successfully defended her thesis titled: ‘Individual differences in the acute effects of cannabis and cocaine on cognitive control’. In her PhD, Desiree investigated how acute administration of cannabis and cocaine affect a number of cognitive control functions in regular users. The defense was held in the Aula of the Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The ceremony was attended by family, friends and colleagues. The OCEAN lab would like to congratulate Desiree!



Psychology Lunchtime Talks

Charlotte Booth recently visited a school to give 3 fascinating lunchtime talks on the “Development of the Teenage Brain.” The talks were very engaging and informative, and attended by students in Years 11, 12 and 13 who were interested in Psychology. It was a great opportunity for the students to extend their understanding of the brain and in particular their own developing brain, as well as learn about career pathways within Psychology.

This is a review by a Year 11 student who studies Psychology and Biology:

“As we had not learnt much about the brain previously, in either Biology or Psychology, many of us were enthusiastic about attending a talk on The Teenage Brain by Charlotte Booth, a researcher from Oxford University!

During the talk, she explained how our prefrontal cortex develops last, which could explain the teenage stereotype of ‘reckless behaviour’, and about how our brains have recently been discovered to continue to develop well into early adulthood (one could argue that some people’s brains never mature!). We learnt about how our social senses develop as we become more aware of other people, and showed us how studies had been done to show differences in the way an 11 year-old would think socially, and how 15 year-olds would interpret social contexts. All in all, the talk was informative and we understood her well.”



Christmas celebrations with the OCEAN Lab

The OCEAN Lab celebrated the festive season by getting together for a traditional Christmas dinner. The place was beautifully decorated and we all had a wonderful time celebrating the end of an amazing year together. In 2015, we welcomed some new members to the OCEAN Lab team – Charlotte Booth, Annabel Songco, and Keith Dear joined as DPhil students. We also welcomed back Dr Maud Grol who was appointed as a Post-Doctoral Researcher. We look forward to an exciting year ahead!


Great meeting with Dr Michael Pleuss

Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr Michael Pleuss, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at Queen Mary University of London, to the OCEAN group. Dr Pleuss gave a wonderful talk on Individual differences in environmental sensitivity presenting research supporting the notion of ‘vantage sensitivity’ which suggests that some individuals inherit a predisposition to benefit more from positive and enriching environments, due to mechanisms that make them more sensitive to their environment. This notion runs parallel to the ‘differential susceptibility hypothesis’, which is an alternative model of diathesis-stress, suggesting that some individuals are more sensitive to the effects of both a negative and a positive environment – as under bad conditions they will display bad outcomes, but under good conditions they will display better than average outcomes. These ideas are hugely influential to our work at the OCEAN group, which is why we had such pleasure in meeting Dr Pleuss, who is a leading scientist in this field. We also had the pleasure of working with Dr Pleuss on his recently published book Genetics of Psychological Well-being Oxford University Press, 2015.

genetics psych wellbeing

Developments in the measurement/modification of cognitive biases

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a two-day symposium on ‘developments in the measurement and modification of cognitive biases’ and bringing together research groups from around the globe. We welcomed Prof. Colin MacLeod, Dr Ben Grafton and Dr Lies Notebaert from the University of Western Australia, Prof. Andrei Miu, Dr Laura Visu-Petra and Dr Lavinia Cheie from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and Prof. Naz Derakshan and Manu Ducrocq from London’s Birkbeck University to give talks. We also enjoyed many discussions with the wider research members over many group activities, including the very Oxfordian punting! We had a fantastic couple of days and look forward to meeting you all again!



Leaving dinner with Dr Maud Grol

Some of the OCEAN Lab enjoying a final dinner with visiting Post-Doc Dr Maud Grol from Ghent University, Belgium. Maud has been with us at OCEAN for the last 8 months running a study which aimed to develop a training paradigm to enhance proactive cognitive control. She has also been an invaluable member of the team setting up a working memory training and cognitive-behavioural modification training study. We are sad to see her go, but look forward to working together more in the future. Good luck Maud!


Another successful CBM symposium…

We recently held a small-group conference at the OCEAN Lab, where we welcomed external speakers: Professor Naz Derakshan from Birkbeck University; Professor Rudi De Raedt from Ghent University; Dr Maud Grol from Ghent University; and Dr Amanda Fitzgerald from University College Dublin. We discussed the current state and future directions of cognitive bias modification (CBM) techniques, with the specific aim of pooling our knowledge on the topic to evaluate the best way forward in this field. We had many interesting and fruitful discussions and concluded that we should adapt current training paradigms to aid cognitive enhancement in those suffering with psychopathologies, as well as those at risk of developing a later psychopathology. All in all it was another successful symposium, and we can’t wait to host another!