Category / Research communication

Call for Abstracts | The 12th Annual Postgraduate Research Conference

I am delighted to announce that the call for abstracts for The 12th Annual Postgraduate Research Conference is now open.

The Annual Postgraduate Research Conference is an opportunity for postgraduate researcher to showcase and promote their research to the BU community whether they have just started or are approaching the end of their journey at BU and this year we are going virtual.

Attending the conference is a great opportunity to engage and network with your PGRs and the wider PGR community and find out more about the exciting and fascinating research that is happening across BU.

For our 12th Annual Postgraduate Research Conference we will be hosting oral presentations via Zoom and showcasing research posters virtually on the website and the research and Faculty blogs.

How to apply guidance and the application form can also be found on the conference webpage.

I look forward to receiving the applications and hopefully seeing many of you at the conference.

Keynote speaker and registration coming soon. 

Conversation article: Nurses are on the coronavirus frontline, so why are they being left out of the response?

More than 600 nurses worldwide have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. This should not be a surprise: we are the largest group of healthcare workers in the world, dedicated to preventing the spread of coronavirus, and we are also engaged in caring for those who are suffering.

But although we are on the frontline of this crisis, nurses are too often being left out of responses to the pandemic.

Uniquely at risk

In the UK and other countries with high rates of coronavirus deaths, there are increasing inequalities in health outcomes for different income groups. In England and Wales, the mortality rates from COVID-19 in the most deprived areas are more than double the least deprived.

In general, the risk of ill health increases for people who live on a low income. Common health issues that affect these groups include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, lung disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. All of these put people at higher risk of becoming sicker and dying from COVID-19. Death rates are highest among people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

These communities are also disproportionately represented among nursing staff some of whom are living on the lowest wages.

Lacking equipment

Nurses working in hospitals, care homes and within communities are often put at greater risk from COVID-19 because they have not been given adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE.

A study of nearly 100,000 health workers in the UK and US found that people working on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic were three times more likely to test positive for the disease than the general community. Health workers from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background were found to be five times more likely to test positive than white people who did not work in healthcare. Workers who reported a lack of adequate PPE in their healthcare institutions were at greater risk still.

Another study by the UK’s Royal College of Nursing, meanwhile, found that more than half of Black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents have felt pressure to work without the correct PPE compared to just over a third of other respondents. These groups were also asked to reuse PPE more frequently than their white counterparts.

Denied a voice

It’s a painful irony that as nurses battle against the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 is the World Health Organization’s Year of the Nurse and Midwife which was supposed to raise the profile and perceptions of nurses globally.

But the response to the pandemic in the UK has starkly shown that our expertise and experience as a profession is not being called upon and our potential is not recognised. We are the biggest work force for health in the UK working in hospitals, care homes and community settings to care for those with COVID-19 and help prevent its spread yet we have no representation on the official scientific advisory group (SAGE), which advises the government on its coronavirus response. Nor are we represented on the rival Independent SAGE group.

Our role in policy development and planning is negligible despite the invaluable insights our unique position in health systems gives us. Our lack of representation and reward means that we are also suffering from the impacts of inequalities along with those we care for.

Given the chance, nurses could help guide coronavirus policy in a number of ways. First, by being a witness to the health impacts of COVID-19 on our local communities and staff, recording and researching inequity of access to services. Second, we can advise on how to provide prevention and treatment resources to those most at risk. Finally, we can set a positive example in terms of equality of opportunity, fair working conditions, protection from infection and pay. This could start with ensuring equal provision of PPE for all staff.

Nurses are at the forefront of trying to reduce existing health inequalities which are being made worse by COVID-19. We are also victims of those inequalities – a feminised, racialised workforce dealing with poor conditions and lacking a political voice. Care and prevention of disease are not perceived as being as important as finding a cure or a vaccine, but in the global recovery from COVID-19, all these elements are equally vital.

We have already lost too many colleagues in the fight against this disease. It’s time our work is recognised and we are given an official voice to help us all recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Ann Hemingway, Professor of Public Health, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: How Airbnb got its IPO plans back on track

Airbnb is gearing up for its long-awaited IPO.
Shutterstock.com

Michael O’Regan, Bournemouth University

It’s been a rollercoaster year for Airbnb and its much-anticipated plans for an initial public offering or IPO. The home sharing platform had planned to file back in March to go public but then coronavirus hit and its revenue nose-dived.

Now, it looks like plans are back on track. Airbnb confidentially filed its IPO paperwork with the securities and exchange commission in mid-August. None of the financial specifics were revealed but the company was valued at US$18 billion in its last funding round in April, which is a long way down from its previous 2017 valuation of US$31 billion.

Of course, like the entire tourism industry, the coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous effect on Airbnb’s finances. New bookings stopped, cancellation rates soared, refunds to hosts and guests cost millions and revenue fell, even as cost cutting measures like layoffs were implemented. To help mitigate this, it was forced to fundraise US$2 billion in debt and equity securities in April 2020 with onerous terms.

So the decision to file its IPO paperwork and potentially list in 2020 was surprising to some. Critics point to the ongoing pandemic and the many issues it continues to throw up: the hosts and guests that have been angered by changing cancellation policies, new laws and regulations in cities seeking to reclaim housing for locals, as well as the falling revenue and ongoing losses. Others point to the lacklustre IPOs from sharing economy bedfellows Uber and Lyft in 2019, not to mention WeWork’s fall from grace.

Reasons to IPO

But there are lots of reasons to go public, including pressure from employees (shares held by early employees will expire this year). But another big motivation is the fact that Airbnb has rebounded better than its competitors from coronavirus. Booking rates were above expectations from June 2020 onwards and the Airbnb model could take advantage of changing host and tourist behaviour during the pandemic.

The company’s overheads are far less than the hotel sector due to its limited fixed costs. It also took advantage of the rise in domestic staycations in rural locations across the globe, and the increased demand for countryside retreats where people could safely socially distance. Unlike hotels, short-term rentals tend to facilitate longer stays and can offer full-service amenities, living space, and gardens. Research shows that the more spacious environments of short-term lets have been popular with holidaymakers and people wanting to work from home elsewhere.

Despite broad marketing cuts to reduce losses, Airbnb has strong brand recognition through past campaigns like “Don’t go there. Live there” that tapped into people’s desire to not just visit a place but have a more authentic experience of it. This helped it become the go-to platform for short-term rentals during the pandemic.

Hosts in rural areas also responded to the demand by listing. Meanwhile urban hosts responded by switching their properties to private rental, or dramatically reducing prices.

Airbnb logo held by a hand in front of wooden hut in countryside.
Rural retreats have risen in popularity.
AlesiaKan / Shutterstock.com

While the broader tourism and hospitality sector is weak, perhaps Airbnb sees this stage of the pandemic as its time to shine and push ahead with its IPO. Plus, stock markets in the US are on a record high, fuelled by stimulus from Washington.

Questions remain

Questions remain for Airbnb, however. In particular, when will travel behaviour revert to business as usual, if ever? This will determine whether current bookings growth will lead to profitability.

Then there are the safety issues that have dogged the company for years and played a big role in Airbnb’s loss of profitability in 2019. It spent US$150 million on safety initiatives, including verifying the accuracy of listings, creating a 24/7 safety hotline and even tied employee bonuses to safety.

There is also the threat of more tax and regulation in major markets, which could emerge as authorities seek new revenue to pay for the effect of coronavirus on their economies. The basis of the favourable market conditions are also open to question, as there is concern that the current strength of the stock markets isn’t based on strong economic fundamentals and is a bubble that’s waiting to burst.

Success in the tourism industry is never a given. Airbnb will be all too aware of this, having totally disrupted the hotel industry. Airbnb has more than 7 million listings – dwarfing the largest hotel chain, Wyndham Worldwide, which has 8,000 hotels. But rather than seeing this as a burden, Airbnb is capitalising on it.

But for all its market positioning as a different kind of travel provider – one that offers unique, authentic and personalised experiences – Airbnb still sits firmly with the tourism sector. Like its competitors, its success still depends on post-pandemic travel rebound.

Michael O’Regan, Senior Lecturer in Events and Leisure, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Why the UK government is paying social media influencers to post about coronavirus

biD LTasgY/unsplash

Elvira Bolat, Bournemouth University

Social media influencers are often seen as lazy freelancers who make a living being paid to pretend they like products. But these “celebrities’” are more than just marketing vehicles. If used properly, they can be effective agents of positive social change.

Yet the UK government has taken a bold step by working with influencers to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. It has paid several social media influencers and reality TV stars to promote the NHS test and trace service – the system used when someone tests positive for COVID-19 to work out who else might be at risk after coming in contact with them. The service relies on local public health teams contacting those that may be potentially infected to ask them to self-isolate and test for the virus. However, to date, the service is failing to deliver. This is for many reasons, one of which is the public’s reluctance to share their contact details.

When the system failed to reach its target for the ninth week in a row, the government decided to change strategy. This is when it brought in social media players such as Love Island stars Shaughna Phillips, Josh Denzel and Chris Hughes. Phillips, who has 1.5 million followers on her Instagram, posted a photo of her with a friend, reminding her followers that “the best way for us all to get back to doing the things we love” is by getting tested for coronavirus. She reminded fans that the test and trace service is “totally free, quick and is vital to stop the spread of coronavirus” and told them about her experience of using the testing service.

Phillips, just like other influencers involved in this campaign, was paid for her posts. While the government hasn’t revealed how much was spent on the campaign, it claims “over 7 million people have been reached” with the messages.

Typically a mega influencer who has more than a million followers will be paid around £10,000 per post so, of course, there was a debate about whether taxpayers’ money should be used in this way.

However, the right public health messaging doesn’t always reach young people. They are often less engaged with mainstream traditional communication channels such as TV, radio and press. Paying popular influencers to promote credible public health messaging is a genuine alternative if the government wants to reach young people.

Powerful but ordinary

The impact social media influencers have – on young people in particular – is beyond doubt. And their clout is particularly strong now that we’re spending more time at home online.

Of course, their power is most readily associated with commercial interests. The rise of the influencer has transformed the beauty and fashion industries beyond recognition. Finding the right star to endorse your product on their Instragram or TikTok feed, can make or break a brand these days.

They achieve these results by presenting themselves as an approachable “friend” to their social media followers. They have a greater than average potential to influence others because they build a special, intimate bond with their followers by posting content very regularly and communicating with their audience directly. When a fan leaves a comment on an influencer’s post and receives a reply, they feel like they have a relationship with them, which reinforces the influencer’s ability to market products.

In our survey of 465 young people, we found that social media influencers’ content and their “authentic” behaviours are linked to consumers’ tendencies to buy products spontaneously without reflection.

Unlike traditional celebrities, who often keep their private lives behind closed doors, social media influencers discuss personal experiences, good or bad, with their followers. They see such sharing as more sincere and trustworthy than content coming from elsewhere.

Beyond these commercial activities, however, influencers have more recently been seen pushing followers to engage with social issues. Audiences are interested in influencers who engage in activism and who take a stand on issues. This has been particularly in evidence during the Black Lives Matter movement, when fans looked to social media stars for meaningful statements and positions and even demanded it of them when they were not forthcoming.

In our work around relationships between influencers and followers, we have found that many young people are interested in social media stars who seek to drive change rather than just sell products. This, combined with the personal approach, is what makes influencers an attractive prospect for a government trying to reach young people. If someone like Phillips talks about test and trace on Instagram, young people are likely to react and act.

The World Health Organization has been using influencer marketing techniques in its coronavirus messaging since April. It has gone a step further by using a CGI influencer called Knox Frost to “get accurate, vetted information about COVID-19 in front of millennials and Gen Z”. The computer-generated 20-year-old has been posting to just under a million Instagram followers about coronavirus safety and raising funding for the WHO.

In times when the economy is suffering, many might question why the UK government is paying social media stars to promote test and trace services. In reality, spending of this kind has enormous potential to deliver a positive impact. As our studies show, influencers are powerful in shaping the behaviour of their followers. Until now, this was mainly done in the commercial sphere to drive consumption, but now we are seeing more positive uses for their high profiles.

Elvira Bolat, Principal Academic in Marketing, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

PGR Peer Support Brightspace Unit

The PGR Peer Support area has just been launched and is now accessible for PGRs from your Brightspace homepage. The area will provide a forum to connect with others, ask questions and share advice about the PGR journey.

Within the PGR Peer Support area, under the heading of Peer-led Content, there is a series of interviews with current PGRs and graduates from BU. These video blogs will shed some light on the research milestones and common challenges.

In addition to this, there are Discussion Boards where you can ask questions or respond to others, post information about key events or calls for research participants too. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions tab, this will be populated with common questions from the discussion boards. This will create a repository of key questions with useful links to quickly solve small queries.

Please explore the area and engage with other PGRs. If you have any questions or suggestions for additional content you would find useful, please email Chloe Casey at ccasey@bournemouth.ac.uk.

Early Career Researcher – NERC Paleo Seminar Series

From 8th September, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) are launching a weekly zoom for early career researchers working in the broad field of Paleo sciences.

PERCS (Paleo EaRly Career Seminars) is a weekly seminar series that promotes and features work by Early Career Researchers in a range of paleo sciences including paleontology, paleoecology, paleoceanography and paleoclimatology. While the speakers will be Early Career Researchers, the seminar is for people at every career stage. PERCS take place on Zoom, and consist of a live streamed short (~30 min) seminar followed by a Q&A session and an opportunity for small group discussion and networking with other attendees using break-out rooms. Recordings of most PERCS will be available to participants unable to attend live seminars. Seminars are (mostly) weekly on Tuesdays at 1500 UTC. PERCS are intended as a venue to share research, strengthen our global community, and facilitate collaboration between the Palaeo sciences. All palaeo-researchers and fans (regardless of career stage) are enthusiastically welcome.

NERC strive towards diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility with a diverse line-up of speakers from around the world, and a strong commitment towards fostering an inclusive environment. They also implement live auto-captions, and have both synchronous and asynchronous viewing options.

To be added to the email list that receives seminar invitations and announcements, please review their code of conduct and then sign up through a google form. 

The full schedule of events and the speakers/topics is available on the website. https://paleopercs.com/.

 

Conversation article: the PPI scandal is far from over – here’s why

Shutterstock/kamui29

Julie Robson, Bournemouth University

The PPI scandal led to the largest consumer redress scheme in British history, with over £38 billion paid to claimants to date. The deadline for customers to submit their claims was set at midnight on August 29 2019. But, almost one year later, hundreds of thousands of registered claims remain outstanding. And to make matters worse for the banks, a swathe of new claims have started rolling in.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) hoped the deadline would bring the scandal to an orderly conclusion and offer protection to consumers while helping to restore market integrity. The banks hoped it would enable them to draw a line under it and move on. But the situation seems to be getting worse.

The problem now comes in the form of unfair commission payments. PPI commission rates were deemed to be unfair for two main reasons: when they were too high or when they were kept secret.

When they were too high they accounted for, on average, 67% of the PPI price. In the most serious cases they accounted for 95% of the cost of a PPI policy.

When secret, they were (obviously) undisclosed to the customer. That customer – had they been better informed – may have queried the value of their PPI policy. Especially if they had they known that the majority of the price was not going to the product provider (for example, the insurer underwriting the protection cover for the loan or credit card) but to the bank who sold the PPI policy to them.

Court judgements

Awareness of the unfair commission payments on PPI policies is not new. But recent court decisions mean that customers can potentially claw back all of the commission they have paid and claim after the 2019 deadline.

The issue first came to light in the November 2014 Supreme Court case, Plevin v Paragon Personal Finance Ltd, after which the FCA changed its guidance on what could be claimed as part of the PPI redress scheme. This change enabled customers to claim commission that accounted for over 50% of the price of the PPI policy and became known as the Plevin rule.

Payments to customers were however restricted to commission that was in excess of 50%. In other words, successful claimants only received part of the commission that had been paid to the banks.

A series of other court cases saw the position change again, as claimants were awarded the full commission where the bank failed to disclose large commission payments to the customer. As almost all PPI policies earned high commission rates, this change was significant and opened the floodgates to new claims.

Customers who have received a partial payment, have had their claims rejected or have not claimed so far can now claim, citing the unfair compensation. Even customers who were not mis-sold PPI and were happy with their policy can potentially claim as the high commission payments may not have been disclosed to them.

The potential for new PPI claims based on the unfair commission payments could not have come at a worse time for the banks as they are still facing a backlog of existing claims to process. A survey conducted in March this year found that 60% of PPI claimants had not heard from their bank about the progress of their claim and half of these had not even received an acknowledgement letter.

Banks were overwhelmed by the volume of claims and although the expected time for banks to respond to such claims is typically eight weeks, the FCA managed this expectation by predicting that most claims would be resolved by summer 2020.

Coronavirus disruption

But this deadline was set before COVID-19 disrupted the world and it now appears unlikely to be met. Now many customers remain frustrated that their cases have not been resolved as the new unfair commission charges issue further aggravates and complicates the issue.

The original PPI scandal severely damaged consumer trust in the banks as a lack of integrity was at the heart of the case. PPI mis-selling was something that the banks could have controlled and was an intentional act as the banks placed profits above their customer welfare.

My own research has shown that when trust is damaged by a lack of integrity, it is difficult to restore. The banks needed to display clear evidence of an intention to get rid of negative influences.

For a start, all banks should have immediately apologised for the mis-selling. Some did, but this was only after they lost a high court case trying to overturn the FCAs ruling on PPI mis-selling. The banks really needed to signal to employees the importance of a customer-centered culture and change employee incentive systems to align with long-term performance, rather than short-term profit.

Banks need to embed ethical values into their routine actions and decisions. So far, the evidence is that not all banks have bothered to take such steps.

Julie Robson, Associate Professor Marketing, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Going green dramatically benefits businesses

Yoyo Dy/Unsplash, FAL

Jagannadha Pawan Tamvada, University of Southampton and Mili Shrivastava, Bournemouth University

The onset of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have imperilled businesses worldwide. It will be tempting for firms to put any commitment to the environment in the back seat as they attempt to recover, especially as some governments reduce requirements and undermine environmental protection.

This is short-sighted: businesses do not have to sacrifice their environmental goals for protecting their growth. Greening initiatives like offering green products or services, introducing green processes internally, hiring employees to promote sustainable practices, or going beyond compliance requirements, can actually help firms.

Using data on 9,236 small and medium businesses in 35 countries across Europe and the US, our research suggests that on average, businesses benefit from going green, although the type of greening that gives the most significant benefit may differ between firms.

Here are four main ways that greening can benefit businesses.

1. Innovative market niches

By offering new green products or services, a business is more likely to cater to an emerging trend or niche market, which can make it more competitive. Frugalpac, a UK-based company that makes paper-based packaging for liquids that cut carbon footprints, received a £2 million investment during the pandemic – a time when most other companies were struggling for finance.

Already seeing widespread success for their recycled paper coffee cup, Frugalpac’s innovative paper wine bottle, also made from 94% recycled paper, has led to new opportunities and partnerships.

Companies focused on sustainability can rapidly expand by catering to new niche markets internationally. Consider D’light, a company that offers innovative lighting solutions for people who do not have access to electricity. The company has transformed the lives of more than 100 million people across 70 countries through its green product offerings while raising US$197 million (£150 million) in investment.

Earlier this year, the Danish energy supplier Ørsted, formerly known as Danish Oil and Natural Gas, was named the most sustainable company in the world. This success followed from its transformation to a green energy supplier – which went hand in hand with accelerated profits.

By catering to new niche markets using green products and services, these businesses have emerged as future leaders in their sectors. Of course, not all companies are suited to finding such niches. But sustainability can be promoted in other ways like green working practices and processes, for example.

2. Employee motivation

Job seekers are increasingly attracted to companies that care for the environment. The employees of firms that promote sustainability are more likely to believe that their employer will care for them, and are more satisfied with their jobs.

Such companies create a higher sense of personal and organisational purpose that makes work meaningful. A recent poll shows that millennials and Gen Z’s are more concerned about the environment than any previous generation. This means they prioritise employers who put sustainability at the forefront.

Millenials and Gen Z’s are more worried about the environment than any previous generations.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Unsplash, FAL

By some estimates, companies that follow green practices have a 16% boost in employee productivity. Although establishing a direct causal link can be difficult, some of the greenest companies, such as Cisco, Tarmac or Stantec, are also considered the greatest companies by employees.

3. More engagement

Greening initiatives signal to external stakeholders, such as investors and customers, that a business is committed to doing good. This can lead to increased investment, customers and stakeholder loyalty. This is pertinent in the aftermath of COVID-19 as there is heightened awareness about the need to protect the environment.

For example, highly sustainable companies benefit from superior stock market performance in the long run, according to research looking at American companies in the period 1993-2009. Investors are increasingly questioning firms on their commitment to sustainability, and expecting meaningful steps from them for integrating consideration of such issues into their investing criteria. This is reflected by the tenfold increase in global sustainability investment to US$30.7 trillion by April 2019 since 2004.

More recently, Polysolar, a company that makes glazed windows that generate electricity, has secured more than double the investment it sought on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. And large companies such as Unilever have benefited from increased stakeholder engagement and loyalty by adopting greening practices and products, addressing a dark history of environmental exploitation.

4. Increased efficiency

Greening processes can result in efficiency gains by reducing energy costs, allowing businesses to secure green tax credits, improving operational efficiency, and embedding circular economy principles internally.

Such gains directly translate into commercial benefits. As many as 75% of UK businesses that invested in green technologies subsequently enjoyed commercial benefits, even if financial concerns pose barriers to making these green investments in the first place. For large companies such as Proctor & Gamble, these gains can run into billions of pounds.

Conversely, in cases where businesses harm the environment, they have to be prepared to incur significant costs. A prominent example is the famous case of Volkswagen, which has even adversely impacted the performance of other German car manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes Benz.

For all these reasons, time is ripe for business to go green.

Jagannadha Pawan Tamvada, Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation, University of Southampton and Mili Shrivastava, Senior Lecturer in Strategy, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: The hidden impact of coronavirus on Gypsy, Roma Travellers

Studio 2/Shutterstock

Vanessa Heaslip, Bournemouth University and Jonathan Parker, Bournemouth University

We know well by now that coronavirus does not affect everyone equally. In England and Wales, Black people are four times more likely die from COVID-19 than white people, while people from a Bangladeshi background are twice as likely. Coronavirus has also had a disproportionate effect on people experiencing poverty.

It’s clear that this disease heightens existing inequalities. Some of the most marginalised people in the UK are Gypsy, Roma Travellers, yet they are often left out of research and outreach programmes.

We do not currently know the rates of death and severe illness among these communities. And without better data about their experiences of COVID-19, the true impacts of the pandemic on Gypsy, Roma Travellers could remain dangerously hidden.

Health inequalities

Gypsy, Roma Travellers are not a homogeneous group, but rather consist of different communities with diverse needs. Even within the same community group, there can be many varied experiences of living through the pandemic depending upon personal, social and environmental factors.

That said, research indicates that the continuing COVID-19 pandemic will be extremely challenging for many individuals within the disparate communities.

The last census in 2011 noted that 76% of Gypsy, Roma Travellers in England and Wales lived in houses or apartments. This offers the least challenging experience, as people have access to basic amenities such as electricity, gas, sanitation and water supplies.

Those living in caravans, however, are likely to experience more difficulties. A 2019 Houses of Commons briefing paper noted there were 22,662 Traveller caravans in England, of which 57% were on private sites, 29% were on local authority sites and 14% were on caravan sites. There are increased challenges for those living on these sites during the pandemic, including accessibility of gas bottles, sewerage and obtaining fresh water. Those living on unauthorised sites experience the most significant problems, especially in accessing suitable sanitation and waste disposal.

Discriminatory policies towards these communities have meant that sites, whether they are provided by a local authority or privately run, are more likely to be located close to motorways, major roads, railways, refuse tips, sewage works and industrial estates, all of which are damaging to the health of people who live there. It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that Gypsy, Roma Travellers have a worse health status than the wider community average, dying between seven to 20 years earlier than the rest of the population.

A review across five regions in England and Wales noted that 66% of Gypsy, Roma Travellers had bad, very bad or poor health. Poor air quality, proximity to industrial sites, asthma and repeated chest infections in children and older people were noted in around half of all interviews undertaken for the review. Health access is incredibly difficult for people in these communities, which means that such problems are often not picked up until much later in the illness trajectory, leading to poorly managed chronic conditions.

As COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, this places Gypsy, Roma Travellers in a precarious position – many will meet the criteria for high or moderate risk.

The impact of social distancing

As well as physical health impacts, we also know that there are mental health consequences that come from the COVID-19 pandemic. These too are likely to disproportionately affect Gypsy, Roma Travellers.

These communities often have a very strong family culture, and many live in large, extended family groups. This culture is an important protective mechanism against the harsh stigma and discrimination they face in wider society.

A desire to roam and travel is also deeply embedded as a core part of the identity of Gypsy, Roma Travellers. The distancing measures enacted in response to coronavirus reduce social contact within communities as well as people’s ability to be nomadic and roam. Both of these factors have implications for the long-term mental health and well-being of people within these communities in which mental ill-health is on the increase.

A lack of data

As well as widespread stigma, a major difficulty in truly understanding the impact of coronavirus on Gypsy, Roma Traveller communities is a lack of systematic data collection.

While Gypsy, Roma Travellers were recognised as a distinct ethnic minority category in the last census, the NHS does not currently incorporate this category into their ethnicity data. As such, individuals are not identified in health services as originating from these communities. Nor are they included as a specific ethnicity in Public Health England’s reports on COVID-19 health disparities. Instead they are merged into the category of “any other white background”.

Unless this is addressed at a national level, the health impact of coronavirus on these marginalised communities will remain hidden.

Vanessa Heaslip, Principal Academic Nursing, Bournemouth University and Jonathan Parker, Professor of Society & Social Welfare and Director of the Centre for Social Work and Social Policy, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

HRA UPDATE: guidance on undergraduate and master’s research projects

Please see below for an update from the Health Research Authority surrounding the review of undergraduate and master’s research projects.

‘Back in March the HRA and devolved administrations announced we had decided to stop reviewing applications for individual undergraduate and master’s student projects until further notice while we prioritised the urgent review of COVID-19 studies. This was also due to the significant pressure on the NHS/HSC, limiting its ability to participate in research studies unrelated to COVID-19.

As the lockdown eases, we wanted to update students, supervisors and HEIs on our current position in relation to student research and ethics review. For now, our existing position of not reviewing applications for individual undergraduate and master’s student projects will remain in place. This means that any student project requiring approvals will not be able to proceed. Any students with approved studies are reminded to check with the relevant NHS/HSC organisations locally about whether or not their projects may continue.

In the autumn we will publish our proposed new guidelines for student research for consultation in use. Students, research supervisors and HEIs will be invited to share their opinions and help shape our framework.

You can find more information on our current position on our website: https://www.hra.nhs.uk/planning-and-improving-research/research-planning/student-research/

Conversation article: Link between autism and eating disorders may be due to an inability to identify emotions

Alexithymia is a personality trait characterised by an inability to identify and describe emotions.
Rawpixel.com/ Shutterstock

Rachel Moseley, Bournemouth University and Laura Renshaw-Vuillier, Bournemouth University

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. They don’t discriminate, affecting people of all ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, ages and backgrounds. However, one group is disproportionately affected by these disorders: people on the autism spectrum.

Eating disorders in autistic people are poorly understood, but they tend to be more severe and long-lasting. The longer a person lives with their eating disorder, the harder it is to recover. This may partly explain why some studies suggest autistic people have a poorer prognosis in therapy.

Longer-lasting eating disorders are associated with a greater likelihood of death. The fact that autistic people are vulnerable to chronic eating disorders, alongside other mental illnesses, may be one reason why they die one to three decades earlier, on average, than non-autistic people.

So why are autistic people more vulnerable to eating disorders? A couple of reasons have been suggested.

Dieting

One general and major risk factor for developing an eating disorder is dieting. For people who might already be genetically vulnerable to eating disorders, dieting seems to kick-start something in the brain that can develop the disorder.

While autistic people aren’t more likely to diet than the average person, certain features of autism – including attention to detail, determination and intense fixated interests – may make them better able to maintain the restrictions needed for long-term weight loss when they choose to diet.

The cognitive rigidity that we see in autistic people may also make it easy for them to get stuck in patterns of eating behaviour, while their preference for sameness may cause them to have a limited diet to begin with. For some autistic people, insensitivity to hunger, gastrointestinal problems and sensitivity to tastes, smells and textures make eating difficult anyway.

Paper bag with frowning face next to empty plate and cutlery.
Certain autism traits may already make eating difficult for some.
ChameleonsEye/ Shutterstock

Moreover, because autistic people are often bullied and socially isolated, dieting and weight loss may give them back a sense of control, predictability, reward and self-worth. Eating disorders may even numb feelings of anxiety and depression.

Alexithymia

A core feature of people with eating disorders is that they find it difficult to identify and cope with emotion. As autistic people struggle with emotions in similar ways, our research team wondered whether this might help explain why they are more likely to have eating disorders.

The personality trait characterised by an inability to identify and describe emotions is called alexithymia. Being alexithymic is like being emotionally colour-blind, and it ranges from subtle to severe. While one alexithymic person might find it hard to pinpoint what emotion they’re feeling, another might notice physical signs such as a racing heart and be able to identify they’re feeling angry or frightened.

Alexithymia is associated with many negative outcomes like suicide and self-injury. In part, this may be because people who cannot identify or express their emotions find it hard to soothe themselves or get support from others.

To see whether alexithymia might contribute to eating disorders in autism, we looked at eating-disorder symptoms and autistic traits in the general population. Autism is a spectrum disorder, so everyone has some level of autistic traits – it does not mean they are actually autistic. Nevertheless, these traits can tell us something about the nature of autism itself.

In two experiments with 421 participants, we found that higher autistic traits correlated with higher eating-disorder symptoms. We also found that higher levels of alexithymia wholly or partially explained this relationship. Our results suggest that having higher autistic traits alongside difficulties identifying and describing emotions may make these people more vulnerable to developing eating-disorder symptoms.

Interestingly, we found differences between male and female participants. While alexithymia was related to eating-disorder symptoms in women, there were no links between alexithymia and eating-disorder symptoms in men. Since the male group was small, however, we couldn’t be sure these findings would hold up in a bigger sample.

Next steps

This research can’t show conclusively that alexithymia causes eating disorder symptoms in people with autistic traits, or indeed autistic people. It might be that the relationships work backwards, and eating-disorder symptoms give rise to alexithymia and to autistic features.

However, first-person accounts from autistic people are consistent with the idea that alexithymia might play a role in their eating disorders. One participant even described how restricting her calorie intake reduced internal sensations that – unknown to her, being unable to identify them – caused her much anxiety.

If supported by further research, these findings have potential implications for treatment. Clinicians already know that therapies need to be tailored for autistic and non-autistic patients, but how best to achieve this is still uncertain. Preliminary research like this may offer some clue by highlighting alexithymia as a potential target. Alexithymia is currently not addressed by clinicians either in autistic people or in those with eating disorders

As there are many negative outcomes associated with being autistic – such as high suicide rates and greater risk of eating disorders – it will be important to explore how much alexithymia, not autism itself, actually contributes to these negative outcomes. Focused interventions to treat alexithymia might potentially reduce these risks.

Rachel Moseley, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Bournemouth University and Laura Renshaw-Vuillier, Senior Lecturer, Psychology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Video games affect your moral development but only until you’re 18

Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock, Author provided

Sarah Hodge, Bournemouth University

Young people have probably spent much more of their time than usual playing video games over the last few months thanks to the coronvirus pandemic. One report from telecoms firm Verizon said online gaming use went up 75% in the first week of lockdown in the US.

What impact might this have on young people’s development? One area that people are often concerned about is the effect of video games, particularly violent ones, on moral reasoning. My colleagues and I recently published research that suggested games have no significant effect on the moral development of university-age students but can affect younger adolescents. This supports the use of an age-rating system for video game purchases.

Our sense of morality and the way we make moral decisions – our moral reasoning – develop as we grow up and become more aware of life in wider society. For example, our thoughts about right and wrong are initially based on what we think the punishments and/or rewards could be. This then develops into a greater understanding of the role of social factors and circumstances in moral decisions.

There is a long-standing debate around the effects of video games on moral development, particularly in young people, which typically focuses on whether violent content causes aggressive or violent behaviour.

Yet the moral dimension of video games is far more complex than just their representation of violence, as they often require players to make a range of moral choices. For example, players from the game BioShock have to choose whether to kill or rescue a little girl character known as a little sister.

A player with more mature moral reasoning may consider the wider social implications and consequences of this choice rather than just the punishment or rewards meted out by the game. For example, they may consider their own conscience and that they could feel bad about choosing to kill the little girl.

Plastic arcade game gun pointed at screen.
Video games’ affect on moral reasoning goes beyond how violent they are.
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

We surveyed a group of 166 secondary school students aged 11-18 and a group of 135 university students aged 17-27 to assess their gaming habits and the development of their moral reasoning using what’s known as the sociomoral reflection measure . This involved asking participants 11 questions on topics such as the importance of keeping promises, telling the truth, obeying the law and preserving life. The results suggested a stark difference between the two groups.

Among secondary students, we found evidence that playing video games could have an affect on moral development. Whereas female adolescents usually have more developed moral reasoning, in this case we found that males, who were more likely to play video games for longer, actually had higher levels of reasoning. We also found those who played a greater variety of genres of video games also had more developed reasoning.

This suggests that playing video games could actually support moral development. But other factors, including feeling less engaged with and immersed in a game, playing games with more mature content, and specifically playing the games Call of Duty and playing Grand Theft Auto, were linked (albeit weakly) with less developed moral reasoning.

No effect after 18

Overall, the evidence suggested adolescent moral development could be affected in some way by playing video games. However, there was little to no relationship between the university students’ moral reasoning development and video game play. This echoes previous research that found playing violent video games between the ages of 14 and 17 made you more likely to do so in the future, but found no such relationship for 18- to 21-year-olds.

This might be explained by the fact that 18 is the age at which young people in many countries are deemed to have become adult, leading to many changes and new experiences in their lives, such as starting full-time work or higher education. This could help support their moral development such that video games are no longer likely to be influential, or at least that currently available video games are no longer challenging enough to affect people.

The implication is that age rating systems on video games, such as the PEGI and ESRB systems, are important because under-18s appear more susceptible to the moral effects of games. But our research also highlights that it is not just what teenagers play but how they play it that can make a difference. So engaging with games for a wide variety of genres could be as important for encouraging moral development as playing age-appropriate games.

Sarah Hodge, Lecturer in Psychology and Cyberpsychology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

HRA launch new ‘Make It Public’ strategy

The Health Research Authority have launched a new strategy to ensure information about all health and social care research – including COVID-19 research – is made publicly available to benefit patients, researchers and policy makers. The new strategy aims to build on this good practice and make it easy for researchers to be transparent about their work.

You can read the announcement here.

For further information on the strategy itself you can take a look at the dedicated page on the HRA website.

 

Conversation article – Stonehenge: how we revealed the original source of the biggest stones

Stonehenge: how we revealed the original source of the biggest stones

Andre Pattenden/English Heritage

David Nash, University of Brighton and Timothy Darvill, Bournemouth University

Stonehenge, an icon of European prehistory that attracts more than a million visitors a year, is rarely out of the news. Yet, surprisingly, there is much we don’t know about it. Finding the sources of the stones used to build the monument is a fundamental question that has vexed antiquaries and archaeologists for over four centuries.

Our interdisciplinary team, including researchers from four UK universities (Brighton, Bournemouth, Reading and UCL) and English Heritage, has used a novel geochemical approach to examine the large “sarsen” stones at Stonehenge. Our results confirm that the nearby Marlborough Downs were the source region for the sarsens, but also pinpoint a specific area as the most likely place from where the stones were obtained.

Two main types of stone are present at Stonehenge: sarsen sandstone for the massive framework of upright stones capped by horizontal lintels; and a mix of igneous rocks and sandstones collectively known as “bluestones” for the smaller elements within the central area.

Part of Stonehenge casting shadows.
Inside the sarsen circle.
James Davies/English Heritage

Research in the last decade has confirmed that the igneous bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, over 200km to the west. The sandstones have been tracked to eastern Wales although the exact outcrops have yet to be found. However, the origins of the sarsen stones has, until now, remained a mystery.

Stonehenge is a complicated and long-lived monument constructed in five main phases. The earliest, dated to about 3000BC, comprised a roughly 100m-diameter circular enclosure bounded by a bank and external ditch. Inside were various stone and timber structures, and numerous cremation burials.

The sarsen structures visible today were erected around 2500BC and comprised five trilithons (the doorway-like structures formed from two uprights joined by a lintel) surrounded by a circle of a further 30 uprights linked by lintels. The trilithons were arranged in a horseshoe formation with its principal axis aligned to the rising midsummer sun in the northeast and the setting midwinter sun to the southwest.

Locating the sarsen source

Conventional wisdom holds that the sarsens were brought to Stonehenge from the Marlborough Downs, some 30km to the north, the closest area with substantial scatters of large sarsen boulders. However, the Marlborough Downs are extensive and greater precision is needed to understand how prehistoric peoples used the landscape and its resources.

Our research has identified what might be termed the “geochemical fingerprint” of the Stonehenge sarsens. We started by analysing the geochemistry of all 52 remaining sarsens at Stonehenge (28 of those originally present are now missing, having been removed long ago).

This phase of the work involved using a non-destructive technology called portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (PXRF). Carrying out the PXRF analyses required access to the monument when it was closed to visitors and included several night shifts and one early morning analysing the lintel stones from a mobile scaffold tower. Data collection is never easy!

Diagram of Stonehenge layout
Most sarsens had the same chemical signature.
David Nash, University of Brighton, Author provided

Analysis of the PXRF data showed that the geochemistry of most of the stones at Stonehenge was highly consistent, and only two sarsens (stones 26 and 160) had a statistically different chemical signature. This was an interesting result as it suggested we were looking for a single main source.

Then came a major stroke of luck. We were able to analyse three small samples that had been taken from one of the stones in 1958, Stone 58, part of the group of sarsens with a consistent chemistry. Using a method known as inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) gave a high-resolution geochemical fingerprint for the Stonehenge sarsen. Like all good detectives, we could now compare our fingerprint with those of the potential sources.

Man examining stone rod.
David Nash examining the core from Stone 58.
Sam Frost/English Heritage

Sarsen blocks are found widely scattered across southern Britain, broadly south of a line from Devon to Norfolk. We sampled stones from 20 areas, including six in the Marlborough Downs, and analysed them using ICP-MS.

Comparing the geochemical signature from Stone 58 against our resulting data revealed only one direct chemical match: the area known as West Woods to the south-west of Marlborough. We could therefore conclude that most of the Stonehenge sarsens were from West Woods.

Our results not only identify a specific source for most of the sarsens used to build Stonehenge, but also open up debate about many connected issues. Researchers have previously suggested several routes by which the sarsens may have been transported to Stonehenge, without actually knowing where they came from.

Aerial view of Stonehenge
Many mysteries remain.
Andre Pattenden/English Heritage

Now these can be revisited as we better appreciate the effort of moving boulders as long as 9m and weighing over 30 tonnes some 25km across the undulating landscape of Salisbury Plain. We can feel the pain of the Neolithic people who took part in this collective effort and think about how they managed such a Herculean task.

We can also ask what was special about the West Woods plateaux and its sarsens. Was it simply their shape and size that attracted attention? Or was there some more deep-seated reason rooted in the beliefs and identities of the people that built Stonehenge?

Revealing that all the stones came from a single main source is also important and accords with the evidence that the sarsens were all erected at much the same time. But what about the two sarsens whose fingerprints differ from the main source? Where did they come from? The quest continues, and the questions just keep coming.The Conversation

David Nash, Professor of Physical Geography, University of Brighton and Timothy Darvill, Professor of Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.