Washington Singer Laboratories, University of Exeter, Perry Road, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK
I am deeply interested in the nature of mind, particularly its relationship with emotional life and wellbeing. This fascination stems from several years spent working in mental health and social care services, and developed a more academic form during my undergraduate studies in psychology at the University of Sussex. There, I started to wonder about how affectivity shapes the way we experience ourselves and the world in conscious and unconscious ways, and how this relates to mental health.
I found the potential for psychological science to inform therapeutic practice exciting and inspiring. What struck me, though, was that whilst the experimental approaches I studied necessarily broke the mind down into precise processes, complementary work that put the whole person back together again was rare. This seemed important for connecting findings from experimental psychology to clinical practice, so I became interested in finding richer, rigorous ways to scientifically study emotion and affective consciousness.
To deepen my understanding of the research process and this field, I worked in a series of research posts on translational projects after my degree. These primarily investigated cognition-emotion interactions, and included work on mood and prospective memory, cognitive bias modification and the structure of autobiographical memory in depression. These roles culminated in an NHS research associate post on a clinical trial investigating collaborative care for treatment-resistant depression, at which time I was also affiliated to Professor Tim Dalgleish’s research group at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. Under his supervision I developed a novel intervention for depression based on autobiographical memory processes (MemFlex), which is currently being tested.
Since joining the University of Exeter as an associate research fellow, I have focused on developing skills in phenomenological methods to complement my training in experimental psychology. This allows me to investigate the qualities of emotion experience alongside more established experimental techniques. Initially I conducted pilot work on the phenomenology of emotion in the philosophy department, before completing an MSc in psychological research methods. My dissertation explored transformation in the experience of sadness following mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. My doctoral research brings together these academic interests and my personal practice of meditation in investigating how mindfulness meditation influences emotion using mixed methods.
Emotion can be studied from a multitude of academic perspectives, and I love to think and work across conventional disciplinary boundaries. My own perspective has been vastly enriched and expanded through collaborations with colleagues in the arts, philosophy and community mental health organisations, and I hope that interdisciplinary collaboration will continue to be part of my research life in the future.
Broad research specialisms:
- Mindfulness meditation.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
- Virtual reality.
- Phenomenology and neurophenomenology.
- Philosophy of mind.
- Mixed-methods and interdisciplinary research.
BSc (Hons) Psychology (first class).
MSc Psychological Research Methods (distinction; Dean’s Commendation).
Project Title: Mind and matter: How mindfulness shapes phenomenological and embodied dimensions of emotion.
Economic and Social Research Council 1+3 studentship.
2015 Francisco J. Varela Award, Mind and Life Institute.
Translational research shows that how we experience and respond to emotional situations is an important transdiagnostic marker for psychological distress, and is especially prominent in affective disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. To date, however, the fine-grained experiential qualities of emotion and the role of situational factors in shaping emotional responses have received very little empirical attention. With this therapeutic application in mind, my research investigates how phenomenological methods might be used in conjunction with more established experimental measures to develop more holistic accounts of emotion in wellbeing and distress.
Specifically, I study how mindfulness meditation affects emotional responses, and draw on ideas from cognitive science and philosophy, as well as psychology and neuroscience, in attempting to build a fuller picture of how emotion happens. I work with people who practice meditation and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy course participants to explore this question in a range of contexts. The phenomenological strand of the project also raises interesting and important methodological questions concerning experiential report and how first- and third-person methods relate to each other, and these absorbing challenges are an aspect of the work that I enjoy enormously.
I am grateful to be supported by an Economic and Social Research Council 1+3 studentship and a Francisco J. Varela Award from the Mind and Life Institute. Alongside my doctoral studies I coordinate the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis South West regional group and am a Committee Member of the BPS Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section.