X

University of Reading cookie policy

We use cookies on reading.ac.uk to improve your experience, monitor site performance and tailor content to you.
Read our cookie policy to find out how to manage your cookie settings.

Confirm

We are passionate about research that is used practically and clinically across the world. 

98% of our research is recognised as world-leading or internationally excellent (Research Excellence Framework 2014).

 

Our researchers carry out a variety of projects that seek to understand and develop new therapies that improve health and wellbeing. As one of the oldest psychology departments in the UK, our School has a long history of important discoveries in the field.

 

Here are just some examples of our recent groundbreaking studies.

Benefits of cycling to the ageing brain

A recent programme of study involving a multidisciplinary team from a number of universities examined the barriers in cycling for older adults – known as the cycleBOOM study.

Part of this research focused on the benefits of cycling to mental function and a sense of wellbeing. Older adults, aged 50 and over, were asked to cycle for at least an hour and a half each week for an 8-week period, either using a conventional “pedal” bike or an electrically assisted “e-bike”.

Findings suggest that some aspects of mental function and wellbeing increased in participants. What was unexpected was similar (sometimes larger) effects for the e-bike group compared to the pedal cyclists on mental function and well-being.

E-bikes may be more enjoyable than normal pedal bikes and improve mental wellbeing further due to instigating feelings of comfort, safety and security.

Indeed, many of the participants commented that they felt they could go further on the e-bike as they could rely on the motor to get them home if they could not manage it by themselves, showing the promise of e-bikes to benefit the ageing brain. 

Development of cannabidiol as a treatment for severe childhood epilepsies

In recent years there has been a growing appreciation by regulatory authorities that cannabis-based medicines can play a useful role in disease therapy.

Groundbreaking work from Professor Claire Williams, alongside Professors Gary Stephens and Ben Whalley from the School of Pharmacy at Reading, has been one key driver in this resurgence of interest.

The Reading team began to investigate individual phytocannabinoids in a range of seizure and epilepsy models.

This work soon identified cannabidiol (CBD) as a major phytocannabinoid with the greatest anticonvulsant potential. It led to the scientific demonstration of efficacy and safety of CBD in randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trials in young adults with difficult-to-treat epilepsies.

This work has encouraged increasing numbers of human trials of CBD for other indications. The introduction of CBD as the medicine Epidiolex in the US (in 2018) and as Epidyolex in the EU (in 2019) was the first cannabis-derived therapeutic for the treatment for seizures resulting from this research. 

The team was awarded the British Pharmacological Society Sir James Black Award for Contributions to Drug Discovery in 2019.

See & Eat: increasing vegetable intake among pre-schoolers through visual familiarity

Ensuring that children eat enough vegetables is a challenge for many families. It is estimated that only 18% of five to 15-year-olds manage to eat the recommended "five a day", and studies suggest that these early habits continue to impact on dietary and health throughout childhood and into adulthood. 

Research by Professor Carmel Houston-Price and colleagues is exploring how to encourage preschool children to eat more vegetables by making them more visually familiar. 

Familiarity of foods plays an important role in food choice; children are much more likely to eat and like foods that are frequently offered and familiar. 

However, even when parents do offer a food repeatedly, it can take 10 to 15 tastes before their child will accept it; this requires considerable perseverance by parents, who typically give up if their child rejects a food three or four times. 

Professor Houston-Price’s research has shown that boosting foods’ visual familiarity by looking at picture books about them can increase preschoolers’ willingness to taste new or disliked vegetables, and increase children’s liking and intake of vegetables at mealtimes. 

Based on this work, the See & Eat project, an EU initiative funded by EIT Food in 2019 and 2020, has developed an online resource of tips and information to support parents in introducing vegetables into their preschool child’s diet. 

Resources include a library of 24 e-books, each showing a vegetable’s farm-to-fork journey, which families can read and, if they wish, personalise using an iPad/tablet app (Our Story), downloadable via iTunes/Google Play.

The resource is currently available in English and Italian; translation into Dutch, French, Polish and Finnish is underway. 

The See & Eat resources and vegetable e-books are free of charge, providing a practical and accessible tool to help parents across Europe ensure their preschoolers enjoy a wider range of vegetables.

Can adventurous play reduce children's risk for anxiety?

Professor Helen Dodd is conducting research into children's adventurous play and anxiety. Adventurous play refers to thrilling, exciting play where children take age-appropriate risks.

Over the past two generations this type of play has reduced in children and there are concerns about how this affects children's mental health.

Helen is funded by a UKRI Future Leaders fellowship to examine the evidence for a link between adventurous play and mental health and to develop a school-based intervention to increase children's opportunities to engage in adventurous play in schools.

She is working with a range of partners including Play England, Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL), Learning Through Landscapes (LTL) and the Association of Play Industries, amongst others, to ensure that this work has impact beyond academia.

The aim is to evaluate whether the intervention effectively increases children's adventurous play in schools and then to study how this change in play affects children's mental health. The outcomes will have implications for policy around play and risk-taking in schools.

Focus on children's vision

Over 23 years, Infant Vision Laboratory has been working to develop a model of how infants and children, with both typical and atypical vision, learn to co-ordinate their eyes across the lifespan in our unique laboratory at the University of Reading.

Focusing both eyes for close work is an amazingly complex skill that babies learn in their first few months of life. It involves physical anatomy, eye and image optics, muscle co-ordination, and many aspects of brain function; all developing and coordinating in parallel.

If any of these processes go wrong in infancy, a whole raft of secondary consequences can mean that many children develop visual problems which are often lifelong and irreparable. Children with these visual problems could face years of supervision, surgical treatment, eye patches or glasses from paediatric ophthalmologists, orthoptists and optometrists.

The Laboratory's overarching model, which turns many older theories on their heads, helps explain many clinical findings and apparent inconsistencies that have puzzled clinicians for decades. Researchers at the Laboratory have also clearly shown that the visual system is much more flexible and tolerant of variability than previously thought.

The Laboratory's work has attracted many international prizes and recognition, and has moved into mainstream practice. It is taught to professional trainees across the world as a framework by which to understand binocular vision.

The work in an apparently niche subject is proving to have practical applications across many aspects of ophthalmology, orthoptics and optometry, as well as education and public health internationally. 

Promoting child cognitive and socio-emotional development in conditions of adversity

Millions of preschool children across the world are denied their full developmental potential due to adverse circumstances and challenging home environments, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. 

Researchers from Reading (Peter Cooper, Professor Lynne Murray) are actively disrupting these cycles of disadvantage through an innovative parenting intervention programme. 

This evidence-based programme trains mothers and carers on interacting and sharing culturally relevant picture books with their preschool children in a dynamic and positive way. 

After a period of eight weeks of taking part in the programme, mothers developed greater sensitivity and reciprocity towards their children, who in turn showed gains in the development of their language, attention, and social understanding. 

This programme has been adopted by the World Health Organisation and used in Lesotho, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Colombia and India. 

There is also ongoing work in Greece, Italy and France, as well as in the UK, demonstrating the universal appeal and application of this evidence-based intervention in promoting child development.

Tackling adolescent depression with evidence- based treatment

Adolescent depression is common and significantly increases the risk of self-harm and suicide, as well as bringing serious adverse impacts on future health.

Most young people cannot access an evidence-based psychological therapy or must wait many months for treatment, which may only have a modest outcome due possibly to low levels of engagement.

This situation led to the development of a University of Reading project (Professor Shirley Reynolds, Laura Pass) where young people, parents, school staff and therapists were involved in designing a simple, short and adolescent-friendly depression treatment programme, that can be delivered by non-specialists to improve access to treatment.

The Brief Behavioural Activation programme is now part of the national curriculum for the new NHS-funded low-intensity therapist workforce, with training being delivered internationally as well.

Improving access to evidence-based treatments for children with anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in children and young people, with far-reaching educational and social consequences. 

Nevertheless, very few children with an anxiety disorder access specialist individual cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 

The team at Reading (Professor Cathy Creswell, Dr Polly Waite et al) have developed a brief treatment for childhood anxiety disorders that can be delivered effectively by non-specialists to improve access to psychological treatments for these children. 

This Guided Parent-Led Cognitive Behaviour Therapy programme can be delivered effectively by trained child and adolescent wellbeing practitioners who work to guide parents in applying cognitive-behavioural principles in their children’s day-to-day life, and addresses parental factors as well. 

This cost-effective programme leads to improvement in three-quarters of children treated, with high levels of satisfaction from parents and wellbeing practitioners. 

The Guided Parent-Led Cognitive Behaviour Therapy programme is now the standard first-line treatment for children with anxiety disorders for many NHS trusts and local authorities and schools across the UK, as well as further afield in countries such as Ireland, China, Iceland, Iran, and Japan.

Interest plays a fundamental role in learning in education

Studies have shown that interest promotes learning, and have identified behavioural and neural mechanisms underlying its beneficial effects. 

Despite the prosperity of research, many teachers still struggle to improve students’ interest. Research has also shown large country-level differences in interest. 

Scientific work is quickly advancing, so why is the change in education markedly slower? 

Our research team plans to tackle this fundamental issue, trying to narrow the science-reality gap using comprehensive, micro-, social-, and macro-level analyses on interest with multi-method approach (experiments, intensive longitudinal data, secondary data analysis, network analysis, machine learning, neuroimaging, etc.). 

Our working hypothesis is that, although interest is governed by common neural and learning mechanisms, its manifestation is constrained by different levels of factors in the context of education. 

While ongoing work has mainly focused on the foundational mechanisms underlying interest, we aim to connect this principal knowledge with a more contextualised perspective that addresses the dynamics and diversity of how interest is promoted in education.

Making a difference in complex conditions and later life

With an increasingly older adult population worldwide, quality of life rather than sheer quantity of years is paramount, especially when people are living with incurable neurological conditions. 

Patients with Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and multiple sclerosis have complex physical as well as mental health needs, which is an area where health-related quality of life assessment and clinical psychology research (Dr Aileen Ho) can have a real impact on everyday life and wellbeing. 

Research in the School also uses technology to find new and pragmatic ways of effective motor and speech home rehabilitation in people who have suffered a stroke (Dr Holly Robson), and also creative ways to improve communication in Alzheimer’s disease (Professor Arlene Astell).

Open science

Discover how we are making psychological research more transparent, reproducible, collaborative and freely accessible. 

Research environment

Learn more about our areas of expertise, as well as how our on-site clinics and modern facilities help bridge the gap between lab-based and clinical research. 

Our stories

Our PhD students engage with policy-makers and undertake activities to develop the impact of their research activity. Find out how they are making a difference with their research.