conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Psychology shows that bras are more attention-grabbing than maps



Eurgh, I am SOOOO jetlagged! I have conference blog number ? to write but my brain is just not cooperating right now. Plus this is apparently the one week of the year when England decides to imitate the weather of Singapore.

So I’m just going to link to my conference posters. I had a bunch of interesting conversations about both posters, but it was noticeable that the Running Commentary study one attracted a lot more attention than my Resolve to Walk study one. I *think* this might be related to the colourful photo I used of a woman wearing a bright pink bra (over her clothes, I wasn’t aiming for the lingerie ad look!), whereas people said they thought the map on my Resolve to Walk poster was attractive but fewer people came and talked to me about it. Take-home message: depressingly, sex does indeed sell…

Anyway, here is the Running Commentary poster, I called it ‘Accentuate the positive: how beginner running groups manage affective responses to exercise’, you can enlarge it by clicking here. The concept behind this poster came less from the thematic analysis itself than from my ponderings over what sort of things were different in an outdoor, group exercise context compared with an individual exercising in a lab. And one thing which really leapt out at me when observing the groups and listening to the audio recordings was a real sense of group positivity which is obviously missing from an individual exercising alone. As well as using my field notes and analysing the transcripts, I also looked at the themes which I’d drawn out which implied some sort of positive emotion and/or emotion regulation. There were more themes than I could fit into the poster, so this is very much a work in progress, in particular in future work on this I would like to look at the role of reappraisal as an affect regulation strategy, as there is research suggesting that it is an important strategy, along with distraction (Augustine and Hemenover, 2009; Rose and Parfitt, 2010).

Accentuate the positive final 05JUN17


My second poster was from my Resolve to Walk study, and squeezed in some mixed methods results on the main question of my PhD: does how people feel during exercise relate to their future physical activity behaviour in real life (not laboratory) situations? The answer from my quantitative analyses seems to suggest it doesn’t, which is counter-intuitive but I had some ideas about why the context here was important (which is why it is really useful to use mixed methods to dig into this context). Although my finding was counterintuitive, I also think it makes sense: most people feel better during walking, yet people tend not to walk if they can possibly avoid it (this is fundamentally why there is so much research on physical activity, after all!). Although the results of interventions seem to show that how people feel during walking on a treadmill is related to their future physical activity levels, going for a walk outdoors during your lunch hour doesn’t seem to be similarly related. I speculated that there might be an effect that people feel much better during an outdoor walk compared with a treadmill walk. I actually have an interesting graph showing the trends in affective responses during walking in different environments from a load of different studies, but unfortunately there wasn’t space to squeeze this into my poster. The take-home from the graph though is that people feel considerably better during outdoor walking compared with on a treadmill, with one study actually showing a decline in affective response when walking on a treadmill. This is slightly complicated by studies using participants of different activity levels, but fundamentally it just seems to feel more pleasant walking outdoors (I know, shocking, right?) There are also some alternative explanations for my results, such as a lack of power compared with other studies, the self-report nature of the measures at 6 months and perhaps the nature of the study itself (being a more naturalistic sort of field study rather than a formal intervention).

From my qualitative interviews with participants, a number of reasons for walking or not walking emerged. Interestingly, many of these seem to map onto walking domains, dimensions and correlates from Paul Kelly’s paper, suggesting that the multi-dimensional nature of walking is not just an issue for physical activity researchers, but also for participants themselves. It seems as if the meanings behind walking had participants confused when it came to setting and meeting walking goals, because there are so many different aspects and types of walking.

So here is the second poster, the map is from a Strava route I made (I asked participants to use the Strava app on their phones to log their walking) and again my thoughts on this poster are at a very preliminary stage. Click here for an expanded version of the poster!

post office poster final

Any comments or questions on either poster would be extremely welcome 🙂




  1. Genusfotografen ( & Wikimedia Sverige ( [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

2. By AM048E (Ordnance Survey) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

ISBNPA2017 Conference blog 2 of n…

Well we’ll see how this goes as to just how long this is, might need to be a couple of blogs because wow, there was a LOT going on during this conference! I’ve basically just used my Twitter stream as a long blog with some comments on stuff I found particularly interesting.

Thursday dawned durky and rainy, which was nice for the morning conference jog. 2 very lovely local ladies took me around a local park, I assume the views were nice but my glasses kept steaming up in the rain!

Thursday required quite a lot of logistics as my AirBnB was 2 miles away, the conference started at 8am and the jog was at 7am, with the fun run in the evening. Lots of quick changes and extra running kit required! Luckily I’d put my posters up the previous evening (will link to PDFs in another blog)

First up was a symposium on activity trackers, which was really interesting

There was some great qualitative research into people’s actual experiences of using activity trackers, with some unexpected findings:

This led to an interesting exchange over Twitter about WHY these social features were unpopular. Some people weren’t even at the conference, this is the power of Twitter for me!


There were some questions about discontinuing use which were interesting but a bit surface level to my mind. I think perhaps the emotional aspects could be more important perhaps? If you have a spell where you’re not as active as you ‘should’ be, this could be frustrating and perhaps even embarrassing. It’s fine to get a nice ego boost for getting 15000 steps in a day, but if you have a day where you’re chained to the desk and get a couple of thousand, that to me is quite negative information likely to make you stop using a tracker, especially if this happens a lot …

One fantastic thing about ISBNPA: there are a LOT of female speakers!


One annoying thing about conferences is that you miss stuff happening in parallel sessions, but that’s where Twitter comes in handy! I need to find out more about this study as it looks really relevant to my research:

Next up was the poster session, I had lots of interesting conversations about my posters (and people said they liked my titles!) though I really wish the organisers had put my posters next to each other and not back to back on one board! It was noticeable that my running poster with the photo of the BRA got the most attention…

I also chatted with Elaine Hargreaves, whose paper I based my running study on, oh the excitement! It was really cool chatting to her about the study, particularly as one of the recommendations in the paper was to do a similar study in a more ecologically valid context (which is pretty much what I did!)

I went and looked at some of the posters after my session had finished, as I love seeing other people’s work even if it’s not quite in my area, I liked the one above about harassment of cyclists. The ones below I was sorry to miss the authors of, but it was great to see some running research:

This poster was the most eyecatching of the conference to me, such great design:

The final session of the day for me was a symposium on behaviour change maintenance, which was fascinating. Mainly because nobody knows how to define it, how to measure it, what to do about it. Which is kinda unfortunate when it’s the DEFINING problem of behaviour change!

First up was some discussion of the role of theory in maintenance. Oh god, behaviour change really doesn’t need yet more theories does it?

I was really flagging by this stage, but there was a fascinating talk by Rachel (think that was her first name, the programme just says ‘R’) Burns from McGill on using incentives in maintenance of physical activity. For some reason I didn’t tweet any other slides from this symposium. She had some interesting thoughts on applying stuff from other fields, such as pro-environmental behaviour. But I’m a bit sceptical about how lessons from a fairly habitual behaviour like recycling can be translated into physical activity, which seems much less habitual (though this is debatable given the definition of physical activity when it includes some quite automatic behaviour like active travel…)

Finally, Ryan Rhodes discussed some of the issues brought up by the talks, and encouraged discussion. But frankly, everyone was either too bewildered or too knackered by this stage of the evening (starting at 8am and finishing after 6pm is a LOT of brain work!) It would be really useful to keep discussing this subject as it’s such a key idea. Personally I have my own ideas about maintenance and what it looks like, which I think is different from most ideas because the very way RCTs are set up implies a certain model of a person, and a certain model of behaviour, and people are NOT that simple! Maybe I’ll write something about my Wave Theory of Behaviour Change Maintenance in the future.

Anyway, by now it was time for the conference fun run, the rain had gone and the wind had whipped up. We ran along the waterfront and out to the ‘breakwater’ and running back with the wind behind us was as much fun as running into it was hard work!

I staggered back onto the bus to go back to my AirBnb and collapse into bed, it was quite a long day, not helped by the general election unfolding in the UK, and I was trying to keep up with events there too!

Well at least with all that thinking, my body was as active as my brain!

Right, that’s enough wittering for now, I’ll obviously have to do a blog post for each day of the conference given how much there is to talk about. I find it really useful to reflect on the things I found useful or interesting during a conference. Sometimes they are not at all what you might expect, which was the case for Friday’s sessions…

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Crow Pose, Nudging and #BeMoreAmish

This is a blog about a conference I attended last week, ISBNPA2017 (International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, it’s a mouthful so people call it IZ-BIN-PA) It was a wonderful conference and I learnt so much, so I’m going to quickly jot stuff down about it before it disappears in a haze of travel and jetlag. In fact, it will have to be a couple of blogs, there is so much to cover! And this one alone will consume far more screen ink than strictly necessary, just look at the photos if you’re short of time.

I arrived early in Victoria, BC. I’d never been to Canada before so I was really excited! I met up with my good friend Elizabeth Ablah, from Wichita Kansas, we talked our heads off because we hadn’t seen each other since the Edinburgh ISNBNPA 2 years earlier. Apologies to the other people on the bus for our cackling and shrieking, we were excited to be together again…We did make good friends with a couple on the bus from Adelaide, but we forgot to ask their names so we spent the week texting each other possible names for them (It’s Bill and Pat, by the way. Elaine is just wrong, and certainly NOT Philip!)

We took the bus to the famous Butchart Gardens, and Elizabeth almost had a coronary with excitement at all the flowers. None of them had name labels on them (why not?!) so I had to delve deep into my memory to recall most of the names. I do now know the difference between azaleas and rhododendrons (azaleas have 5 stamens and rhododendrons 10+). The peonies were TO DIE FOR. And the irises were pretty amazing too. The front gardens of the houses in Victoria and Vancouver were just incredible, I’m going home determined to make my front garden as pretty as some of the ones I saw in Canada!

There was a lovely Japanese garden at Butchart, and a little pond with stepping stones across. We watched as a chap did some yoga (crow pose) on the stepping stones and applauded. Then Elizabeth decided to have a go…

Well, it was a very hot and sunny day, and she was wearing technical fabric trousers, they dried remarkably quickly!

She grazed her chin though, so we had to take selfies with weird chin-hiding going on so she didn’t feel bad about it.

I kind of promised her I wouldn’t put these photos on Twitter. I never promised her not to put them on the internet full stop…

Wednesday morning dawned and I decided to go for a run, it was pretty spectacular. Look at these photos!

Back to the AirBnB and quick shower and onto the bus to town for an 8am start (jet lag is REALLY handy sometimes, I was awake at 4 or 5 every day). Today there was a choice of pre-conference workshops, and whole day vs half day ones. I really like doing pre-conference workshops, you get to know people in much smaller groups compared with the main conference, you get lots of discussion and you get hands on experience with different methods and issues. I would say that they are the most useful (and sociable) part of any conference and definitely worth attending.

The first workshop I chose was on nudging. This was fantastic, as a psychologist I am really intrigued by the concept of nudging. It was run by the magnificent Denise de Ridder (no other adjective could apply) and Emely de Vett, both from the Netherlands. There was some discussion on the ethics of nudging, which I won’t cover here, but some interesting cultural differences were raised. If you’re at all interested in nudging, there are some papers on Denise’s website which are worth reading. And the self-regulation paper with Mann and Fujita linked to on there is just brilliant!

As part of this workshop Denise and Emely presented some guidelines for developing and evaluating nudges for us to use, this was a bit confusing because there seemed to be 2 sets of guidelines given with lots of overlap, but the main issue was that this workshop really needed to be a full day affair, I think. We split into small groups and were tasked with coming up with a problem and a nudge to address the problem. A chap in our group from a cancer organisation in the US came up with an interesting problem, which was how to improve sun exposure during physical activity, because melanoma rates are high in people who spend time being physically active outdoors. Again, cultural differences were really interesting here, because a woman called Vicky was from Newcastle in Australia and had a whole list of ways sun exposure was tackled there. I grew up in Sydney and I have to say I’m astonished at how much things have changed since then! Nowadays kids have big hats as part of their uniform, sunscreen is provided in parks (with little umbrellas to stop the contents degrading!), the list goes on. So she had lots of ideas for how this issue could be addressed. Jan Seghers (who is Flemish) and me had less experience of needing sunscreen to be active outdoors…

We came up with a nudge (getting local youth sports organisations to provide pop up sun shelters and big bottles of sunscreen as part of the team kit), worked out the logistics, who was being nudged (the coach, the organisations, the kids) and added some evaluation ideas. It was an interesting exercise, and we addressed lots of different issues like social norms and how to make sure it was a ‘nudge’ instead of being compulsory. My idea for using social norms was to get the kids to wear zinc cream on their faces in the team colours, on the assumption that kids like face painting, wearing colours on your face is already associated with sports (think cricket players, football fans etc), and that if you were the one kid without green paint on your face you might stand out. I liked this idea!

There was more stuff about nudges in Denise’s keynote later in the conference, so I’ll cover that later. I think it’s such a cool area to work in though, so many possibilities…

The second half of the day was a workshop on prescribing walking for health. We had a stellar lineup for this: Marie Murphy, Paul Kelly, Elaine Murtagh and Catrine Tudor-Locke. What a fantastic bunch of people! They clearly had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for this workshop, and we all had a lot of fun doing the activities, plus we got some incidental sightseeing done down at the waterfront at the same time 🙂

First we had a quick whistlestop tour of research on walking and the health benefits (at least 5000 steps a day to not be ‘The Walking Dead’, the hashtag #BeMoreAmish needs to trend), and some stuff about cadence being important (at least 100 steps per minute for health). Then we set off in pairs to look at measurement stuff. We had a heart rate monitor, a steps app, a pedometer, a stopwatch and some music downloaded to our phones. We looked at different walking speeds and how they could be changed (music was very effective) and their effects on heart rate, the accuracy of pedometers and walking apps, and used the Feeling Scale to change walking speed. It was very interesting but there was nowhere near enough time to cover everything in the activity and ponder the results in depth. It was good though to get a flavour of some of the issues involved in this area, and the walking with music was an interesting concept. Though I wish my bluetooth headphones had talked to my phone because listening to I Gotta Feeling blaring out on my phone whilst striding along made me feel like a total numpty!

The final part of this workshop looked at different walking domains, dimensions and correlates using a paper by Paul Kelly. We were asked to consider which of these would be useful in walking interventions for different groups of people. It was really interesting to think about how different types of people have completely different requirements and preferences, and I think that this ‘Edinburgh Framework’ is an excellent jumping-off point for covering different aspects of walking. Funnily enough, the different walking domains came up as a real issue in the Resolve to Walk study I did. The poster I presented at this conference actually covered the problem of different types of walking and the meanings of this for participants, so this is something which is not just a problem for researchers, but also for participants themselves in terms of what walking is, and the reasons for doing it.

Right, that’s quite enough screen ink for one blog! If you read this far, give yourself a medal! I’m off to explore Vancouver. The walking domains covered will be a combination of active travel and leisure time walking 🙂

presentations, research, Uncategorized, writing

Something I wrote about how to love exercise more




I recently wrote a piece for The Slant, which is a collection of articles collated by Zova (a health and fitness company with a cool app). I thought I’d give a couple of evidence-based suggestions for how to enjoy exercise more (or feel better about it afterwards). The internet is awash with some great ideas for how to exercise more, but I’m not sure the suggestions here have received much attention.


Anyway, I need to get back to my never-ending pile of PhD work if I’m going to fit in a run to the bank later. You can find the article here

posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Resolve to Walk conference poster



I’m on that final day of a conference, when you if you don’t actually have a hangover, you feel like you do. God knows how people go to week-long conferences, after 3 days of absorbing information and meeting great people, my brain cells feel like they’re sizzling!  I would very much like to curl up in a tree like the koala above and sleep for a week. Well, maybe not in an actual tree, I’m not great with heights.

Anyway, before I forget to do this, I’m going to pop my poster on here, because I spent a gazillion years making it and I think my results are really interesting. There’s some tralala backgroundy stuff about the research background to the poster in this post here


All comments welcome 🙂

presentations, Uncategorized

Are you sitting comfortably?

Flickr CC2.0 by Mike

I just got back from a conference on ‘behavioural nutrition and physical activity’, and one very active new strand of research into behaviour change and physical activity is sedentary behaviour, which was represented by stacks of research at this conference. Sedentary behaviour was until recently seen as the absence of physical activity, but it has become a behavioural focus in its own right. How to measure, how to gauge its health effects, and how to change sedentary behaviour seems to me even more difficult than the corresponding concepts in physical activity (and they’re hard enough!)

I didn’t go to many of the talks on sedentary behaviour as my research focus is mostly on physical activity, but the sedentary behaviour on display at the conference itself held me enthralled and perplexed. The conference, having these health behaviours as its core topics, certainly walked the talk. The lunches provided were very healthy, with plenty of salads, yoghurt and nutritious sandwiches. The snacks served up at coffee breaks were also nutritious, with fresh fruit always available (though to me, wholemeal scones with a sliver of jam and no cream is just plain taking the FUN out of scones…)
Walking the talk was also evident in the active behaviour encouraged wherever possible during the conference. Yoga and walks were offered by the organisers at some ungodly hour before the conference started (I eschewed these, as my accommodation was 2 miles away and gave me a great chance to see some of Edinburgh’s beauty en route).

Motivational signs were posted near the staircases, telling you how many Munros you’d climb in a year if you took the stairs. Hordes of people took to the stairs between sessions, and goodness knows how many flights of stairs were climbed by people walking the 4 flights from the main auditorium to the basement where poster sessions took place. At break times the escalators were ignored by most people in favour of the stairs (much to the consternation of the conference centre staff before they realised that all these people annoyingly cluttering up the stairwells were not just being awkward!) Some of the people presenting at different talks name-checked other researchers who had contributed to the work being discussed and then, much to our amusement, publicly shamed them for being spotted taking the escalators!
Where this became really interesting though was in discouragement of sedentary behaviour. The smaller seminar rooms were provided with ample room at the back for people to stand up during the talks. There were also high tables for people to lean against or take notes on. At the lunch sessions there was no seating, with high tables provided instead for people to gather round and eat their lunches (this was actually extremely comfortable). In the auditoriums there were banks of seats cordoned off for standing, with ‘standing only’ stickers attached to the seats.
People-watching in this context became a fascinating past-time! Here were 1200 conference attendees highly educated in the health risks of sedentary behaviour and highly motivated to not be sedentary. There was also social pressure to be less sedentary in the form of verbal encouragement to sit as little as possible by speakers, and also more subtly in the form of perceived social norms. When people came into the smaller seminar rooms you watched them as they agonised over whether to sit or stand. First their eyes went to the chairs. Then their eyes flicked to the people standing at the back. Indecision was written across their faces. Do the ‘right’ thing and stand, or do the comfortable thing and sit? More often than not, people chose the latter. These highly-educated, highly-motivated people who you would have thought would choose the ‘right’ option!
A confession: I actually hate standing up for protracted periods of time. When I stood during the seminars (which I usually did) by the end of the week I ended up alternating standing with sitting on the floor. I don’t find sitting for long periods of time comfortable either, but what I like to do is to alternate sitting with some form of movement, not standing. It’s uncomfortable! It makes your back ache and your legs tired, whereas walking or gentle movement makes for a much more comfortable experience. I felt envious of the comfortable sitters by the end of the week…
I’m not the only one, apparently! On Twitter there were lots of people tweeting about their bums being adorned with ‘standing only’ stickers as they had sat down in the standing areas:

This happened to me, too. In the larger auditoriums our social conditioning kicked in. It’s an environment just like a cinema, and anyone standing in the cinema would be stared at and whispered about, possibly even censured by staff. At the start of the week there were plenty of people standing in the auditoriums, by the end of the week almost nobody did. You felt psychologically and socially uncomfortable standing in this environment, even whilst you felt smug about doing the ‘right’ thing. By the end of the week the people standing were usually lurking on the stairs at either side of the auditorium, trying to look inconspicuous…
So if even this population seems to prefer to sit rather than stand in most contexts even with encouragement and standing areas provided, what hope is there for the less-educated, poorly motivated ‘normal’ person in a normal office and home? It’s an interesting conundrum and shows just how challenging changing sedentary behaviour is, I think.
But perhaps not all hope is lost, however. One really nice aspect of this conference was the enthusiasm with which people took to giving standing ovations at the drop of a hat. Not only was this lovely for the speaker (how gratifying must it be to receive a standing ovation?!), but it also gave the audience a great opportunity to stand up, stretch and engage in a tiny bit of movement. And people who remained seated during the standing ovations were definitely looked at disapprovingly, often resulting in them leaping to their feet to join in. These micro-interactions within the audience were very interesting to watch. Definitely scope for an observational study of sorts here,  it’d be fascinating to compare this conference with one on an unrelated topic too. There has been a small amount of research on this , but there’s certainly room for more!


Photo Flickr CC2.0 by Mike

posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Reflections on a poster

Sooooo, protracted hiatus from bloggery whilst life has been ultra-busy. I attended a conference in Edinburgh, the International Society of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity (just rolls off the tongue, no?) I had a brilliant time at this conference: the talks were almost all fascinating, I attended a great workshop on intervention design, I didn’t even get to see all the posters I wanted to see, and I made a couple of lovely new friends and met some great people. I didn’t want it to end!

The ostensible reason I was there was to present my poster. This was an abject failure, but this wasn’t due to the poster itself. I spent weeks working on it and tweaking it. I’m quite pleased with it, but having seen a bunch of excellent posters (there were over 800 at the conference in total), I can see that having scaled the size up from A1 to A0 means I should have scaled down the word count. It’s a bit tricky, as qualitative work is inherently wordy! Still, I reckon I needed to simplify again and again until it was capable of being skimmed in 40 seconds flat with lots of people talking loudly in the vicinity. Maybe cartoon posters are the way forward… Anyway, the reason it was an abject failure wasn’t due to my poster, it was due to its location! The poster boards were concertinaed at right angles to each other, and the (very lovely) person sharing my corner had this really interactive poster with a game on it, and she was part of a busy research group who all wanted to come and say hello, and people crowded round her poster to play the game. This meant that people couldn’t even see my poster, even if they wanted to *sob sob*. I’m not quite sure what I could have done about this, except grit my teeth and stand there like a lemon 🙂

But: having a blog means my poster can live beyond the conference, so here it is! It’s some very preliminary qualitative findings on my Running Commentary study. I’m quite excited about this work, as I can see some useful real-life applications for improving how people feel during exercise just from this single theme alone.

I also gave a talk about this work and the wider study as part of our Running Dialogues seminar series which seemed to go OK, it was quite funny as the previous speaker, Hayden Lorimer, gave the most beautiful, lyrical talk just before me, and then you could almost hear the cogs crashing as the audience (and I) had to adjust to the prosaic nature of my study and the realities of operationalising psychological variables!

Anyway, here’s my poster, all comments welcome, click on it to expand Edited: no don’t! I appear to be a total WordPress numpty and it doesn’t work… See here for a link to the PDF version (please let that one work!)

Feel lucky that you don’t have to read it in a crowded conference hall through a sea of people with a crowd playing a noisy game next to you!

Qualitative anticipation of the end poster