Applied Psychology and Human Factors april 2020 Newsletter

#HumanFactors #Pedagogical #Clinical


We are all living in unusual times and the content of this months newsletter reflects this. The newsletter has gathered viewpoints from multiple members of APHF, collecting their expertise on a range of different perspectives, from working at home to teaching online.

The content also highlights some of the fantastic work being done by different members to support farmers and NHS workers.

Enjoy the newsletter and stay safe and well out there!


Dr Fiona Summers, Foresterhill

The clinical psychology team at Foresterhill launched a confidential support line for acute staff at NHS Grampian on Monday 30th March. Staff can get in touch with their contact details and then an acute sector psychologist will call them back.

The support program is based on Psychological First Aid models. The aim is to have psychologists in key areas such as ED, ICU, HDU, Infection Unit and Covid wards. The clinical team have also set up a system when staff on breaks, or after a shift, can speak to a psychologist. Alternatively staff will be able to access a quiet area where psychologists will be around for informal 'chats'. The plan is also to have iPads with mindfulness apps for staff to access.

The clinical psychology team worked around the clock to set-up this important system of support for frontline staff, all of whom will be under immense stress in the current circumstances.


Stephanie Berkeley, Farm Safety Foundation

Following the Government’s decision to close schools, colleges and universities, the farming industry is facing another new challenge in an already testing year…

It has been well documented that farming continues to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK however, in an industry where two children were among the 39 people killed on farms last year, the closure of schools means that there needs to be a clear focus on supporting those children and young people in rural areas who will be spending longer periods on their farm and being called upon to help if family, friends or neighbours are older, vulnerable or have contracted coronavirus COVID-19.

According to Stephanie Berkeley, manager of the Farm Safety Foundation: “Educational establishments do not just close and send students home without a good reason. And, with the increased threat of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) the Government realises that this is no joke… and so should we!”

Despite having to postpone their new virtual reality education programme until September, leading farm safety charity, the Farm Safety Foundation is continuing to deliver safety messages to children and young people and has written two new farm safety guides – one for agricultural students and one for parents. These guides have been sent to all rural primary schools, land-based colleges/universities and national Young Farmers Clubs to be shared with their pupils, students and members.

Stephanie added: “The fact is, with the closure of schools, there will be more children spending time on farm for longer periods than ever before and we thought it would be a good idea to put together a simple, easy to read booklet to remind everyone of the risks they will face on the farm every day. We don’t know how long this situation will last and our wonderful NHS workers are already feeling the strain of dealing with the spread of COVID-19. We need to take responsibility for our own safety and the safety of our loved ones and not risk any of us having a farm accident that will add to a workforce already under pressure. They are working hard to keep us safe so the least we can do is farm safe for them.”

For more information on the Farm Safety Foundation please visit www.yellowwellies.org


Prof. Louise Phillips, University Aberdeen

Social isolation and loneliness in later life are a significant and increasing problem in the UK. Age UK report that around 1.5 million older adults in the UK are chronically lonely. That was before the impact of coronavirus: which has imposed isolation most severely upon older people. Those aged 75+ are most physically vulnerable, yet least well set up to take advantage of technological solutions to communicate with the outside world. Social isolation increases mortality risk and has detrimental impacts on older adults’ physical health, mental well-being and quality of life. And loneliness is not just an issue for older people: many young people report feeling alone and isolated too. Developing interventions to target social isolation in is a growing public health goal. Intergenerational communication –for example where older adults interact with younger adults has been argued to play a particularly important role in alleviating social isolation. But we live in an age-segregated society: even more so now in the world of coronavirus.

So what can we do? For the long term (thinking beyond our current coronavirus world) we need to facilitate and evaluate schemes which bring the generations together. Generations Working Together is a Scottish charity which works to connect different age groups together, and there have been a range of local schemes in Grampian in which inspired individuals and community groups connect people (e.g. in Aberdeenshire: Philosophy Cafes and the Cool Computing initiative). Dr Doug Martin, Dr Gillian Slessor, and myself, are currently developing methods to understand the barriers to intergenerational communication, and to facilitate and evaluate schemes to bring different age groups together in local communities.

In the short term during this frightening lockdown we can all consider our neighbours and see if we can help. We can volunteer to help in the community. Kids can put up cheerful pictures in the windows or send them by post or email to relatives who we can’t see face to face. We all need to communicate in any way that we can: letter, email, phone, Skype, FaceTime, House Party, whatever floats your boat. It can be helpful to engage with live radio, TV, or YouTube: to have that feeling of real time connection (but not news all the time….). Offer to help people: including with technology if you can. This is definitely a time for small acts of kindness. Small connections with people are important. Smile at the people keeping their distance on the opposite side of the street, be the nosy passer-by who looks in windows and if you see anyone there smile and wave. Humans are social beings, and being socially distant is a kind of torture for most of us: find any way to connect and communicate that you can.

Generations Working Together: https://generationsworkingtogether.org/

Volunteering in Scotland https://www.volunteerscotland.net/covid-19/

Age Scotland: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/what-we-do/tackling-loneliness/


Dr Heather Morgan, University of Aberdeen

I’ve been a committed quantified self since I was a teenager (tracking my calorie intake and periods before digital methods existed), but have more recently become a fitness tracker - perhaps over the last eight years or so. This is in part due to a move to working within a health research group (and a knock on desire to lose weight and become fitter), but also because of emerging new technologies (which excite me a lot) and my background studying surveillance. I was an early adopter of a Fitbit, then a Jawbone, MisFit, Bellabeat, several MS Bands and now Apple Watches, and shifted my areas of work and life interest to what happens when you wear them. You can read my blog here: https://confessionsofafitnesstracker.wordpress.com/. I began with walking and trying to get my daily 10000 steps (I know there is no science here!) and then ramped it up to maintain a regular (‘barefoot’) running schedule over the last two years. I run between 20-25k/week and track everything I can in relation to steps, stands and sleep. Never have I been so glad of being obsessed with tracking my exercise and having a schedule of activity than since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, necessitating home working and social distancing.

I’ve been on ‘lock down’ for two weeks now since we vacated our offices at Aberdeen Uni. I believe that wearing my device and breaking up my days with exercise targets has really helped me to retain some feelings of normality during ‘business as unusual’. I have a dog and a field behind the garden (no social contact, nearest house 250m in another field) and so begin my work days walking him = 1500<2000 steps before 8am. I then look over my emails at a standing desk and reply to those I can. My watch doesn’t recognise standing as non-sedentary and so it buzzes after an hour and I move about to get the hour banked for movement. At 10am some days, I’ve been meeting with a mate in Wales online for a virtual workout using this spelling guide:

I then leave my mat out, go back to a call or work task and wait until my watch buzzes again to do a 4-minute Pilates session... After lunchtime, I’m on track for meeting my daily self-set target of 10000 steps and 1000 calories burned as I walk Murphy again, taking me to about 5000 steps all in and approx 300 calories. During the afternoon, I work on documents, join calls, etc., standing as much as possible. I’ll throw in 10 minutes or so of yoga when I get a ‘stand up’ buzz and another walk for my furry friend between 4-5pm. I’ll then go out for a run or do an indoor cycle (3-5k each and sometimes longer runs), tracked of course, to drive my digits in the direction of that all important ‘Goals Achieved’ message, which I aim for before I sit down to cover a few more emails and work tasks I’ve set for the early evening.

This routine is not only keeping me physically active and feeling fit, but also mentally and socially well. I feel that I have structure and purpose to the day as I intersperse what would otherwise be long hours at my laptop with bouts of movement and some fresh air. I am also connecting with friends online to share in the pains and gains of workouts, which we gamify with the word fun.

It’s really important to maintain overall wellbeing during what are unprecedented times and I believe that tech can really help us to set goals, track progress and feel a sense of achievement and purpose. Whether you go outside for your daily fix or not, it’s possible to do exercise - even little and often - with the creative online workouts for all levels, or more vigorous if you’re so minded. It can also bring us closer to others! If you don’t already have a smartphone with a step counter, a pedometer or a wristworn device, I’d recommend getting something while you’re housebound! If you’re anti-tagging, why not arrange some activities with your family and friends and do them live together or organise a daily check in? Challenges work really well to keep us motivated, so it might help you if you’re flagging with work or in general.

Up for it? Perhaps we can compare and compete? Let me know. Whatever you do, stay safe and keep well!


Dr Ruby Roberts, RGU

Over the last couple of weeks, the way that we work has changed drastically with countless people working remotely. For many of whom it is completely new, stressful and confusing.

Over the last decade, I have done my fair share of remote working and in the spirit of togetherness, I would like to share my experiences of what has worked for me. It has entailed a lot of experimenting to figure out what works best for me and those I work with. As a psychologist I understand that the environment that we work in and how we respond to it, heavily influences our well being and productivity.

Hopefully these hints and tips will help improve #remoteworking and #working from home (WFH) for complete beginners all the way to experts.

1. Dress the part: Tell someone that you are WFH and they immediately assume that you are sitting in your poodle-patterned pyjamas. Whilst comfortable, this may not be the best start to your working day. Humans respond to cues to identify the current situation and how best to behave in it. Dressing the part, be that a crisp shirt, bright tie or a great pair of shoes, can make a huge difference to how productive you are across your working day. It’s also very helpful, should you have to go on an impromptu video call!

2 Create your work space: Just as clothes can indicate to us that it is time to do work, our environment can send similar messages. These implicit cues are incredibly powerful, communicating to ourselves and those working (or living) with us that you are now in work-mode. Create a space that looks and feels like work. Not your bedroom, sofa or anywhere that you relax, as doing so can have negative consequences as you start to mis-associate work cues with relaxation time.

3 Establish a sense of control: Creating a sense of control is a fundamental need for humans, particularly during uncertain, stressful times. Whilst we can’t control the future, we can influence how and when we work. Structuring your working week is a great way to develop a sense of control. You can do this in the same way you do in the office, by working out what you need to complete this week and chunking it down in to manageable blocks and scheduling it into a diary, list or calendar.

4 Structure your day: Our productivity ebbs and flows throughout the day with our circadian rhythm. Many of us are familiar with that post-lunch dip, so why not plan your day in time with your productivity clock? Combining this with approach with a bigger week plan can improve your productivity when WFH. Working remotely has many perks but it can be easy to let time get away from you, so having start and finish times are important. This helps you, and others around you, understand that you are now in work mode.

5. Stay social: Remote working can be lonely and isolating, missing out on the day to day interactions that you have working in, and commuting to, an office. Use tools such as Microsoft teams, video calling and instant messaging to build up a sense of camaraderie with your team that might otherwise be lost. What about the coffee you would normally have with your favourite co-worker? Why not schedule a virtual coffee using skype and the kettle to have a good old-fashioned gab?

6. Feed your motivation: Identify what motivates you and work with that (where appropriate). Got a presentation to do but have been putting it off? Why not chunk the task and give yourself a small break only when you complete it? Without a long commute, you may find that you are more energetic, completing tasks quicker and a big motivation can be to finish earlier. Tasks often take longer to complete than anticipated so it can be helpful to overestimate the time required. Not only does it make you more likely to complete your task on time, should you finish ahead of schedule, the sense of achievement will boost your motivation.

7. Be kind: Life is hard. WFH has plenty of benefits but it does have its down days – the WIFI is slow, the company system keeps crashing and your dog just peed on the floor. On these days, try to be kind to yourself – get some fresh air, take some exercise or do something that makes you happy for 5 minutes (I like to check on my tomato seedlings). Keep in mind that many others are now also remotely working and may be experiencing the same frustrations so try to be kind.

You can read the full linkedin article here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/psychologists-experience-ruby-roberts/


Ilinca Tone, PhD student, University of Aberdeen

Ilinca is in her first year of a PhD project examining the impact of stress and fatigue on farmer non-technical skills. This focus has led her to examine the literature around stress and fatigue in farming, which she has used to generate some handy tips for farmers in the current situation:

It can be tiring and stressful to be a farmer, especially in times of Coronavirus and in full lambing and calving season. This new period means spending a lot more time on the farm and fewer traditional social activities. It also represents a chance to start anew and develop a number of healthy habits. Here are a few tips to help keep you safe and well during this time:

  • Now more than ever, look out for the signs of stress and fatigue in others and yourself.
  • Talk to friends and family in your household about your worries and concerns.
  • Remember to keep in touch with others via phone, video call or social media.
  • Online farming forums may also be helpful to keep in contact.
  • Take regular breaks from farm work to do other things that you like.
  • Limit your daily exposure to news and only trust official sources.
  • Create a routine which includes exercise, a healthy diet and enough sleep.
  • Find a sleep pattern which works for you and try to rest if you have troubles sleeping.
  • Working tired? Share your plans and keep in touch. Ask for help if needed. Eat a healthy snack to keep you going. Rest regularly in a safe space.
  • You can access additional support from organisations such as FCN or Farming Help.


Dr Amy Irwin, University Aberdeen

The current restrictions mean that lots of people are working from home, and its likely that the numbers of emails and messages sent and received are going to increase during this period! Technology and connectivity are a positive boon for communication while in lock-down, but the chance of misunderstandings and unintentional rudeness are going to be higher when using written communication versus face-to-face meetings.

Research suggests that emails in particular are open to misinterpretation. This is due to several issues including: a lack of nonverbal cues, the potential for direct requests to be interpreted as rude or abrupt, a lack of mood indicators, the impact of salutations (you may have seen the twitter thread around appropriate email sign-off, with different views on the various possibilities - though a complete lack of sign-off is considered rude across the board!) and opinions around asynchronous communication (how long can a delay in response be before it becomes rude?).

Julia Burnham's (@juliarburnham) table of email sign-off alignments

The good news is that there are various things we can do to minimise misunderstandings and provide some context to our emails and text messages:

1. Emoticons: Researchers report that emoticons can provide context for the reader, both in terms of the mood state of the sender, and as a replacement for non-verbal indicators. Emoticons can provide the indication that the text can be taken less seriously, or that the sender is making a joke. Using emoticons can soften a directive or request, making it appear less abrupt, and can increase the impact of thanking someone (e.g. 'Thanks' versus 'Thanks :-)').

2. Sign-off's: Choose your sign-off wisely! The choice will depend on the person to whom you are sending a message, but 'warmly' is usually going to be received more positively than a lack of sign-off, or ending with 'regards' (as an aside I also find emails that begin with my name, and no salutation, off-putting and I always read it as that person being angry / yelling).

3. Verbal indicators: Manners make the (wo)man - using verbal indicators of politeness such as 'please' and 'thank-you' are likely to increase the overall politeness of your message, and reduce any appearance of rudeness.

4. Video calls: In the current environment of remote and home working it's a good idea to mix things up by utilising other forms of communication - zoom, skype, teams whatever software you choose there is a benefit to seeing the face of the person you are talking to - both for non-verbal and contextual cues, and because it can be a boost to your social contact and well-being.

However you decide to communicate during the pandemic, I recommend you do it regularly, and with the occasional emoticon thrown in :-)


Oliver Hamlet, PhD student, University Aberdeen

Our research with search and rescue helicopter pilots has found that amongst other aspects of cognitive readiness, the ability to be resilient is crucial in emergency scenarios. Resilience, defined broadly, denotes the ability to maintain performance during, or recover from, difficulty. You are no stranger to this skill; we use resilience frequently as we handle problems and stresses that arise from our day to day lives. Being resilient helps us stay task focused on revision when exam stress rolls in, it makes sure that we can pull over safely after witnessing a road accident, it can help us identify rational options when someone suffers an injury during a sports match.

Understanding the ways in which we can be resilient is particularly important when we enter into unpredictable situations, and undoubtedly, we find ourselves in such a situation now. Sudden changes to our lives in relation to measures countering the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have left many adapting to a novel change in our daily experience. So what can we learn from the concept of resilience?

Research from aviation has outlined two primary ways we can be resilient: through strategy and through tactics. Strategic resilience is being prepared for some form of eventuality – taking the information we have and using it to prepare for future events, and tactical resilience is being able to respond appropriately during an unexpected critical event – think Sullenberger landing on the Hudson. We are at a slight disadvantage, pilots might train for duel engine failure, but how can we be resilient without the benefit of a few pandemic trial runs? Prepare, Prioritise, Breathe.

As a pilot would learn emergency checklists to avoid catastrophe, we can use the information we have at hand to mitigate the stresses of our current environment. In the current context, looking up and adhering to guidelines of social distancing and essential travel may help to reduce the risks we face. Understanding our new protocols and the reasons behind them are crucial to developing our strategic resilience. When faced with a risk that we may not have considered (e.g. touching a shopping trolley at a supermarket) we can fall back on our mental preparation to find a solution to the solution (e.g. wash hands as soon as possible). We can prioritise the most important factors in our lives (e.g. safety over work), when making decisions around our activities. Understanding clearly what should take precedence will help us plan ahead and reduce the stress of making crucial decisions when they are needed. If we know a work or pleasure related activity may put us at risk, we can quickly fall back on our prioritisation to know the correct course of action to take. Finally, when high intensity situations unfold, breathe. Focused, deliberate breathing has been showing to improve recovery times when following a critical event, increasingly your ability to use a fuller capacity to tackle events as they unfold. Trust me, I’ve spent the last four years talking to pilots about critical incidents, they always tell me there is always time to breathe.


Geoff Bain

China is a World leader in Drone Technology with Company DJI building about 75% of the commercial drones used. They are using them in vast numbers in ever expanding applications.

One recent innovation which appears to have had much success is the use of Aerial Drones used for agricultural spraying to be adapted to deliver antiviral solutions in Corona virus affected areas, as a preventative as well as remedial mitigation. The advantages of this include better distribution and dispersal of sanitising agents, speedier application and the ability of the equipment to be controlled from remote locations.

The latest equipment includes radar technology to autonomously avoid obstacles allowing operation inside hospitals, shops, schools and buildings with restricted space. Mild oxidising agents such as Hypochlorous Acid or stronger agents such as Hydrogen Peroxide are able to attack any lipid enveloped virus protective coating to facilitate its ultimate destruction.

A basic drone can be fitted with numerous payloads ranging from cameras to specifically designed sensors to detect gases, pollutants, infrared photography and almost any other application. Using LIDAR laser sensors (light imaging, detection and ranging) very accurate, detailed areas may be scanned and mapped to provide detailed information on terrain and environmental data.

This kind innovative thinking and drone use will hopefully benefit all of us and give us an indication how drone technology will play an increasing part in our lives in the future.


Gabi Lipan, PhD student, University of Aberdeen

Our work on graduate attributes is continuing to generate impact in new areas. So far it’s helped reframe the debate around GAs in organisations such as Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Higher Education Developers, and has contributed to their understanding of graduate attributes. At our university, the Centre for Academic Development has picked up on our model of GAs and we’ll now work collaboratively to develop behavioural markers that can be used in teaching and evaluating a selection of attributes.

More recently, our research has been used to teach classes both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The undergraduate session on GAs was just over a week ago. Due to the current COVID-19 situation we had to hold the class online. This was the first time I taught online and I was a bit nervous about it (probably also because it was my first recorded class), but Blackboard Collaborate proved to be excellent for the task. We covered quite a bit, from the graduate attributes at the University of Aberdeen to our model of GAs, and from discussions about opportunities to develop GAs to how the future of work might look and what students can do to prepare for it. One of the things that I was concerned about was that it would be hard to engage with the class and have a good conversation, but it went much better than expected (maybe because it’s easier for people to ask questions when they don’t have to do it in front of a class?). All in all, I learned that online classes are not very different and hopefully the class changed how the students feel about graduate attributes and helped them better plan for their future careers.


Dr Emma Hepburn (@thepsychologymum)

Dr Hepburn is a clinical psychologist who engages with a broad audience via Instagram and Twitter. She illustrates a variety of psychological concepts, many of which are particularly relevant in the current circumstances. She writes:

'Through the drawings I aim to convey psychological models, theory and advice in an easy to understand and memorable way, that people can use in everyday life. Many of the drawings are created interactively with input from social media users, so that they capture collective experience and help normalise the shared nature of experiences. I leave sections or speech bubbles blank and ask people to let me know what they think should be in these blanks, and then complete these by theming the responses. I like to think of it as interactive psychology'.

Visit Emma on twitter and Instagram to interact with her wide range of drawings.


I hope this newsletter has been interesting and a useful distraction in the current circumstances. If you would like to find out more about any of the concepts or support discussed please get in touch: a.irwin@abdn.ac.uk

For further information on APHF research, tools and events, check out the APHF wesbite: https://research.abdn.ac.uk/applied-psych-hf/


Created with images by Stijn te Strake - "untitled image" • Element5 Digital - "untitled image" • Nik Shuliahin - "untitled image" • Fusion Medical Animation - "New visualisation of the Covid-19 virus" • Ani Kolleshi - "Eye contact." • Jake Gard - "Field in sunrise" • Nick Karvounis - "untitled image" • diana spatariu - "Old man. And the sea." • John Schnobrich - "together now" • Volodymyr Hryshchenko - "Home, love, family, still life concept. felt-tip pen lying on a paper with children's drawing family. Selective focus, copy space background" • Tadeusz Lakota - "Best friends!" • bruce mars - "office" • Andre Hunter - "Suit & Button" • Nathan Riley - "Wooden Desk" • Cathryn Lavery - "Writing in a journal" • Malvestida Magazine - "untitled image" • Afif Kusuma - "Image of excited young man and woman playing together and competing in video games on smartphones" • Danielle MacInnes - "Begin." • Randalyn Hill - "untitled image" • Tim Marshall - "Two lambs on a field" • Adam Solomon - "Wandering Koreatown I found a welcoming watering hole." • Nadine Shaabana - "untitled image" • Neil Thomas - "I went down to Dinas Dinlle beach near Caernarfon (North Wales) to try some long exposures of the waves and clouds. To my surprise a HM Coastguard training operation was taking place. In this photo you can see the winch-man and a dummy being lifted from the cold sea." • Olga Guryanova - "Moscow Rugby team" • Tim Dennert - "untitled image" • Max van den Oetelaar - "Walkarounds in Amsterdam." • Kaleb Kendall - "Mavic" • John Schnobrich - "type away" • Carlos Arthur M.R - "Hand sky" • Nick Morrison - "Laptop and notepad" • Aaron Burden - "Adirondack chairs"