Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Panel One: Health, Wellbeing and Behaviour

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The first panel of this years conference will be focus on how our research has, will and can contribute to our understanding and applicantion in the field of health, well being and behaviour.

The chair of this panel will be head of the Graduate school, Professor Ann MacLarnon. She has done research on the evolution of reproductive life history characteristics in mammals, as well as brain size and spinal cord size evolution. Using this broad comparative base, she has worked on the evolution of human speech breathing involving evidence from fossil hominids, and most recently on the Flores dwarf hominids, concentrating on the tiny brain size and possibility of microcephaly in the best known specimen. 

The four presenters for this sections are;

1) Daisy Fancourt (Department of Education)

The Psychoneuroimmunology of Music
Coined in 1964 to describe a fast-emerging field, psychoneuroimmunology traces how psychological processes translate through the brain to impact on the immune system. Fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature, it draws together a dozen scientific fields from psychology to neuroscience, endocrinology, molecular biology and behavioural medicine to examine the the bi-directional relationship between mental processes and health.

One of these key mental processes is the deeper effect of stress. Music has been used as a method of stress relief for thousands of years. Yet the mechanisms underlying this - the psychoneuroimmunology of music - have scarcely been examined. Music’s impact on immune function is a fundamental question which could increase the use of music in healthcare settings, have implications for music psychology and applied musicology, and provide a new perspective on music’s role in society.

Drawing on a systematic review just completed of this field, this presentation will trace the broad psychological, neurological and immunological pathways by which music exerts an effect, comparing the results of over 30 years of clinical trials. It will then focus specifically on immune biomarkers to give a more in-depth and tangible illustration of the biological impact that music can have.

Finally, this presentation will consider two questions key to the conference's theme: what future research directions need to be taken to make a difference to the field; and, focusing on a case study of a recent NHS arts-in-health project, how can the results from this research be turned into programmes that will make a difference to patient outcomes.
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Daisy studied at Christ Church, Oxford and King's College, London before commencing her PhD at Roehampton University in January 2013, supervised by Professor Adam Ockelford (Applied Music Research) and Dr Abi Belai (Life Sciences). She is also actively involved in the application of the results of research in music and medicine in healthcare settings and, alongside her PhD, currently manages the performing arts programme at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London.

2) Aleksandër Trajçe (Department of Life Sciences)

Public perceptions of large carnivores in Albania
To test differences in attitudes towards wolves, bears and lynx in Albania and the implications that might arise for their conservation, a human dimensions survey was conducted between April 2007 and January 2009 (n = 397). From the existing information on the distribution and abundance of large carnivores in Albania wolves are considered the most common and widespread species, whereas lynx the most rare and endangered. We documented differences in public attitudes and beliefs towards the three large carnivore species. Wolves were consistently ranked as the most negative species and support for their conservation was lower than for bears and lynx. In addition, wolves were reported as the most damage-causing species and the level of conflict tolerance towards them was low. People tended to differentiate wolves from bears and lynx; however they generally expressed more similar and positive attitudes for the other two. The current conservation trends that treat large carnivores as a “functional guild” might therefore not be appropriate for Albania. Management plans and conservation initiatives, especially those that are based on public outreach, should keep wolves separate from bears and lynx as lower public support for wolves might jeopardise the conservation of the other two. Bears and lynx can potentially be treated together based on their similar conservation issues and public support, whereas wolves need to be addressed separately from a conflict-solution point of view.
Keywords: large carnivores, human–wildlife conflict, human dimensions, Albania

I am a PhD candidate in anthropology (human-animal studies). My background is in nature conservation; I have obtained an MSc degree in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management from the University of Oxford in 2010 and worked as a wildlife researcher at the Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme since 2006. My research interests focus on the interrelationships between humans and large carnivores and how they might relate to issues of conservation.

3) Damiano Weitowitz (Department of Life Sciences)

Describing the distribution of groundwater fauna in the UK and analysing the factors controlling it

It is thought that groundwater ecosystems are complex networks in which biotic and abiotic factors interact to provide essential services. Some of the proposed services of groundwater invertebrates, known as stygobites, include the maintenance of water flow and quality and promotion of microbial growth with knock-on effects for processes such as denitrification.

However, the groundwater environment remains neglected although public interest in groundwater as a resource has increased in recent years 9 stygobite species have been described in the UK so far, compared to hundreds of species in continental Europe. However, it is thought that species may yet await discovery, because stygobites are cryptic and several areas lack sampling efforts. This thesis has the goal to extend our knowledge of stygobite distributions within UK aquifers. Also, it will investigate the factors controlling the distribution and abundance of stygobites. I believe that an enhanced understanding of the ecology of groundwater will ultimately help to protect this so much needed resource for the future.

My aim for the conference is to introduce the scope of my research. As part of the latter I will provide a summary of my research questions, which include the assessment of different geologies as faunal habitats, mark-recapture studies to assess species abundance and an analysis of environmental factors governing the distribution of the crustacean class Copepoda. I also intend to show some preliminary analysis.

I attended The University of St. Andrews between 2003-2009 where I gained a BSc in Behavioural Biology. Between 2009-2010 I was a research assistant in a project assessing the behaviour and stress responses of chacma baboons in the Cape of Good Hope National Reserve. I then completed a MSc in Integrative Bioscience at the University of Oxford between 2010-2011, before assisting in a camera trap monitoring program focusing on lynx in the Bavarian National Forests.  

4) James Munro (Department of Psychology)

The human mirror neuron system: Have we been looking into the mirror of Erised?
The human mirror neuron system (MNS) is not only a focus of extensive research directed at understanding how we learn from our world, but a phenomenon inspiring dance routines, therapeutic methods and passionate presentations of its role as the next great leap in human evolution. Despite the excitement around the discovery of a neural system which may provide a deeper connection between individuals than once expected, there is a lot of confusion and contention about even its most basic functions. Does the MNS allow us to understand and/or predict the goals of another individual? Is it influenced by our desires, our motivations or the context in which we observe actions? Do we even know where the system is? My PhD thesis aims to provide answers to these questions and to evaluate the efficacy of one of the more modern theories examining its function; associative learning. This theory interprets the MNS not as an adaptation for action understanding or prediction, but as a general mechanism for association. Its proponents have determined that the ‘mirror response’ (in which a perceived action activates the same brain region as an identical or similar executed action) can be strengthened, weakened, abolished or ever reversed through brief training sessions. The associative learning perspective proposes that the apparent social significance of the MNS is but a strong link between performing an action and the sight of performing it, rather than a specific and game-changing adaptation with more fantastic implications. Perhaps “mirror” is an entirely misleading name.

Biography: After graduating with a 1st from my undergraduate degree up in The University of Abertay Dundee, I decided I wanted an easy and peaceful life, so I traveled to London and took up neuropsychology.


My dissertation was on the impacts of sexual selection on human behaviour and cognition, and for a brief period I studied the social lives of primates at Edinburgh zoo. This work inspired me to lean towards the biological side of psychology. My main area of interest now is the human mirror neuron system.

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