Centre for Applied Psychology Research

Published on: 22 September 2014

Dr Aureliu Lavric and Dr Sam Vine used eye tracking to record where pilots focus their attention. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Local businesses have been helped to improve goods and services as a result of research from University of Exeter psychologists.

Research at the Centre for Applied Psychology helps us understand better how people respond, in different situations and academics at the centre can provide expert advice to organisations to help them define, develop and put in place solutions to their problems.

Digital marketing and web design agency Optix Solutions gained insight into where user attention is focused when viewing a webpage. Optix worked with Senior Lecturer Dr Aureliu Lavric to examine how much time people spent looking at different parts of the screen – which in turn could help them build better websites for clients.

Alastair Banks, Director at Optix Solutions, said: “Web agencies use a number of ‘industry standards and theories’ to get people to look at particular areas of websites. Working with the University of Exeter’s Psychology department, we’ve tested some of these theories out and the results have been interesting. One test showed that design techniques used to draw the eye actually had the complete opposite effect! Quite unexpected.”

Academics from the centre have also worked with Exeter based airline Flybe to look at pilots’ resilience to stress and interruptions. Dr Aureliu Lavric alongside Dr Sam Vine from Sport and Health Sciences used mobile eye tracking technology to record where pilots focus their attention and tested the effect of anxiety and interruptions on checklist execution and flying performance.

The project aims to improve pilot performance and enhance safety for passengers and crew. But the findings can also be used for training interventions for other areas in which stress has a great influence over performance, such as the military and medicine.

Business working with the Centre and the wider University are able to offset research costs through the HMRC research and development tax credit scheme. University-based research is often also eligible for project funding from a variety of sources such as research councils, public bodies and major charities.

Treating depression

For example, a collaboration between Dr Heather O’Mahen and parenting website Netmums saw the development of a new online therapy programme for perinatal and postnatal depression. Research trials have shown the new approach is effective for these often under-served groups.

Exeter researchers are developing new treatments for depression. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Dr O’Mahen, who is also part of the Mood Disorders Centre, said: “The results of the initial study show that online therapy has real potential to help women experiencing postnatal depression.

“Unfortunately, postnatal depression is something that many women experience but most do not seek help for. There seems to be a double stigma associated with experiencing depression while being a new mother. It is therefore essential that women are given as many different ways of accessing treatment as possible.”

The work was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).


The knowledge and skills of psychology researchers can also help businesses improve HR procedures.

Professor Michelle Ryan has worked extensively on the ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon – which has shown that women promoted to executive level positions often find themselves in more precarious circumstances than their male counterparts.

Her work has helped large employers – including IBM and the Met Office – improve their HR procedures to prevent such occurrences, and her results have been incorporated into the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s training courses.

Research from the centre has also shown that employers can even improve their employees’ wellbeing by introducing office plants.
Dr Craig Knight explained: “Plants in a well-designed and personalised office environment can boost business effectiveness through improved staff productivity and creativity. This gives company managers a real incentive to share control of office space with their staff and create meaningful, les didactic and more grown-up space.”

If you have an idea of how your business may benefit from understanding how people respond to your goods and services please email Alan Denbigh or phone 01392 723705.

Related links

» Optix Solutions
» Met Office
» Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
» Flybe
» National institute for Health Research

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