Happy Health Psychology New Year: 12 Highlights from 2015

By Lisa Hynes and Jenny McSharry

Who here doesn’t love the Big Fat Quiz of the Year with Jimmy Carr, and similar New Year shows?? Everyone loves a bit of a January reflection! Last year was a special year for health psychology at NUI Galway and in honour of the past 12 months, we’ve bought together 12 of our highlights, key papers and reflections from 2015.

  1. They grow up so fast!

Over 120 delegates attended the Innovations in Health Psychology Conference at NUI, Galway

So best thing first, or however that saying goes…In June 2015, the 21st birthday of the MSc course in Health Psychology in the School of Psychology, NUIG  was celebrated. A one-day meeting was held in NUIG attended by present and past students of the course, present and past staff members involved in delivering the one year MSc programme, and local, national and international researchers and health service providers. The details of this hugely successful event can be found in the October edition of the Irish Psychologist and was a day to honour those who have brought Health Psychology in NUIG and in Ireland to where it is today.


Dr Gerry Molloy, Chair of the DHP, presented Dr Frank Doyle with the Early Career Investigator Award


Ms Ann Marie Keane, Prof Ruth Curtis and Mr James McLoone, three of the founding staff members of the MSc in Health Psychology

  1. Did we mention we’re into health psychology in Galway??

After many years of discussion, debate and consultation, guidelines for professional training in health psychology in Ireland were produced by the Division of Health Psychology and ratified by the PSI. A working group within the DHP, chaired by Dr Molly Byrne of NUIG, developed the guidelines for professional health psychology training by reviewing the approaches to existing courses, particularly in the UK, consulting with course developers and providers as well as people working locally and farther afield as health psychologists. The aim of the professional training guidelines is to produce health psychologists with a high level of competence in research, designing and delivering health behaviour change interventions, and delivering teaching and training to relevant academic, professional and lay groups. The programme is set to kick off in NUI, Galway in September 2016 and we are over the moon to be able to move forward in the development of health psychology here, particularly by setting up and strengthening our links with hospital and community based health settings.


  1. I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle

Publishing journal articles can be a bit like throwing a message in a bottle out to sea. We carefully wrap our findings up in a journal and send them on their way, hopeful that they’ll reach their intended target audience. 2015 gave us some great examples of Health Psychologists going beyond traditional dissemination routes and using the media to make sure their message gets across.

The REFRESH (Recovery from Cancer-Related Fatigue) programme developed by our own Teresa Corbett was featured in both local and national media which allowed people with fatigue to find out about the study.  Social media can also be a great way to connect with a wider audience as shown in this blog from earlier in 2015.

Another notable example of using the media to make an impact was Prof Rory O’Connor‘s contribution to two BBC documentaries, Life After Suicide and Suicide and Me. Prof Rory O’ Connor worked with Angela Samata on the award winning Life After Suicide which explored why people take their own lives and how those who love them come to terms with their loss. Prof O’Connor was also involved with Suicide and Me, which documented rapper Professor Green’s journey to understand his father’s suicide.


Both documentaries were informative, thought-provoking and very moving, and Prof O’Connor’s contribution showed how research on a complex topic can be communicated in a meaningful and human way. For anyone with access to the British Psychological Society’s monthly publication, The Psychologist, Prof O’Connor’s article on Starting a national conversation about suicide is an inspirational personal reflection on his involvement with the Life After Suicide documentary.


  1. Don’t believe the hype

 In case we needed reminding, 2015 also emphasised the importance of critically appraising media reports of health-related studies and exercising caution when writing press releases. A number of controversial findings last year were made even more so through media simplification and inaccurate reporting of findings.

John Bohannon’s description of how he was able to “fool millions into thinking chocolate helps weight loss”, while criticised by some, provided an unnerving indicator of how easy it is for bad science to be picked up and widely disseminated in popular media.


  1. More remakes, less sequels2015e

August saw the publication of a paper in Science Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. The paper described the efforts of 270 psychologists to replicate 100 experimental and correlational studies published in Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Only 30-50% of the original findings were observed in the replication studies and overall, a large portion of replications produced weaker evidence than the original studies.

Although, the challenges raised by these findings are clear, there is also hope for the future. Firstly the project demonstrates psychology’s commitment to self –correct and openly acknowledge its weaknesses.  Secondly, the findings provide a justification for a future focus on replication studies, which have traditionally been viewed as less publishable and important. Relevant to health psychology, a replication project on the ego-depletion effect  is currently underway, and is accepting proposals from researchers who would like to participate.


  1. The little theory that could

We were all absorbed by the drama and brilliance of the issue of Health Psychology Review that compiled responses from a wide range of experts to THAT article by Falko Sniehotta, Justin Presseau and Vera Araújo-Soares, published in the journal in 2014. Sniehotta, Presseau and Araújo-Soares presented an argument for moving away entirely from that old chestnut, the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). Authors including Professor Charles Abraham, Professor Jane Ogden and Professor Icek Ajzen himself, vigorously debated this proposal with responses ranging from total agreement to outrage. However some common themes ran across many responses in this lively debate. Many authors noted the courage of Sniehotta and colleagues in raising this controversial question. Despite different perspectives on what should happen to the TPB there was a consensus that debate is positive and necessary, and that innovation is needed in the development and application of health psychology theory.


  1. Creatures of habit

We were delighted to see that Dr Ben Gardner of Kings College, London, would be delivering one of the EHPS e-courses on habit in 2015.
The two-part e-course was a huge success, introducing the concept of habit in great depth. According to Dr Gardner a habit is a process by which a stimulus automatically generates an impulse towards action based on learned stimulus-response associations. So that irresistible desire to check your phone whenever you hear it buzz? That’s habit calling! If you are wondering why oh why you find two sugars instead of one in your coffee since you made a resolution to cut your sugar intake, it’s because habits act as moderating variables between our intentions and behaviour. Luckily, recent habit research suggests that we can override habit impulses with the right skills (rapid lid placement), resources (friend to guard sugar packs) and mental capacity (absolute focus, no chatting!).

The theme of habit continued last year with the visit of Professor Bas Verplanken in November. Prof Verplanken delivered a workshop to our MSc in Health Psychology students and a seminar as part of the Health Behaviour Change Research Group seminar series on Habits and the road to sustainability.


Dinner with Prof Verplanken

During his seminar Prof Verplanken made it clear that behaviour change for sustainability is a seriously complex undertaking. A particularly interesting approach was the idea of targeting groups who have different levels of ability and willingness to engage in more sustainable behaviour by empowering, helping, incentivising or introducing more upstream solutions such as the plastic bag tax in Ireland.



  1. What does the M stand for??

Last year was a big year for mHealth in NUIG. Mhealth refers to the emerging range of mobile health technologies, including smart phones and wearable devices, which facilitate the collection and communication of health-related information. In June last year an event organised by the NUIG mHealth Research Group was held show-casing local, national and international developments and innovations in the area of mhealth. For a fantastic summary of the day, check out the blog written for us by Dr Conor Linehan. 2015gThe field of mHealth has taken off internationally in recent years due to the novelty and potential of mobile devices to positively influence health-related behaviour. However a strong theme at the mHealth conference in NUIG related to issues in the very foundations of the field, including the ability of these novel approaches to have a long term impact on behaviour. The gaps and challenges in progressing mHealth technologies were also a central feature of discussion at the Synergy Expert Meeting and mHealth symposium at the European Health Psychology Society Conference in Limassol, Cyprus in September 2015. These events were also reviewed in a blog by our own Eimear Morrissey and Dr Gerry Molloy. The consensus appears to be that high quality, multi-disciplinary research, involving novel research methods is required to ensure mHealth makes the meaningful contribution to health that we are all hoping for.


  1. Write drunk, edit tomorrow

2015 was all about writing, papers, articles, blogs and for one of us…finishing our thesis! A number of our NUIG health psychologists attended pre-conference writing workshops at EHPS this year and shared what they had learned with us on their return. Teresa Corbett and Milou Fredrix combined these tips into a handy top ten list in their blog Sun, Sea and…Writing. We were also taken with the idea of social writing and have plans to make group writing sessions a regular feature of our working lives in 2016.

For those facing into grant writing in early 2016, Gary Donohoe provided an insightful blog on his successful grant application to the European Research Council (ERC).


  1. September sun and science

A Jenny highlight…

Lots of my favourite health psychology moments in 2015 were at the European Health Psychology Conference in Limassol, Cyprus in September. As always NUIG was well represented and we enjoyed fantastic sessions and keynotes and great discussions with colleagues. And the beach wasn’t too bad either!2015h

The high point for me was the final keynote delivered by Prof Ronan O’Carroll on Health Psychology and Organ Donation. Prof O’Carroll started his keynote with two pieces of advice:
1) Don’t be too wedded to any one research method/technique
2) Research projects don’t always turn out the way you expect

Prof O’Carroll then provided an overview of his research exploring organ donor registration behaviour. By describing a range of methods and an experimental manipulation that increased intentions but didn’t change behaviour, Prof O’ Carroll brought his two pieces of advice to life in an entertaining blend of science and humour. I signed up to the organ donor register after hearing Prof O’Carroll present at a conference a couple of years ago. For anyone who would like to, you can sign up for an organ donor card in Ireland here.

Also don’t forget the EHPS/DHP conference in Aberdeen next August, sure to be a highlight of 2016!


  1. Putting the PeP into Special Interest Groups

A Lisa highlight…

In 2015 I became a member of the newly founded Special Interest Group in Pediatric Psychology (SIGPeP) within the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI). The founding of this group was led by Dr Vincent McDarby of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin and Dr Claire Crowe of Tallaght Hospital. The SIGPeP aims to link researchers, health service providers, children and families to facilitate the design and implementation of feasible and acceptable research to address problems in health service settings. The launch of SIGPeP is especially timely given the launch of the plans for the new National Children’s Hospital at St James’ Hospital campus in Dublin. In addition, 2015 saw the development and release of new Irish guidelines outlining Models of Care for infants, children and adolescents. These guidelines are full of opportunities for health psychologists to support health service providers to understand and deliver individualised or tailored health services and support the self-management of chronic health conditions.


  1. Health Psychology New Year’s resolution…Get involved

The final thing we learned in 2015? The benefits and importance of getting involved. We were lucky this year to benefit from bursaries, grants and networking opportunities made possible by our involvement in different societies and groups.

As two Psychological Society of Ireland Division of Health Psychology committee members we’ll start by highlighting the benefits of joining the PSI DHP (or Gerry might disown us) and encourage anyone who is interested to join the division and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

2015hOne of these fantastic societies with great benefits for their members might be also of interest.
British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology
UK Society for Behavioural Medicine
European Health Psychology Society
APA Division 38: Society for Health Psychology
APS College of Health Psychologists

And finally, now that you’re all ready to get involved, why not consider writing a NUIG Health Psychology blog? We are always looking for contributors from Galway and further afield so get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!


Lisa is a research associate in the School of Psychology in NUI, Galway. Lisa is currently working with a multi-disciplinary research team on a study to develop an intervention to improve outcomes for young adults with type 1 diabetes. For her PhD, Lisa conducted a mixed methods study to develop and test a theory of clinic attendance behaviour among young adults with type 1 diabetes. She is interested in the impact of the environment and inequality in determining health, health psychology across the lifespan, and health service delivery. Contact: lisa.hynes@nuigalway.ie


Jenny Mc Sharry is a post-doctoral researcher and Health Psychologist. Jenny works as part of the Health Behaviour Change Research Group in the School of Psychology at NUI Galway. The Health Behaviour Change Research Group aims to promote the application of behavioural science to the development and evaluation of health behaviour change interventions.             Email: jenny.mcsharry@nuigalway.ie












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