Talk at PSYPAG 2019

A couple of weeks ago I was invited down to Sheffield to present an overview of our recent findings to the PsyPAG annual conference. PsyPAG is the official postgraduate section of the BPS and covers all aspects of applied and academic psychology, so although I was part of the ‘Cognitive’ stream, I thought I should try and make my talk a bit broader than the usual premotor-theory bashing schtick Soazig and I indulge in. I took some inspiration from a talk Ray Klein gave in Durham a few years back  where he talked about oculomotor readiness theories in terms of embodied cognition, and from the recent RIO group meeting I attended, where Dan Eaves and I discussed the many similarities between motor theories of attention and motor theories of imagery. I was keen to mention some recent data on spatial working memory in Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and framing the talk in the broad terms of ‘visual cognition’ gave me licence to talk about a wider range of topics than just Premotor theory. With this theme I managed to touch on our earlier work with Case A.I, some eye-abduction data, Soazig’s recent data on search and cueing beyond the Effective Oculomotor Range and a bit on PSP. In the end I think this approach was quite successful at keeping people engaged with the talk, with lots of people nodding and nobody frowning too much! Interestingly, the questions were really focused on the applications of the research to different disorders, such as ADHD. On reflection, I think offering a more thorough discussion of the potential applications of our project in terms of rehab. For example, touching the kind of work Joris Elshout is doing in the Utrecht leg of the project, might have been a good idea. At the end of the talk I was surprised and delighted to be given some mementos of the occasion, which were only slightly awkward to carry back on the train 😉.  If you are interested in seeing the slides, they can be found here: “Are cognitive processes embodied in the motor system?”

Around my talk I had an enjoyable time looking through the many and varied posters. My favourite was from Gabriele Pesimena that examined to what extent perspective taking was disrupted by changes to the perspective of the avatar. Pleasingly, changing perspective had no effect, just as Geoff Cole had shown a couple of years ago! Many other posters utilised eye-tracking in one way or another, and this technique really seems to be becoming commonplace (although TBH in some cases it wasn’t always clear why eye-tracking was being used). There was also time to catch a couple of talks, and I particularly enjoyed Ben Butterworth (a Durham Psychology alumni) outlining the challenges of his research on the effects of alcohol on memory performance, and Suzy Hodgson’s talk on the roles new fathers play and how they interact with heath services. The talk sessions were very good with a really enthusiastic and engaged audience. There was also an excellent lunch, although I had a slightly awkward moment when I got shooed away from some very tasty cakes which apparently belonged to a different conference! However, all was not lost, as I subsequently discovered the Psychology cakes in the poster session 😊. I also bumped into Ellen Ridley, who was receiving a Masters award for her research at Durham and offered her my congratulations. I really enjoyed the conference and would definitely recommend it to any psychology postgrads looking for an opportunity to share their work in progress and gain experience giving talks. Its also worth noting that PsyPAG  offers many awards and small grants that can really help PGR develop their careers Finally, I would like to thank Suzanne Hodgson for the invitation to give the keynote.

Dan Smith

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