School of Psychology

Personality, Social Psychology and Health


Investigating key issues in our society

The Personality, Social Psychology and Health group carry out research on individual differences, health, social, clinical and personality psychology.

Their research focuses on some of the most pressing issues in society today, including energy and climate change, the roles of emotion in decision making, driver behaviour, altruism and empathy, pro and antisocial behaviour and mental health and self-harm. Group members have led several large-scale collaborative projects, including the Mental Health Research Network funded Clinical Research Group on Self-Harm and IMAGEN project on adolescent risk taking.

Recent projects and publications 

Recently funded projects include work on creating new energy sources (EPSRC) and transforming the UK energy system (NERC).



Laura Blackie
Assistant Professor

I am interested in understanding how people adjust and find meaning from challenging life events.

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My research into post-traumatic growth investigates when and how positive personality change can occur in the wake of significant trauma and adversity. I have examined this question in community samples in the UK and USA and in genocide-affected and civil war-affected populations in Rwanda and Sri Lanka. My experimental research into death reflection is focused on isolating the social conditions and personality characteristics that enable healthy individuals to respond to reminders of their mortality in a non-defensive and life-affirming manner.
Sarah Cassidy
Assistant Professor

I am interested in understanding and preventing mental health problems in autism.

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My research aims to understand and prevent mental health problems such as depression, self-injury and suicidality in those diagnosed with autism. My ESRC funded research is developing new assessment tools for autistic adults, to help clinicians and researchers more effectively identify and explore depression and suicidality in autism. My NIHR and Autistica funded research is exploring why autistic people may be more likely to die by suicide than other clinical groups, in order to develop new ways to prevent suicide in autism. My research is designed in partnership with the autistic community, to ensure that our work is relevant and helpful.

Eamonn Ferguson
Professor of Health Psychology

Eamonn Ferguson is a chartered health and occupational psychologist, a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and co-founding president of the British Society for the Psychology of Individual Differences.

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My current theoretical work focuses on the integration of theory and models from psychology, in particular personality theory, with behavioural economics, to address questions focusing on (i) the overlap of personality and pro-social preferences, (ii) understand blood and organ donor behaviour, (iii) resource allocation and, (iv) subjective wellbeing and emotion processing.
Claire Lawrence
Associate Professor

My main areas of research are individual differences in sensitivity to aggressive triggers, psychopathy and behaviour in secure settings, and reinforcement sensitivity and psychoticism.

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Individual differences in sensitivity to aggressive triggers

I have developed the Situational Triggers of Aggressive Responses (STAR) scale (Lawrence, 2006), which measures sensitivity to two main types of trigger: (1) provocations from other people and (2) frustrations. The STAR scale has been validated in offender and on-offender samples, and relates to trait aggression, narcissism and the perception of aggressive events.

Psychopathy and behaviour in secure settings

I am examining the behaviour of psychopathic individuals within secure therapeutic settings, to examine the impact of therapeutic and other interventions on daily behaviour over time. This work is being conducted with doctoral student Chris Beeley and Todd Hogue at Rampton hospital and Eamonn Ferguson in the School of Psychology.

Reinforcement sensitivity and psychoticism

With my doctoral student, Nadja Heym, I am looking at the relationship between psychoticism and appetitive and inhibition sensitivity. Using a combination of psychometric and experimental studies, we are examining the impact of psychoticism on empathy, perspective taking, physiological arousal (skin conductance, facial EMG, HR) and memory.

Aggression and group processes Why do we sometimes blame victims of violence? I am examining the extent to which group members are more negative towards a victim when they are an in-group - as opposed to an out-group member (Lawrence & Leather, 2003; Lawrence & Green, 2005). I have studied this so-called "black sheep effect", in various groups, including licensees, teachers, parents and pupils.

Past Research

Aggression and stereotypes

I examined (with Kate Threapleton) the extent to which the activation of aggressive stereotypes or other aggressive primes influence the way in which we attend to, encode and remember related information using dot-probe tasks, identification of subliminal stimuli and dual task methodologies. In addition, I have examined the role of stereotype inconsistent information on the memory for aggression related material (Lawrence and Leather, 1999).

Prison crowding and perceived aggression

I have also examined the impact on crowding in prison environments on the perception of aggressive incidents and general well-being (Lawrence & Andrews, 2004). This is the first work to demonstrate the influence of perceived crowding on the interpretation of an aggressive episode - suggesting a cognitive as well as an arousal route between crowding and aggression.

Environmental influences on perceived aggression

The role of environmental incivilities on the fear of crime has been established. In the work I have conducted to date, this research has been extended to demonstrate that in poorly maintained environments, aggression is perceived and understood differently (Lawrence & Leather, 2003; Leather & Lawrence, 1999, Lawrence & Green, 2005).

Car type and responsibility for accidents

I have recently examined the way in which responsibility judgements following road traffic accidents are made as a function of (amongst other dimensions) car type. (Lawrence & Richardson, 2005).

Future Research

I will be examining the role of individual sensitivities to aggressive triggers and perceptions and memory for aggressive and ambiguous events and behaviour.

In addition, I plan to examine the role of frustration sensitivity on impulsive behaviour in offender groups.

Alexa Spence
Associate Professor

My research experience includes time spent within both the academic and public sectors, and I hve been involved with research within social, economic, and environmental psychology.

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Her primary area of expertise is within social cognition and risk and she has professional memberships of the British Psychological Society, the European Association of Social Psychologists, the European Social Cognition Network, the National Energy Research Network and the Society for Risk Analysis. She is also a member of the UK Energy Research Centre.

She completed her doctorate at the University of Nottingham on the topic of perceptions and behaviour relating to genetically modified (GM) food. Her postdoctoral experience comprises several posts based both at the University of Nottingham and Cardiff University and has focused on applying social psychological theory to current topical risk issues. In particular she has been involved in research on climate change and energy issues, examining related public perceptions, issues of acceptance, and behaviour.

She currently works across Psychology and Horizon Digital Economy Research where she brings her social and environmental theoretical backgrounds to new digital technology innovations, in particular energy display development and smart grid understandings. Notably Alexa leads a large 5 year project titled  Creating the Energy for Change that examines how to encourage cooperation in reducing energy use in the workplace, and is involved with a range of projects examining public perceptions of energy systems and technologies, and climate change.

Have a look at our video overviews of our research that  makes sense of energy data and our research that explores  perceptions and behaviour change in relation to energy use.

Current Funding

Ellen Townsend
Professor of Psychology

I am a Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham and PI leading the Self-Harm Research Group (SHRG).

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Our group researches psychological factors associated with self-harm and suicidality, and interventions that promote recovery, especially in young people using a range of techniques including sequence analysis, the Card Sort Task for Self-Harm (CaTS), experiments, questionnaires, epidemiology, interviews and systematic reviews. This work has been funded by the NHS, NIHR and the ESRC. Our work has influenced policy - earlier versions of our systematic review of interventions for self-harm were included in the 2011 NICE Guidance on the Longer Term Management of Self-Harm.

I led a national Clinical Research Group on self-harm funded by the Mental Health Research Network (NIHR) and am a Fellow of the  Institute of Mental Health. I am a collaborator on the  Multicentre Study of Self-Harm in England and am co-leading the development of  INTERACT - a new research initiative for participatory research and public engagement working with colleagues from across the university. I am PI on a Wellcome Trust People Award supporting the development of our Café Connect model of public engagement. We were finalists in the UoN Knowledge Exchange and Impact Awards 2016 for this work.

I am PI on a project investigating self-harm in looked-after young people funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme. See our project website: for more information. I am a Fellow of the  International Academy of Suicide Research and a member of the BPS Expert Panel on the Psychology of Suicidal Behaviour. I was a participant in the  Nottingham Research Leaders Programme 2015-16. I have recently been awarded a  Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellowship at the University of Melbourne, Australia which will take place in April 2017.

In 2016 a publication co-authored with Dr Katie Glazebrook received the Institute of Mental Health 'Best Overall Publication Award' - Glazebrook K, Townsend E, Sayal K (2015). The role of attachment style in predicting repetition of adolescent self-harm: a longitudinal study. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. DOI: 10.1111/sltb.12159.

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School of Psychology

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