Review: Brain vs World

Beer lover’s favourite science festival Pint of Science comes back, with insight into new and exciting research in the field of Psychology. Three researchers from our Uni explained how they are pushing the frontiers of their respective fields, and why studying the human mind is so important.

Starting off the night, Dr Niamh Stack gave a talk about giftedness and the problems gifted children often experience. She works with the Scottish Network for Able Pupils (SNAP), and her job is to investigate and improve how gifted kids are perceived and treated in schools. She discussed how dyslexia and other similar problems can affect their lives, and why even gifted kids can sometimes be naughty. We like to believe that schools are organised in a way that benefits the gifted individuals, but Dr Stack challenged that. She believes that more support is needed, and even if the bad stereotypes are starting to change, systematically tackling the problem of asynchrony of such kids among their peers is a must.

Continuing after a wee pint break, next spoke Dr Philip McAleer. His research focuses on voices and vocal potential in psychology, so he wanted to show us ‘why voices are cool’. Using a lot of different audio recordings, he demonstrated, with some help from the audience, how our voices give information about our personalities. Gender, age, and even sometimes height are easily guessed from a person’s voice, but his research is going further. Recognising dominant and trustworthy traits in people based only on their voice is also possible, and he commented on how this explains some political phenomena and even voting patterns. He concludes, however, that these correlations are mostly just stereotypes, and that we shouldn’t change our voices to be perceived differently – we should recognise and discard our cognitive biases instead.

Following another break and a psychology trivia quiz, Dr Heather Cleland Woods ended the night with a discussion on sleep. She acknowledges a fact we’re all trying to ignore – in today’s 24/7 society sleep is no longer considered a necessity and is starting to resemble exercise. It has to be tightly incorporated into our schedule for us to remember to go to bed, and often needs to be practised so that it becomes better. She differentiates good sleepers and bad sleepers, but points out that ‘good sleep’ should just be called ‘normal sleep’, as it is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. Alcohol, lack of physical activity and bad timing of meals are one of the biggest enemies of regular and good quality sleep, but technology is by far the worst one. This is why Dr Woods introduces the term ‘digital sunset’ and emphasizes that we should limit our use of screens in the evening if we want to improve our sleep, and thus our wellbeing as well.

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