Can New Activities Help an Ageing Brain?

Heriot-Watt University front entrance

Can taking up a new activity help our thinking skills as we age?

That’s a key question for researchers interested in cognitive ageing, the field that explores how thinking skills change over the life course, and what factors might be associated with those changes.

The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt University’s Department of Psychology have made it their mission to find out how new activities could affect our thinking skills as we age.

As we age, we are more likely to experience changes in our thinking and memory skills (these are referred to as our mental or cognitive abilities). Some people experience declines in their thinking and memory skills across their 60s and beyond, while others maintain their abilities into old age. This variation suggests that a number of factors influence the likelihood of mental decline. Keeping engaged in intellectual, social or physical activities have all been proposed as potentially beneficial.

In our major study in The Ageing Lab, we are asking people take up new and challenging activities to see how those might have benefits for their thinking skills, as well as their health and wellbeing more broadly. We’re on target to have over 300 people in that study, and the results will be reported later this year. But there’s still time for people to take part. To find out what that might involve, here are what some of our current participants think about their experiences.

Picture by Lesley Martin
7 June 2018
© Lesley Martin 2018

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SoSS Psychology students “Research the Headlines”

Alan Gow from our Psychology department, has written for us on “Research the Headlines”, a fascinating blog project enabling students to develop their critical thinking skills and ability to disseminate their growing knowledge. Well done to the students involved in showcasing their work!

In our teaching, we want to ensure that our students not only get a firm grasp of their topic, but that they develop a range of skills that might be relevant after they graduate. For students in the 4th Year course Psychology of Ageing, one of the pieces of coursework helped them to develop their abilities in communicating their specialised knowledge. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. At the end of June, Research the Headlines showcased some of that work.

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The brain before the body

Dr Anna Sedda, Assistant Professor in our Psychology Department, recently published a paper on the importance of working with the mind as well as the body when managing recovery from spinal cord injury. Here she talks through the role of the brain in our perceptions of the body and its abilities.

You are your body. What a silly sentence, right? Of course we have a physical body that belongs to us and we use to drink coffee or, if you are not as lazy as myself, to go for a walk. The interesting thing is that our body is not only “physical”: we do also have a mental representation of it. This cognitive function is called body representation, and is ruled by our brain activity. Even more importantly, this body representation contributes to a great deal to our self-identity.
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SoSS Graduations 2018 – Celebrating Success Day 2

It was a great privilege to be involved in the SoSS graduations last week; to see our students looking so smart, with proud families by their side. All of our graduates have done so well, and we enjoyed hearing their stories of what they’re going to go on to do next (with the hope that we see quite a few back for post-grad studies!)

Yesterday we profiled two of our Accountancy, Economics and Finance prize-winning graduates, and today it’s the turn of Ammara Imtiaz, a Psychology graduate, and Yadah Maposa, who graduated in Business Law last week.

Ammara Imtiaz

Ammara Imtiaz, SoSS Graduate, who won the British Psychological Society prize this year!

Ammara graduated last week with a BSc Psychology with Human Health with Honours of the First Class – well done, Ammara! She also received the British Psychological Society Undergraduate Award, which is given by the BPS to the student with the highest overall average. She spoke to our Marketing Officer, Daniel, about her time and studies at Heriot-Watt, and her surprise at receiving the award!


Yadah Maposa

Yadah Maposa, who graduated last week with a Master of Arts in International Business Management with Business Law with Honours of the First Class

We love hearing about the different ways in which SoSS students intend to go out there and change the world. And in this, Yadah Maposa definitely fits the bill. Yadah graduated last week with a first class MA in International Business Management with Business Law. She also won the Lord Penrose prize, which is awarded to the student with the highest mark in a Business Law programme. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to get Yadah’s video up here, but this is what she told us:

“My name’s Yadah Maposa and I studied International Business Management with Business Law and I’m also this year’s prizewinner for the Lord Penrose Prize, which I’m so honoured to have received. After university, I plan to start an NGO in Africa. I’m from Zimbabwe, so I really want to help children in that area who have not had as many opportunities as I have had. I believe that this university and my degree have fully equipped me to take on that mission.”