Tagged / the conversation

Why suicide rates among pregnant women in Nepal are rising

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Shutterstock/By KristinaSophie

By Bibha Simkhada, Liverpool John Moores University and Edwin van Teijlingen, Bournemouth University

Huge numbers of pregnant women and new mothers are taking their own lives in Nepal as they deal with extreme poverty, natural disasters, domestic violence and oppression. Research shows suicide represents 16% of all deaths in women of reproductive age. The rate is higher than previously recorded and there has been a considerable increase over the past few years. But a new project which trained midwives about mental health issues might hold the key to turning this around.

Suicide is primarily associated with unwanted pregnancy or the feeling of being trapped in poverty or situations of sexual and physical abuse. A study of 202 pregnant women (carried out between September and December 2014) found that 91% of them experienced some kind of physical, emotional or sexual abuse – mostly at the hands of their husbands and/or mother-in-laws.

The sad fact is that almost 40% of suicides in the world occur in South-East Asia. And one in three pregnant woman and new mothers are taking their own lives in low-income countries. In Nepal, 21% of the suicides among women aged 15-49 were in girls under 18 due to violence and being powerless in their families and communities.

Pregnancy is a known trigger for mental health problems. But gender discrimination and domestic violence are making matters worse. In addition to these issues, natural disasters are also a huge contributing factor to the spiralling mental health problems of young mothers.

A woman on a collapsed building in Kathmandu after the earthquake in May, 2015. Shutterstock/Somjin Klong-ugkara

Lack of control

In Nepal, making decisions about seeking maternity care is not in the hands of the pregnant woman but usually lies with her mother-in-law or husband. When young women marry they move in with their husbands’ family and their lives are ruled by their in-laws. These women often have little say in seeking health care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period.

In many poor families, husbands migrate for work leaving their young wives with family. Nepal has a real migrant workers economy with close to 50% of Nepalis relying on financial help from relatives abroad. Mental health problems can worsen for women who have been taken away from their own families. In other cases, young women face domestic violence due to their husbands’ drinking leading to mental health issues and suicide.

There is also a lack of understanding of pregnancy and childbirth-related mental health issues and husbands and mothers-in-law often fail to support these vulnerable young women. They in turn are reluctant to seek help due to the stigma associated with mental illness.

Cultural and social norms

Cultural practices and social norms, like gender inequalities and early marriage, hinder women who have a lack of choice when it comes to their role as mothers. There is also a preference for sons rather than daughters, who are seen as an “economic burden” in many families. If a woman is expecting a daughter, especially for the second or third time, this can also trigger mental health issues.

Depression and anxiety are common and affect ten to 15 out of every 100 pregnant women in the country. Postnatal depression is often reported, but less attention is given to more common and less obvious mental health issues.

Natural disasters and midwives

Recurrent earthquakes and floods exacerbate issues of depression and helplessness as women are forced to live in temporary shelters and have the burden of increased poverty.

For many rural Nepali women, the most qualified birth attendant they can expect to look after them is the Nepali Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs). But a study found that they received little or no formal training on perinatal mental health issues. Although there have been gradual improvements in health care for women during pregnancy, mental health support is leaving many women feeling that suicide is their only option.

As part of a Tropical Health and Education Trust project, funded by DFID, around 80 ANMs were trained on perinatal mental health issues. The project used UK-based volunteers in Nepal over two years.

The training helped raise awareness of mental health well-being and improved access to mental health care for pregnant women and new mothers. This is a vital first step towards improving community-based services for pregnant women in rural Nepal. But to offer hope to more young women there needs to be a significant increase in this type of training and awareness raising.

Bibha Simkhada, Postdoctoral Researcher in School of Nursing and Allied Health, Liverpool John Moores University and Edwin van Teijlingen, Professor of Reproductive Health Research, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Publishing’s Ratner moment: why eBooks are not ‘stupid’

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shandrus via Shutterstock.com

By Bronwen Thomas, Bournemouth University

In the days before social media – and, presumably, media training – Gerald Ratner’s description of some of the products sold in his chain of jewellers as “total crap” became a byword for the corporate gaffe. Recently the chief executive of publisher Hachette Livre, Arnaud Nourry, seems to have suffered his own “Ratner moment” when he described ebooks in an interview with an Indian news site as a “stupid product”.

The interview, which was intended to address the future of digital publishing and specific issues facing the Indian publishing market, was widely misquoted and Nourry’s comments taken out of context. But there is no denying the fact that the publisher criticises his own industry (“We’re not doing very well”) and attacks ebooks for lacking creativity, not enhancing the reading experience in any way and not offering readers a “real” digital experience.

Some commenters on social media welcomed Nourry’s comments for their honesty. They highlight his seeming support for the idea that publishers should be championing writers and artists working to exploit the creative potential of digital formats to provide readers with experiences that may be challenging and disruptive, but also exhilarating and boundary pushing.

But many of the 1,000-plus commenters reacting to coverage of the story on The Guardian’s website spoke out against “fiddling for the sake of it” – claiming they were not interested in enhanced features or “gamified dancing baloney” borrowed from other media. They also listed the many practical enhancements that ebooks and ereaders do offer. The obvious one is the ability to instantly download books in remote locations where there are no bricks and mortar bookstores. But there are other less obvious enhancements, including being able to instantly access dictionary and encyclopedia entries (at least if you have wifi access) and the option to have the book read to you if you have visual impairments.

Elsewhere, Australian researcher Tully Barnett has shown how users of Kindle ereaders adapt features such as Highlights and Public Notes for social networking, demonstrating that even if ebooks are not that intrinsically innovative or creative, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be made so by imaginative users.

Nourry clearly isn’t averse to the provocative soundbite – in the same interview he went on to say: “I’m not a good swallower” when asked about mergers and conglomeration in the publishing industry. On the other hand, he also seems very aware of the special place of books and reading in “culture, education, democracy” – so his use of the word “stupid” in this context is particularly inflammatory and insensitive.

Dear reader

My research on digital reading has taught me that debating books vs ereaders is always likely to arouse strong passions and emotions. Merely mentioning the word Kindle has led in some instances to my being shouted at – and readers of “dead tree” books are rightly protective and passionate about the sensory and aesthetic qualities of physical books that the digital version possibly can’t compete with.

Mother and daughter Barbara and Jenni Creswell enjoyed Anne of Green Gables in both print and ebook format. Ray Gibson, Author provided

But, equally, my research has shown that enhancements in terms of accessibility and mobility offer a lifeline to readers who might not be able to indulge their passion for reading without the digital.

In my latest project, academics from Bournemouth and Brighton universities, in collaboration with Digitales (a participatory media company), worked with readers to produce digital stories based on their reading lives and histories. A recurring theme, especially among older participants, was the scarcity of books in their homes and the fact that literacy and education couldn’t be taken for granted. Our stories also demonstrated how intimately reading is connected with self-worth and helps transform lives disrupted by physical and mental health issues – making comments about any reading as “stupid” particularly damaging and offensive.

I would like to know if Nourry would still call ebooks stupid products after watching Mary Bish’s story: My Life in Books from our project. A lifelong reader who grew up in a home in industrial South Wales with few books, Mary calls her iPad her “best friend” and reflects how before the digital age her reading life would have been cut short by macular degeneration.

As well as demonstrating that fairly basic digital tools can be used to create powerful stories, our project showed that the digital also makes us appreciate anew those features of the physical book we may take for granted, the touch, smell and feel of paper and the special place that a book handed down from generation to generation has in the context of family life.

Bronwen Thomas, Professor of English and New Media, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why sport hasn’t made much progress on LGBTI+ rights since the Sochi Olympics

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American skiier Gus Kenworthy is one of many openly gay athletes competing in Pyeongchang. Head & Shoulders

By Keith Parry, Western Sydney University; Emma Kavanagh, Bournemouth University, and Ryan Storr, Western Sydney University.

Athletes from Western nations have various protections, and many now share equal rights in most aspects of the law. But when they travel to compete in countries with regressive human rights records, these protections can be lost.

Australia competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, both of which were held in Russia. It will again send a team to Russia to play in this year’s FIFA World Cup and aims to compete in the 2022 edition in Qatar. Both countries have poor human rights records, particularly on LGBTI+ issues.

Sport is often lauded as a platform to advance human rights. But, for LGBTI+ individuals and athletes, this may not necessarily be true. The continued hosting of mega sporting events in countries with anti-LGBTI+ laws brings the role of sport in campaigns to advance human rights into focus.

Read more:
Australia has finally achieved marriage equality, but there’s a lot more to be done on LGBTI rights

LGBTI+ rights and the Winter Olympics

Sochi became a platform for LGBTI+ rights when Western activists called for a boycott based on several human rights concerns. Their resistance increased in direct response to the implementation of laws in Russia outlawing sexual minorities.

Principle 4 of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism was often referred to amid concerns for the safety of LGBTI+ athletes at Sochi:

The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

Athlete activists have begun to challenge the hosting of mega sporting events in countries like Russia that ignore human rights and reinforce systems of oppression. But what has really changed since Sochi for Olympians?

Read more:
Sport, Sochi and the rising challenge of the activist athlete

This year a country with a questionable stance on LGBTI+ rights is again hosting the Winter Olympics. South Korea scores only 13% on the Rainbow Index, which measures the impacts of a country’s laws and policies on the lives of LGBTI+ people. This is only a marginally better score than Russia’s 8%.

Although homosexuality is legal in South Korea, LGBTI+ rights remain highly volatile. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has courted controversy with comments opposing homosexuality, and sexual minorities continue to face significant stigma in the region.

Australia is taking 51 athletes to compete in South Korea, with two openly gay women on the team. One, Belle Brockhoff, has criticised the anti-LGBTI+ laws in host countries. She joined 26 other athletes who signed a letter opposing Kazakhstan’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics due to its anti-LGBTI+ policies.

However, it is not only host nations that can be called to account for their poor LGBTI+ records. Adam Rippon, an openly gay figure skater who has won bronze in Pyeongchang, recently said he did not want to meet Vice President Mike Pence as part of an official reception for the US team. Rippon argued the Trump administration does not “represent the values that [he] was taught growing up”.

A Fox News executive has criticised the inclusion of “African-Americans, Asians and openly gay athletes” in the US team. He claimed that “Darker, Gayer, Different” was now a more suitable Olympic motto than “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.

Current evidence suggests that anti-LGBTI+ discrimination is rising. Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBTI+ charity, reports hate crimes toward the LGBTI+ community have increased: one in five LGBTI+ people have experienced a hate crime due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last year.

In the US, Donald Trump tried to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Several states have attempted to pass laws to restrict access to bathrooms for people who are trans or gender-diverse.

Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff has publicly criticised the anti-LGBTI+ laws in Olympic host countries. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

With increased visibility comes increased risk

An increasing number of athletes now openly demonstrate their sexual orientation, but many acknowledge it leaves them open to homophobic abuse – especially on social media platforms.

American Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy referred to social media as a space that serves to reinforce the presence of casual and aggressive homophobia. British Olympian Tom Bosworth said he believed fear of abuse on social media could be preventing athletes from coming out.

Mega sporting events can be problematic for LGBTI+ athletes as many may not be “out” and there can be serious implications if they were to do so.

The safety and welfare of LGBTI+ athletes made headlines when a journalist went undercover in the athletes’ village at the 2016 Rio Olympics to identify out or closeted athletes. Several athletes who were identified were from countries where being gay is criminalised or even punishable by death.

Sport is responding at a notably slow pace to the advancement of LGBTI+ human rights.

Major sporting codes have shown they are not ready to tackle trans and gender diversity. For example, the Australian Football League recently banned transgender player Hannah Mouncey from joining its women’s competition.

Read more:
By excluding Hannah Mouncey, the AFL’s inclusion policy has failed a key test

There is still much work to be done around athletes with intersex variations, sex testing in elite-level competition, and transgender and transitioned athletes.

Ice skater Adam Rippon said he did want to meet US Vice President Mike Pence due to the Trump administration’s record on LGBTI+ rights. Matthew Stockman/Getty

Hope for the future?

One particular social inclusion legacy to come from a mega sporting event is Pride House International. This initiative provides a safe space for the LGBTI+ community to engage with a sporting event.

In addition, the Principle 6 campaign, launched in response to Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, led to the expansion of that particular part of the Olympic Charter to include sexual orientation as something sport should be free from discrimination on.

It will be interesting to see whether the 2018 Winter Olympics can contribute to the advancement of LGBTI+ rights within South Korea and beyond. However, more scrutiny must be directed to the human rights records of potential host nations when awarding mega sporting events.


Keith Parry, Senior Lecturer in Sport Management, Western Sydney University; Emma Kavanagh, Senior Lecturer in Sports Psychology and Coaching Sciences, Bournemouth University, and Ryan Storr, Lecturer in Sport Development, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What ancient footprints can tell us about what it was like to be a child in prehistoric times

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Footprint from 700,000 years ago. Matthew Bennett, Author provided

By Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Sally Reynolds.

Western society has a rather specific view of what a good childhood should be like; protecting, sheltering and legislating to ensure compliance with it. However, perceptions of childhood vary greatly with geography, culture and time. What was it like to be a child in prehistoric times, for example – in the absence of toys, tablets and television?

In our new paper, published in Scientific Reports, we outline the discovery of children’s footprints in Ethiopia which show how children spent their time 700,000 years ago.

We first came across the question of what footprints can tell us about past childhood experiences a few years back while studying some astonishingly beautiful children’s footprints in Namibia, just south of Walvis Bay. In archaeological terms the tracks were young, dating only from around 1,500 years ago. They were made by a small group of children walking across a drying mud surface after a flock of sheep or goats. Some of these tracks were made by children as young as three-years-old in the company of slightly older children and perhaps young adolescents.

Namibian footprints. Matthew Bennett, Author provided

The detail in these tracks, preserved beneath the shifting sands of the Namibian Sand Sea, is amazing, and the pattern of footfall – with the occasional skip, hop and jump – shows they were being playful. The site also showed that children were trusted with the family flock of animals from an early age and, one assumes, they learnt from that experience how to function as adults were expected to within that culture.

No helicopter parents

But what about the childhood of our earlier ancestors – those that came before anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens)? Children’s tracks by Homo antecessor (1.2m to 800,000 years ago) were found at Happisburgh in East Anglia, a site dating to a million years ago. Sadly though, these tracks leave no insight into what these children were doing.

Reconstruction of Homo Heidelbergensis. Jose Luis Martinez Alvarez/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

But the footprints described in our recent study – from a remarkable site in the Upper Awash Valley of Southern Ethiopia that was excavated by researchers from the Università di Roma “La Sapienza” – reveal a bit more. The children’s tracks were probably made by the extinct species Homo heidelbergensis(600,000 to 200,000 years ago), occurring next to adult prints and an abundance of animal tracks congregated around a small, muddy pool. Stone tools and the butchered remains of a hippo were also found at the site, called Melka Kunture.

This assemblage of tracks is capped by an ash flow from a nearby volcano which has been dated to 700,000 years ago. The ash flow was deposited shortly after the tracks were left, although we don’t know precisely how soon after. The tracks are not as anatomically distinct as those from Namibia but they are smaller and may have been made by children as young as one or two, standing in the mud while their parents and older siblings got on with their activities. This included knapping the stone tools with which they butchered the carcass of the hippo.

The findings create a unique and momentary insight into the world of a child long ago. They clearly were not left at home with a babysitter when the parents were hunting. In the harsh savannah plains of the East African Rift Valley, it was natural to bring your children to such daily tasks, perhaps so they could observe and learn.

This is not surprising, when one considers the wealth of ethnographic evidence from modern, culturally distinct human societies. Babies and children are most often seen as the lowliest members of their social and family groups. They are often expected to contribute to activities that support the mother, and the wider family group, according to their abilities. In many societies, small boys tend to help with herding, while young girls are preferred as babysitters. Interestingly, adult tools – like axes, knives, machetes, even guns – are often freely available to children as a way of learning.

Artistic impression of scene at Melka Kunture. Matthew Bennett, Author provided

So, if we picture the scene at Melka Kunture, the children observing the butchery were probably allowed to handle stone tools and practice their skills on discarded pieces of carcass while staying out of the way of the fully-occupied adults. This was their school room, and the curriculum was the acquisition of survival skills. There was little time or space to simply be a child, in the sense that we would recognise today.

This was likely the case for a very long time. The Monte Hermoso Human Footprint Site in Argentina (roughly 7,000-years-old) contains predominantly small tracks (of children and women) preserved in coastal sediments and it has been suggested that the children may have played an important role in gathering seafood or coastal resources. Similarly, most of the tracks in the Tuc d’Audoubert Cave in France (15,000-years-old) are those of children and the art there is striking. Perhaps they were present when it was carved and painted?

However, these observations contrasts to the story that emerged last year based on tracks from the older Homo Homo erectus (1.5m-year-old) at Ileret, located further south in the Rift Valley, just within the northern border of Kenya. Here the tracks have been interpreted as the product of adult hunting groups moving along a lake shore, rather than a domestic scene such as that at Melka Kunture. However, these scenes aren’t mutually exclusive and both show the power of footprints to provide a snapshot into past hominin behaviour.

But it does seem like the overwhelming parenting lesson from the distant past is that children had more responsibilities, less adult supervision and certainly no indulgence from their parents. It is a picture of a childhood very different from our own, at least from the privileged perspective of life in Western society.


Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Senior Lecturer in Hominin Palaeoecology, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fact Check: does the north of England now get as much transport spending as the south?

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When you include those centrally funded and locally delivered projects, this government is spending more per head on transport in the northwest than we are in the southeast.

Chris Grayling, Sectary of State for Transport, 21 September 2017

There is a widely held view, fuelled by the media, that the north of England is hard done by when it comes to transport spending. Over 70,000 people recently signed a petition to the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, calling for more investment in transport in the north. Grayling has responded by saying the figures used to make this assessment are misleading, and that the northwest region now receives more transport spending than the southeast.

The issue of transport spending is awash with statistics. A recent House of Commons document confirmed that public spending on transport in absolute, per person and modal average terms is higher in parts of the north than in the southeast region outside London but not in the capital itself. In the 2015/16 financial year, transport spending per person was £401 in the northwest, £380 in Yorkshire and the Humber, and £299 in the northeast. For the southeast, it was £365 per head, while for London it was £973.

The think tank IPPR North has estimated that from 2016/17 onwards, the figures will be £680 for the northwest, £190 for Yorkshire and Humber, and £220 for the northeast. The southeast will get £226 and London £1,040.

So Grayling is right to say the northwest is doing well right now compared to the southeast (not including London), which is receiving similar amounts to the other northern regions. But this ignores the fact that London still receives far more than any other part of the country.

The problem with these kind of figures for individual years is that they can skew the overall picture of spending. For example, money for large infrastructure projects such as Crossrail in London and the southeast, and Manchester’s Metrolink programme, tend to be allocated to the particular years when the projects are completed.

Looking at all the spending data over a longer period of time is a better indicator of the gap between north and south. In terms of total transport spending, the southeast has actually received 13% more than the northwest since 2011/12. And looking at bus and rail services, London has received over five times more public spending in the last five years than the northwest.

But the real picture is even more complicated than this. Transport infrastructure in London is not just for Londoners. Many people in the southeast benefit hugely from London transport spending, especially those who commute in every day. Yet people from elsewhere in Britain also benefit when they visit, as do millions of international tourists.

London is very different from the other English regions, with much greater population density and a more mobile workforce. Its transport serves a different, wider purpose and also benefits from local government funding because of devolution. So a like-for-like comparison is inherently misleading.

The government’s recent budget has also gone some way to further reducing the north-south divide. The northeast will receive £337m for new rolling stock on the 40-year-old Tyne and Wear Metro network. Greater Manchester has been promised £240m to ease road congestion. A £1.7 billion fund will improve links between city centres and suburbs across the country. But the lack of news about the much-needed modernisation of the Manchester to Leeds transPennine route put on hold earlier this year is very disappointing, and Leeds still desperately needs a new mass transit system.


It might come as a surprise for those in the northwest and Yorkshire to hear that they get about the same amount of transport spending (or more) than the southeast, but at the moment it is technically true. The northeast, meanwhile, remains the poor relation in every measurement of spending. But these simple facts don’t take account of the much higher spending in London or the very different circumstances by which this money is allocated.


Derek Robbins, Senior Lecturer in Transport and Tourism, Bournemouth University

This is a comprehensive review of current transport investment and expenditure, well illustrated by published data. It can be difficult to separate data from political spin and government PR, which have the unnerving tendency to portray funding that has already been allocated as if it were newly announced. But the underlying premise of this article that transport investment in the northwest and Yorkshire has increased is well made.

I take greater issue with the conclusion that recent announcements have gone some way to further reducing the north-south divide. As the article illustrates, long-term investment is a better indicator, and the north still has some considerable catching up to do. The new projects are only a first step. I would also describe the lack of progress towards a modernised and reliable transPennine rail route as more than disappointing, given that it is an essential investment for future economic growth in the north.

While I also accept that London is different, I think the benefits of the capital’s transport links to the other English regions can be easily overstated.


Colin Bamford, Associate Dean, Business School, University of Huddersfield

Reviewed by Derek Robbins, Senior Lecturer in Transport and Tourism, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

FoM academic publishes article on student debt in The Conversation

Julie Robson from the Department of Marketing (FoM) has co-authored an article published today in The Conversation about unpaid student placements and debt.

The piece is loosely based on earlier research that examined students as vulnerable consumers where debt is concerned. This project was made possible following a successful application to the BU Undergraduate Research Assistant Programme (URAP) in 2015. Results from the research will be published in November 2017 in the Journal of Marketing for Higher Education. The article is entitled Working up a debt: Students as vulnerable consumers. The authors are Julie Robson (BU), Jillian Dawes Farquhar (Southampton Solent) and Christopher Hindle (BU URAP).

The article in The Conversation is entitled – Student interns are not entitled to the minimum wage and its costing them big time and can be accessed here.

The strange science of odour memory – BU published in the Conversation

Andrew Johnson, Bournemouth University and Andrew Moss, Bournemouth University

Smell is a powerful sense. It can improve alertness, reduce anxiety and influence self-confidence. Certain odours can even prime people to have safe sex. The Conversation

Odours provide a richness to our perception of the world. But, despite the ubiquity of smell, we understand less about smell memory than we do about visual and auditory memory.

The classic example of smell memory is what has become known as a Proustian memory (or involuntary memory). For this phenomenon, mere exposure to a stimulus can automatically trigger a strong memory from the past. For Proust, it was tea-soaked madeleine that activated a detailed memory of his aunt’s house.

A simple madeleine plunged Proust back to his youth.

As a researcher of odour memory, people often tell me stories of smells that triggered vivid autobiographical memories. This might be the smell of hospital food, a certain alcoholic drink or the shampoo of a former lover. This strong relationship between odour and emotion is thought to result from the part of the brain involved in processing odours being positioned within the limbic system – an area of the brain integral to emotion.

Testing short-term memory for smells

Not all smell is stored in long-term memory, though. Some smells are only retained in memory for short periods. Imagine you’re shopping for a new aftershave or perfume. You wouldn’t smell two products at the same time as it would be difficult to distinguish between the two. To decide which one you prefer, you need to smell them one after the other. This means you have to temporarily store the smell and then recall it to make a comparison. We have been examining how people store odours in short-term memory and the extent to which odour memory works differently from other types of memory.

The simplest explanation is that people perform smell memory tasks by verbally labelling the odours (for example: “smells like cheese”). But using this kind of verbal strategy results in the memory task being a test of verbal rather than olfactory memory, because we’re storing the word “cheese” in verbal memory not the actual smell of cheese in odour memory. As researchers, we can limit the use of this strategy by selecting odours that are hard to name. For example, non-food odours are typically harder to label.

Another trick we use is asking participants to repeat words that are irrelevant to the task during the test; this is called “concurrent articulation”. Concurrent articulation disrupts the participant’s ability to name the odours and their ability to silently rehearse the names during the task. For example, if you’re repeating “the, the, the” while sniffing something that smells like new-mown grass, you won’t be able to store the words “new-mown grass” in your verbal memory. It’s a bit like trying to read a book while listening to the news.

It has been shown that people can perform short-term olfactory memory tasks when the odours are hard to name,
and when undertaking concurrent articulation. These findings suggest that while verbal labelling can improve the memory for an odour, people are also able to store the actual odour within memory. This is supported by research showing that different parts of the brain are activated when remembering easy-to-name and hard-to-name odours; specifically, the inferior frontal gyrus and the piriform cortex, respectively.

One method by which olfactory short-term memory has been compared with other types of memory is by examining how well people can remember a list of odours. Depending on the specifics of the memory task, people are typically good at remembering the first and last item on a list (a phenomena known as primacy and recency). There is some evidence that, for some tasks, smell memory produces different primacy and recency effects to that of other stimuli. These differences might indicate that your smell memory works in a different way to other types of memory.

Smell memory as a diagnostic tool

You might, quite reasonably, ask why you should be interested in testing smell memory, since most of the time we use our olfactory perception to make judgements about odours (that smell is nice/horrible). But research has shown that an impaired sense of smell memory is a predictor of developing dementia.

To further emphasise this link, people with the ApoE gene (a genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s), who show no signs of dementia, have impaired odour identification. These findings suggest that an olfactory memory test could potentially be used as part of the armoury in detecting the early stages of dementia. Early detection is important, as the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.

Andrew Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Bournemouth University and Andrew Moss, PhD Student in Cognitive Psychology, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Professor Barry Richards on ‘The Conversation’

A piece written by BU’s Professor Barry Richards was featured as a lead article on ‘The Conversation’ website.

Entitled ‘A hymn confirms that the FA Cup final is a matter of life and death’, the article explores the reasons why ‘Abide with Me’ has become the FA Cup anthem.

The Conversation is a website, sourcing news and views from the academic and research community and sharing it with the wider public.

Read Barry’s article on The Conversation here.