Archive for the ‘General post’ Category

Hello! I’m back! It’s been a hectic year trying to find a balance between my professional and college life. My thesis research had to take priority and unfortunately all posts on this site had to be sacrificed. However, I’m back and more motivated than ever to keep this running with plenty of new content.


My PhD research took quite few turns over the past year. Instead of focusing on emotion research and trying to develop an enactive theory, I’ve concentrated my efforts to a more pressing matter (well, more pressing in my opinion). That issue is research methodologies in psychology. Essentially, how can we do the research that may contribute to developing an enactive theory of emotion.

I’ve touched on this in a few posts, but now I find I have a lot more to say. So let’s get right to the matter, shall we?


Traditional information processing approaches to understanding perception and response to the environment take an analytic perspective to understanding the relationship between a person and the world. The important characteristics of stimuli in cognitive psychology tasks tend to relate to perceptual or structural aspects of those stimuli (their contrast, order or presentation, duration of presentation and so on). These different aspects of stimuli are typically examined in isolation and our understanding of the multi-faceted nature situations is built up in some kind of additive sense from various findings. Such standard experiments provide us with precision and reliability in measurements that are important in the development of a clear and adequate science.

However, a long but generally disparate tradition of research within cognitive psychology shows that the *meaning* of the stimulus may also have significant implications for how a person reacts to or uses those stimuli. The classic example is the content effects associated with the Wason selection task (Wason, 1966). It is generally believed that performance in the task changes when the stimuli content is varied, which has been used to argue that human cognitive architecture contains domain-specific inference systems (Fiddick, Cosmides & Tooby, 2000).

Recently developing perspectives within Psychology, such as the “enactive” approach (Varela et al; Di Paolo et al) argue that we need to replace our existing analytic modes of research with models that also afford more synthetic thinking, without sacrificing the rigour and discipline of proper scientific practice. An enactive approach sees not just the individual aspects of a stimulus or situation as important, but the overall meaning of the stimulus or task as playing a significant role in how we construct our thinking and acting at given time.
At present, however, while the enactive approach has grown considerably within the theoretical literature and within the areas of artificial life and other certain areas of robotics, it has yet to make a big impact within the domain of human behavioural research.


So now that we’ve acknowledged this, where do we go from here?

Asian man in a lab coat giving a shrug on a white background

My research is aiming at developing methodologies to allow a more mixed-method approach. This idea is that data from this will provide clarity in a way psychological research hasn’t before. Is there a way of developing from the bedrock of traditional approaches and providing a holistic overview that will benefit enactive, e,bodied and extended mind research? I really think so.

And if you’re following this blog, maybe you can help contribute your ideas. Much more to follow.

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Psychologists have argued that components of emotional functioning are a small part of cognition as a whole. I however, believe that emotion plays a more fundamental role. Through enactive theory (Varela et al 1991), we can explore and flesh out much more comprehensive accounts of consciousness. This can be done through integrating phenomenological research methods and third person sciences.

Research in emotion can play a particularly vital role in this. Research is currently being carried out (Colombetti 2008; Hutto 2010 and others) which is particularly interesting. My own research centres on exploring phenomenological accounts of emotional experience and linking it with the physiological elements associated with the experience. This may lead to a more comprehensive understanding of cognitive functioning and the role that emotion plays. Similar to neurophenomenological understanding, this allows a mixed method approach to cognitive behaviour.

Our desires, motivations and actions all require understanding. Without an emotional or affective dimension of this understanding, we would be acting in and experiencing the world in a purely passive way. However (and this is where the enactive literature steps in) we actively engage with the environment in every possible way. We can even liken our dreams or fantasies down to the experience we have (or do not have) with the world, as we are an active agent in it. In enactive terms, we en-act our Umwelt (or life world) and bring about our own understanding of the world.

Enactive theorists use the example of a bacterium striving toward an area of high glucose concentration to survive. Instead of cognition being a computational interaction, it is much more of a dynamic and fluid system. To use another enactive reference, cognition is much more like a handshake between environment and living organism that an organism psychologically and physiologically interacting with the environment in a passive and reflexive way. An important point to mention is that I would hardly attribute emotional understanding or higher cognitive functioning to basic organisms like bacterium.

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After correcting 30 assignments or so, I need a forum to vent my frustration of undergraduate students. Apart from the special few who can actually articulate themselves, there seems to be general mistakes being made across the board.

This may be a result of many students never receving writing feedback from assignments, perhaps many of them never have the opportunity to reflect on how they are coming across. In any case this post os all about the general traps that most students fall into when writing an assignment. Apart from simply learning how to write clearly, there are many things that all students should be informed of.

So here you go:

  • Formatting –1.5 or double spaced. It becomes imposible to read unless you present your work clearly. This type of spacing in general across the board and students are told from the very start of their term as a third-level student
  • Stick to one style (or a similar style) of formatting e.g. labelling section, margins and spacing paragraphs. Having paragrahs 1cm from the edge of the paper in one section and 3cm in the next is just not acceptable. Take pride in what you present
  • Space out sections adequately. By adequately, I mean make sure that all sections are clearly presented and not on top of each other
  • Label sections clearly – for the love of God!
  • In-text citation is generally done incorrectly. See academic handbook for the specifics on your college’s referencing system. APA is generally straighforward.

Incorrect: Jones, as cited in Martin 1995; Jones 1992 as Martin discusses; or indeed mentioning Jones (1992) without any reference to Martin (the cited source), and NOT including Jones in the reference section… you know this sticks out like a sore thumb and feels like a knife in the eye for each time ot is done.

Correct: Jones (1992, as cited in Martin 1995)…

  • Too much information put into single paragraphs. This is done cnsistently. Try to elaborate on ONE point perparagraph. Having said that, one and two sentence paragraphs are generally unacceptable
  • Sentences not logically following on from each other… please read what you write
  • Phrasing an issue for some; try to use clear and short sentences
  • Use  of informal language and personal pronouns e.g. use of ‘I’ and ‘my’ . This should NEVER appear in an academic essay/assignment
  • Use of subjective/dramatic adjectives. I don’t care if it’s REALLY RADICAL. I’ll make my mind up on that, thank you…
  • Important statements being made without academic support.
  • Topical issues – use of current topics such as political posters and current advertisements without references or academic support
  • Concluding in one sentence/one sentence paragraphs. You should be shot.

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Referencing APA style

Referencing is an essential part of research and allows a standardised method of acknowledging sources of information and ideas that you have used in your assignment in a way that uniquely identifies their source.

The most common referenced items include:

  • Direct quotations
  • Facts and figures
  • Ideas and theories, from both published and unpublished works

If ever in doubt – include a reference.

However, there is a plethora of items from which you can reference, including podcasts, films and brochures. In this post, I’m going to run through the most important considerations when referencing, specifically drawing from the APA method (same as Harvard referencing except with technical differences in citation and bibliography).

Okay, first things first – stick to one style of referencing per assignment. You cannot jump from footnotes, to Harvard to APA. It looks clumsy and that you don’t know what you’re doing. Your assignment/thesis/essay is an academic representation of you and your ability to comment on a particular area. It should be tidy and have a consistent flow. If you’re using multiple styles of referencing you are literally throwing marks/grades away for something that can be easily accounted for.

Referencing is necessary to avoid plagiarism, to verify quotations, and to enable readers to follow-up and read more fully the cited author’s arguments.

A reference list only includes books, articles etc that are cited in the text. In contrast, a bibliography is a list of relevant sources for background or for further reading. The reference list is arranged alphabetically by author. Where an item has no author it is cited by its title, and ordered in the reference list or bibliography alphabetically by the first significant word of the title. The APA style requires the second and subsequent lines of the reference to be indented, as shown in the examples below, to highlight the alphabetical order.

The following are a step by step guide to referencing APA style. Click on images to enlarge.

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The following is a really useful breakdown of essay grading at Trininty College Dublin’s philosophy department. You can access the entire document through http://www.tcd.ie/Philosophy/Files/HB2009-2010.pdf, but I though I’d share this section on how grades are broken down. The piece was written specifically for philosophy essays but, of course, translates to most academic essay criteria.

First Class (70-100)
First class work represents an excellent to outstanding performance demonstrating a thorough understanding of the
subject. In addition to a mastery of a wide to full range of the standard literature and/or methods and techniques of the subject, work at this level shows independence of judgement and evidence of attainment beyond the standard material. It will frequently demonstrate characteristics such as insight, imagination, originality and creativity. A first class answer will represent a comprehensive and accurate answer to the question, that will exhibit a detailed knowledge of the relevant material as well as a broad base of knowledge.
Theory and evidence will be well integrated and the selection of sources, ideas, methods or techniques will be well judged and appropriately organised to address the relevant issue or problem. It will demonstrate a high level of ability to evaluate and integrate information and ideas, to deal with knowledge in a critical way, and to reason and argue in a logical way. Where relevant it will also demonstrate a high level of ability to analyse information, to make sense of material, to solve problems, to generate new ideas and concepts and to apply knowledge to new situations. The presentation of information, arguments and conclusions will be fluent and clearly written and may also show particular lucidity in expression appropriate to the subject.
What differentiates a first class piece of work from one awarded an upper second is a greater lucidity, a greater
independence of judgement, a greater depth of insight and degree of originality, more evidence of an ability to integrate material, and evidence of a greater breadth of reading and research in the first that is not present in the upper second.

Thus a first class piece of work shows positive characteristics such as:

• Answers the question clearly and comprehensively, in a
focused way
• Has an excellent structure and organization
• Demonstrates characteristics such as insight,
imagination, originality and creativity
• Demonstrates the ability to integrate information
• Exhibits sound critical thinking
• Exhibits independence of judgement
• Clearly explains relevant theory and cites relevant
• Contains reasoned argument and comes to a logical
• Gives evidence of wide relevant reading
• Includes a number of appropriate examples
• Demonstrates a clear comprehension of the subject
• Demonstrates the ability to apply learning to new
situations and to solves new problems
• Is lucid and well written
• Lacks errors of any significant kind

All pieces of first class work may not have all of the characteristics above, but all such work will have few, if any,
negative characteristics.

Upper Second Class (60-69)
Work at upper second class level displays a sound and clear understanding of the subject and demonstrates a good grasp of a wide range of the standard literature and /or methods and techniques of the subject. An upper second class answer constitutes a well-organised and structured answer to the question, that is reasonably comprehensive, generally accurate and well-informed. It will normally demonstrate a greater breadth of knowledge than would be gained merely from the lecture notes and basic required reading. It will demonstrate some ability to evaluate and integrate information and ideas, to deal with knowledge in a critical way, and to reason and argue in a logical way. Where relevant it will also demonstrate an ability to analyze information, to make sense of material, to solve problems, to generate new ideas and concepts and to apply knowledge to new situations. The presentation of information, arguments and conclusions will be clear and well written.
What differentiates an upper second class piece of work from one awarded a lower second is the greater success in
answering the question, the additional understanding displayed, the greater evidence of additional reading, the
improved structure and organization, the superior quality of the argument, and the level of critical thinking displayed.
Thus an upper second class piece of work shows positive characteristics such as:

Answers the question clearly and fully
• Has a good structure and organization
• Shows evidence of a very good understanding of the
• Show clear evidence of relevant reading and research
• Clearly explains relevant theory and cites relevant
• Contains reasoned argument and comes to a logical
• Includes highly relevant ideas
• Uses relevant examples
• Demonstrates the ability to apply learning to new
situations and to solve problems
• Is well written
• Lacks errors of any significant kind.

Upper second class work usually has a few negative characteristics, but may be limited in the sense that it:

Could demonstrate more in the way of critical insight, imagination, originality or creativity
• Does not answer the question as fully and
comprehensively as would be possible
• Could demonstrate more ability to integrate information
• Could exhibit more critical thinking
• Could exhibit more independence of thought
Lower second class (50-59)
Work at lower second class level displays a knowledge of the standard material and approaches of the subject and a
familiarity with much of the standard literature and/or methods. A lower second class answer may constitute a relatively simplistic answer to the question, and is likely to be based on a narrow range of sources, such as lecture notes and the basic required reading, rather than being indicative of wider reading. It usually displays a basic ability to use relevant sources, methods or techniques normally applied in the subject to achieve some success in solving problems or marshalling arguments to reach a conclusion. The work may show some inconsistency in standard, may contain occasional technical or factual flaws, and may exhibit some difficulties with the organization of material or with the full understanding of a problem or issue, but it is adequately presented and may include some critical judgement applied to analysis or the application of standard ideas or methods.
What differentiates a lower second class piece or work from one awarded a third class grade is the greater success of
the lower second in answering the question, together with the possession of more relevant information, a more coherent argument and an improved structure, although neither the answer to the question nor the structure nay be incapable of improvement.
Work at Lower second class level will tend to posses some or all of the following positive characteristics:

Attempts to answer the question
• Shows evidence of a basic to good understanding of the
• Shows evidence of some relevant reading and research
• Includes some relevant ideas
• Includes some relevant examples

Work at Lower second class level will tend to posses some or all of the following negative characteristics:
• The attempt to answer the question may not be
completely successful
• Does not contain a sufficiently well-structured argument
• Does not offer sufficient evidence to justify assertions
• Does not include sufficient relevant examples
• The style of writing could be improved
• Lacks lucidity
• May contain some minor errors

Third Class (40-49)
Work at this level contains evidence of study of the appropriate material and displays a level of presentation at
least minimally commensurate with the award of an honours degree, but it often reflects only a limited familiarity with the standard literature and/or methods of the subject. A third class answer constitutes at least a minimal attempt to answer the question posed, but the answer may omit key points and/or contain assertions not supported by appropriate evidence. It may display superficiality in understanding and/or the use of material, an over reliance on knowledge at the expense of development or argument, analysis or discussion, and it may lack continuity, or be inadequately organised. Nonetheless, the work at this level does show an ability to refer to some standard sources, ideas, methods or techniques applied in the subject and to achieve some success in solving problems or marshalling an argument to reach aconclusion.
What differentiates a third class piece of work from one that fails is that a third comprises an attempt to answer the
question in formed by some relevant information while a fail either does not contain an adequate attempt to answer the question, or does not contain sufficient relevant information.
Work at Third class level will tend to posses some or all of the following positive characteristics:
• Attempts to answer the question
• Shows modest evidence of understanding of the topic
• Shows modest evidence of relevant reading and research
• Includes a few relevant ideas
• May include some relevant examples
Work at Third class level will tend to posses some or all of
the following negative characteristics:
• The attempt to answer the question may not be very
• Does not contain a sufficiently well-structured argument
• Does not offer sufficient evidence to justify assertions
• Does not include sufficient relevant examples
• Lacks lucidity
• Contains one or more important errors
Fail (0-39)
The fail grade is sometimes broken down into two bands: F1 and F2. An answer at the F1 level (30-39) represents a failure to answer the question adequately, but the possession of at least some relevant information. The failure to provide an appropriate answer may be due to a misunderstanding of the question, or to one or more of the following deficiencies: it may contain only a small amount of relevant information, the material itself may have been misunderstood, the answer may be poorly or incoherently presented, or the answer may not relate to the question asked.

An answer at the F2 level (0-29) normally contains no or only the most minimal amount of information relating to the question, or may demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the question, or a misunderstanding of the material irrelevant to its answer such as to render the answer meaningless. Work at fail level tends to have few positive characteristics, except possibly when the grade has been awarded because of the inclusion of a major error, the presence of which is sufficiently important to outweigh any positive features of the answer. It is also possible for an otherwise good piece of work to be awarded a fail grade because it fails to answer the question posed. The absence of positive characteristics could also result from the fact that the answer is short (e.g. when a student runs out of
time in an examination and writes very little).
Work awarded a fail grade tends to possesses some or all of the following negative characteristics:
• Represents a failure to answer the question (though may
be an answer to a different question)
• Shows no or only a little evidence of understanding of
the topic
• Shows no or only a little evidence of relevant reading
and research
• Includes no or very few relevant ideas
• Does not contain a structured argument
• Does not offer evidence to justify assertions
• Does not include relevant examples

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This post will concern itself with how to summarize academic articles and what is the best way to prepare an academic essay (exam or term paper).

Most academic articels are broken down in the following sections:

  • Conclusion/Discussion – the end of the article, discusses implications of study and highlights contributions
  • Introduction/Literature review – may be very useful for a summary of the approaches considered
  • Method – the methodology employed by the researcher (s) in the study
  • Results – this is really the bones of the articel (of the other sections are the flesh and ligaments!). It shows either statistically or qualitatively the results that prove/disproves the hypothesis

Summarising articles well will really help with your research, especially when it comes to exams and essays. A useful summary will:

  • Make specific ties to your research
  • Highlight the argument of the study, i.e. findings, contribution to the area

When it comes to formulating a research proposal, answering an essay question or approaching an exam question, descriptive answers are usually redundant. You are usually asked to critically analyse (although they may not use the term ‘critically analyse’, they may say ’discuss, compare and contrast’ – this is all the similar ways of asking you to critically analyse). If we wanted to know the descriptive  details, we would open the book ourselves. You are really being asked to show adequate research of the field, an understanding of topic and appropriate material choice. You are basically demonstrating your ability to comment on a specific area of research, this is what you are usually graded on.

Early in the research:

  • Starting early is obviously ideal
  • Write a little, often
  • Gather your sources – most relevant articles
  • Establish your argument and where you are coming from
  • Stick to the argument – your essay must have a clear thread
  • Understand your argument – if you don’t, the reader won’t
  • Make sure you actually answer the question, it’s so easy to go off on a tangent
  • It’s not about the ‘right’ answer, it’s about adapting your knowledge on the topic and demonstrating an ability to comment on the area

A good metaphor or example of assignment structure is seen above with my example of a filter. Structuring your answer as a filter will allow your argument develop in a concise and comprehensive way. The example of a filter is suitable to essays, article summaries and exam essay questions. You generally introduce the topic to the reader, introduce your argument (1st paragraph) and then argue ruthlessly for your side of the argument! A good argument will also discuss contradicting arguments and evidence, but generally you will strengthen your own argument by doing so (as long as you don’t present a bunch of contradiction, which will seem like you don’t understand the material).

Another good metaphor for putting your academic assignment is to imagine the topic as a circle. In order to starts and establish your argument, you must look at the evidence and pick a point on a circle (the part of research most appealing to you) and construct your argument. In an academic assignment, choosing the material is your personal opinion on the area of research, which is why using personal conjecture is generally frowned upon.

Another useful (yet obvious) piece of advice is ALWAYS back up your work! Prepare for the unlikely or you may lose the will to live!! I’ve lost a few essays back in the day for not backing up correctly. I recommend using a memory stick and a storage site like dropbox. Alternatively you could email the file to yourself. Just make sure there is another copy of your work and save as you go! Obvious advice yet probably the most important and easiest to overlook!

Time management

–      Ideally, start early and write a little often

–      Leave enough time to gather all your resources (as in not the night before)

–      The subjectivity of research – some people will be able to reproduce the same quality of work in 45 minutes that others may take days to come up with

–      You know your limits and capabilities. I honestly could not leave it until the week of the deadline to find all my sources. Even gathering the appropriate material early is a major advantage

Resource management

–      Gather all your notes, lecture notes, selected articles and other material

–      Work as you see fit

–      Make notes, write paragraphs, memorise theories, whatever works best for you

Remember nobody is trying to catch you out, we were all in the same position at some stage – we know what it is like and don’t give exams/assignments for the fun of it.

Key terms

  • ANALYZE: Break into separate parts and discuss, examine, or interpret each part.
  • COMPARE: Examine two or more things. Identify similarities and differences. Comparisons generally ask for similarities more than differences.
  • CONTRAST: Show differences. Set in opposition.
  • DISCUSS: Consider and debate or argue the pros and cons of an issue. Write about any conflict. Compare and contrast.
  • EVALUATE: Give your opinion or cite the opinion of an expert. Include evidence to support the evaluation.
  • ILLUSTRATE: Give concrete examples. Explain clearly by using comparisons or examples.
  • OUTLINE: Describe main ideas, characteristics, or events.
  • SUMMARIZE: Give a brief, condensed account. Include conclusions. Avoid unnecessary details.

This post presents material I would generally give in a typical of a class. I give tutorials in academic writing for undergrad psychology students just getting started but I altered the material to suit pretty much any field of research.

I hope that some of the advice helps, however its certainly doesn’t suit everyone. In a class setting I usually get feedback from people who disagree with the approaches presented here or individuals who don’t find it helpful. This would usually result in me creating an individualised study plan for the student. If you would like more advice or help just leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you – even if I cannot directly help, I may know where to go for the best advice tailored to your needs!

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There has been a long silence on this blog for quite some time and for that I’m really sorry!  I hate making excuses and people who make excuses but academic work piled up quite a bit the last few months.

The good news is I’m back and writing, the bad news is that this is the one area I can put on the long finger. There will definately be more posts over the next few months however, and I will hopefully uplaod a blog up in the next few hours if I get my butt into gear and finish edediting a piece I’ve been working on.

I’ve settled into life as a researcher and graduate student and think I’ve finally gotten a grasp on the direction my research will take! (I guess it took the best part of 6 months, year and a half to go until deadline of 60000 word thesis!)

So my research is fucusing on enactive perception and phenomenological emotion interpretations. I’m not sure where my empirical studies will take me (there will be two of them, methodologies should be ironed out after xmas) but I’m pretty confortable with the research – it’s actually what I wan’t to be researching and probably the most exciting time to do so. In other news, I’ve gotten a teaching assistantship so a great deal of my free-time is taken up finding interesting articles to discuss with my class. It is also healping me a great deal through funding, which is in itself a complete nightmare!

Slight bad news, my article has been rejected for publication from Cognition and Emotion, however my colleague is confident that a few tweeks should make all the difference to submitting a second draft to the publishers. I’m not bothered about the rejection as much as I am relishing the experience of peer review! It’s a pretty exciting time, despite the economic crisis that threatens my sustainability! 

So there should be a new post up here very soon, but Starbucks is calling me at present – especially a peppermint  mocha with a double shot of espresso, so we’ll see if my motivation increases or decreases to complete and upload my next blog post.

If anyone is actually reading the posts I’ve already submitted, Thank you for your time and I hope they have been somewhat interesting (even if hastily and poorly written!).

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