This week Ivett interviewed Dr Catherine Thompson, Lecturer in Psychology. Catherine is the module leader for the Cognitive modules on the undergraduate Psychology programmes. Catherine’s research focuses on visual cognition and her main areas of interest include how observers allocate their attention effectively and what factors influence selection; limits in the control of attention and the impact of a preceding task on the allocation of attention; and the influence of environmental factors on cognitive performance.
- How did you get into Psychology?
I kind of just fell into Psychology. It wasn’t something I planned – more the fact that there were very few a-level choices available in my sixth form and Psychology appealed to me. It worked out well though!
- Who is your favourite Psychologist and why?
I’m not sure I have a favourite Psychologist. I’ve read the work of so many fantastic researchers and I’ve met some really great people from the field that I don’t think I could pick one in particular. Having said that, I really admire the work completed by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch on working memory. It is such an important concept that relates to so many aspects of human behaviour. The working memory model has been very influential in identifying how and why people differ in cognitive ability, and the work in this area has led to improvements in functioning for a number of populations and in a variety of settings. I am also very much in awe of Daniel Kahneman. A Nobel Prize winner (in economic sciences, despite being a Psychologist), his research and the way in which he communicates this work have made a huge impact on our understanding and recognition of thought processes.
- What psychological concept/topic/issue are you most passionate about?
I am most interested in Cognition, and within Cognition my preferred topic is visual attention. I find it so interesting that we don’t process the external environment in the way that we think we do, and what we attend to is influenced by our previous experiences. It really does show that every person has a unique and individual view of the world.
- What makes the Psychology Department at Salford unique?
I think our department is unique in two ways. The first is the staff – we always go that extra mile to support our students. The second is our students (obviously!). We have a really diverse mix of students and they each bring something special to the department.
- If you could work anywhere, which University would you pick and why?
I really enjoy my job so I think I would be happy working in any Psychology department. My answer would therefore be based on where I would most like to live – either Manchester (I love living in Manchester, so any uni in this area would suit me) or Edinburgh (I really like the city of Edinburgh and my Mum was born there so it feels very special).
- What was the most fascinating research/project you were involved in/conducted?
From my own perspective the most fascinating project I was involved in was the work I conducted for my PhD. The work was very theoretical and although I’m in favour of applying research to the real world it was a real privilege to investigate something purely for the purpose of expanding knowledge within a specific area – who knows where that sort of thing could lead! I wouldn’t expect many people to be fascinated by the topic though (!) so another very interesting project I was involved in was the ‘Thrill Laboratory’ which investigated different aspects of thrill-seeking behaviour. We were based at Alton Towers for two days taking all sorts of behavioural and physiological recordings from people as they went on a roller coaster – completely different to the sort of work I am usually involved in.
- What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working with my lovely intern from Italy (Alessia Pasquini) and we are just about to run an experiment investigating how the demands of one task can affect attention and performance in a second task. This is an effect I’ve termed “carry-over” and it reveals the importance of attentional control in everyday tasks. As soon as the task demands change we should update our attentional settings, but findings show that we don’t always do this, which results in attention and resources being directed towards irrelevant information. I am also in the process of writing up a previous experiment in this area to submit for publication so my mind is fully focused on carry-over at the moment! I have other data that is waiting to be written up and submitted (some work on the influence of emotion on attention and another study that one of my dissertation students completed looking at how mind wandering – or daydreaming – narrows our spread of attention). I am also focusing on teaching at the moment because most of my modules run this semester and I’m trying to get to know the new Psychology and Criminology students and my new personal tutees. It’s a busy time, but it is challenging and fun.
- If you could choose another Profession, what would it be?
I have absolutely no clue! I don’t really spend time thinking about alternative options, and “what ifs”, I prefer to focus on the present. If I didn’t enjoy my job I might think about other options but so far I’ve been very happy in my chosen profession.
- Do you have a favourite quote?
“Those who give too much attention to trifling things become generally incapable of great things” (La Rochefoucauld)
10. Facebook or Twitter?
Anyone who knows me will be aware that I’m pretty ‘anti’ social media so my answer would be “neither”. I do have a Twitter account though so I guess if I had to choose it would be Twitter. I definitely don’t do Facebook!
11. Which book is a must have for Psychology students?
We give students recommended textbooks on each module so I don’t want to repeat texts that have already been suggested. Instead I would recommend some ‘lighter’ reading for those spare moments, and I’ll suggest two. The first is “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by Oliver Sachs, which covers a whole range of case studies of patients suffering from neurological disorders. The second is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman; not an easy book to read but it provides so much information about the process of thinking and reasoning. It will give you a whole new perspective on Psychology and the importance of studying the mind.
12. What advice would you give to SalfordPsych students?
Can I give two pieces of advice? 1. Read journal articles (please!). 2. Keep an open mind – just because you may be more interested in one specific topic area in Psychology it doesn’t mean that other areas are less valuable. Every area within Psychology has a role in our understanding of behaviour and human performance.
13. What do you hope for Psychology in the future?
I hope it continues to thrive and I really hope that as Psychologists we can continue to develop theories and apply these theories to real-world settings – I see both as integral to the field and equally important. Also, I hope that Psychology continues to interest me for many years because as you can see above I don’t really know what else I would be doing!
If you would like to know more about Catherine Thompson, please check her Profile out on the Hub.
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