1st psychology group meeting of SINAPSE was held

The first psychology group meeting of SINAPSE (Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence) was held on 16th Jan 2017 at the University of St. Andrews. This informal friendly meeting was very successful to network senior researchers, early career researchers, and postgraduate students, who brought various promising research topics to the meeting, including Neuropolitics research.   Nice walking along the beach, the attendees introduced themselves to each other, exchanged ideas, and discussed the future direction of this group meeting. It is such an exciting time that neuroimagers in the research fields of psychology and cognitive neuroscience in Scotland would get together with strong motivations to promoting collaboration and sharing research experiences and opportunities.

http://www.sinapse.ac.uk/news/1st-meeting-of-the-sinapse-psychology-group

 

New techniques for new technologies

I want to believe (X-Files classic)Modern digital methods of communication have become highly diverse, paradoxically making the exchange of information both easier and more complex.  Critically, there is no longer a single canonical format for conveying written information or engaging in direct spoken communication.  Handwritten or standard typeface letters have been replaced by instant, informal streams of data; often broadcast not to a single recipient but to multiple family members simultaneously, groups of friends, or simply any of the billions of people out there.  Fonts, colours, layout and accompanying images can all carry meta-linguistic connotations, altering how words are perceived and understood.  Choice and style are much more pervasive.  Phones are no longer limited to simple speech and inhibited by physical wires; instead, they are mobile, multisensory devices with integrated cameras and a range of sensors generating constant data about the user, details of which can be automatically incorporated as an additional communication channel.  Semiotics has become much more explicit, exaggerated and directly visual in nature.  Accessible technology is now a global reality that transcends cultural boundaries.  Semantics and context have to be established in 140 characters or less.  All these fast-moving changes permit a rich and exponentially growing complexity in human interaction.  However, this rapid shift in communication behaviour, both in terms of production and comprehension, means there is still little understanding of how the different modalities interact to deliver an intended, or unintended, message.  This is particularly true when information has to be evaluated in terms of unknown or ambiguous provenance and authenticity.  In other words, do you believe it? Do you trust it? Do you agree with it?  What combination of factors will make you re-read, re-post, re-Tweet, or even just reply/comment rather than ignore?  The Art of Persuasion has become a highly scientific pursuit with significant social and political impact.  Why are we apparently living in a post-fact world?  Is this trend just a natural and inevitable consequence of current attitudes and beliefs?  Not only are some facts more equal than others, but some may not be facts at all. Robert Proctor (Stanford University) has spent many years investigating the spread of ignorance and created the wonderful word “agnotology”.  This is typically defined along the lines of “culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully created by special interest groups working hard to create confusion and suppress the truth”.  Of course this term in itself could be construed to have a certain negative sentiment and over-critical discourse bias.  Fortunately, the subtitle of his co-edited book on the matter does emphasis the unmaking as well as making of ignorance, but the technologies and tools to make or break agnotology have already changed dramatically in the few years since it was published.

Investigating the process of how trust is established, examining the reliability and uptake of information, and determining the level of data quality is (I considered “lies”) at the heart of our neuropolitics research.  This covers more implicit and subtle manipulations as well as direct, explicit presentation.  Faith in evidence is required, even if faith is not commonly associated with science.  Similarly, the change in the types of data being analysed means that new techniques have to be developed, applied and constantly reviewed, requiring a fully agile approach.  Testing and validating a methodology is more important than any single dataset.  Outside of academia, data journalism has emerged as a term associated with objective and unbiased data transparency.  This includes a global growth in fact-checking websites, with examples such as fullfact.org in the UK.  Whether this represents a return swing away from current anti-expert attitudes to a more evidence-based approach remains to be seen.

[Proctor, R., & Schiebinger, L. L. (Eds.). (2008). Agnotology: The making and unmaking of ignorance. Stanford University Press.]

Everything is Up for Grabs in Brexit Process

Just as with the other existing models – Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Greenland – the new British relationship with the EU will have to be purpose built. If Scotland is to maximise its advantage in that process, says Laura Cram, it will need to be out of the blocks before the Article 50 starting pistol is fired. 

No-one knows precisely when the Article 50 process, formally notifying the intention of the UK to leave the EU, will be triggered. But being prepared is essential not just to respond swiftly but to shape the direction the subsequent negotiations take. We know only that the clock is ticking but not when the alarm is set to go off. The challenge for Michael Russell, as the Scottish Government’s new Brexit Minister, will be to re-shape the boundaries of the possible in Scottish-UK-EU relations before the Article 50 process begins.

As every returning Olympian will testify, responding to the sound of the starter’s gun comes at the end of an intense and lengthy process of physical and psychological preparation, scenario planning, sizing up the opposition and understanding the nature of the terrain. Not everything is within an athlete’s control, but a successful Olympian will have prepared for what they can and will be aware of where the uncontrollable might surface. They will have thought through what action to take and how to both create and to seize opportunities. Carefully constructed teams of experts support their efforts. Control of the race is key and preparation is key to control. To fail to prepare, in high stake games, is to prepare to fail.

Writing in the 1970s Ernst Haas, one of the earliest scholars of European integration, described the scenario in which a very large number of organisational actors find themselves with confused and clashing perceptions of the optimal solutions to the problems they face as a “turbulent policy field”. Actors pursue mutually incompatible objectives and are unsure of the trade-offs between these objectives. At the same time these actors need to cooperate with each other as they are tied into a network of interdependencies. Haas describes this scenario as being like a “giant simultaneous chess match over which the judges have lost control”. Confusion and uncertainty are dominant in a turbulent decision field and this confusion can be sub-national, national, supra-national and global all at the same time.

The Brexit process is just such a turbulent field. Beyond the formalities of the legal process, laid out but as yet untested in Article 50, we have no precedent to draw on. It is even controversial at EU level which EU institution will lead the negotiations. Within the UK, different territorial perspectives prevail. Uncertainty creates a suboptimal decision environment. Uncertainty produces a tendency to cling to the status quo, and when there is no status quo to cling to – a tendency towards delay and indecision. This is a tendency to be resisted at all costs.

Talk of existing models – Norway, Swiss, Canadian, Greenland – as templates for Brexit are examples of such status quo bias. Until these models were developed none of them existed. There is no UK model or rUK model for non-member state relations with the EU only because it has not yet been imagined or constructed. None of the existing templates were created for departing member states or for non-departing territories within departing member states. The flip side of a turbulent policy field, according to Haas, is that “everything is up for grabs”. A turbulent field is also an optimal environment for creative thinking and bold policy entrepreneurship. The trick is to be the one shaping the options and framing the ensuing debate.

Policy studies consistently show that the most effective moment for agenda-setting is when an idea is not yet a spark in policy-makers’ eyes. The persuasive power of solid policy analysis and clear scenario planning has the potential to frame the debates that ensue. The earlier that clear alternative scenarios are developed, the more time there is to normalize these ideas with other decision-makers within the UK and across the EU. Softening up the decision environment by exposing new scenarios to decision partners, until they don’t seem so new, radical or threatening is key. Pro-actively framing the debate and shaping the negotiations, in a time-sensitive environment, is crucial. Clear scenarios for what Scotland wants in relation to EU and UK membership in the case of a hard or soft UK-wide Brexit, or in the case of an independent relationship with the EU, need to be developed, disseminated and normalized in the debate without delay.

It is the UK Government that will fire the starter’s gun at what is considered to be an optimal time for them. That may not coincide with Scotland’s preference or interests. Jumping the gun will be an Olympian effort but the Scottish Government is no stranger to this.

This article was written by Laura Cram of the Neuropolitics Research Lab from the University of Edinburgh. It is re-blogged from the the Centre for Constitutional Change’s blog. It was originally co-published with the Herald

Final Two Healthy Volunteers Needed!

Neuropolitics fMRI study (preferably on 12 & 14 Oct 2016)

Hello,

We are inviting healthy volunteers from Scotland who are interested in participating an exciting fMRI study from our newly launched NRLabs Neuropolitics Research (see also our websitehttp://www.pol.ed.ac.uk/neuropoliticsresearch), School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.

We are currently looking for people from Scotland to take part in the study, which involves having an MR scan. This will involve lying on your back in the scanner for up to one hour, watching videos and playing an interactive game. We will be looking at which parts of your brain are activated during this process. If you are new to MR scanning, experiencing an MR scan can be quite noisy for you at first. We will provide you with ear plugs and headphones to minimise MR noise. Usually participants relax fairly quickly and get used to hearing the MR noise during their scans.

If you are interested in taking part, you can follow the link below and fill out a short survey to check your suitability for MR scanning. Even if you do this you are free to change your mind and withdraw at any time, without a problem. Any information we collect from this survey will be anonymised and will not be shared.

https://qtrial2015q4az1.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_b9NDcURaMrwDQSp

If selected to participate in our MR study, you will be given £20 to cover out of pocket expenses. Please feel free to forward this link to anyone you know who might also be interested. For further questions or inquiries, please contact Sujin Hong (sujin.hong@ed.ac.uk). Thank you.

Understanding What the European Union Means to You: Neuropolitics, Behaviour and Identity

euro+jack_straightOn Europe Day, May 9th 2016, the Neuropolitics Research Lab is popping up at the National Library of Scotland. University of Edinburgh researchers introduce a unique approach to understanding what the European Union means to you. Join our interactive drop-in workshops and lightning talks, exploring what our brains, behaviour and even our activities on social media reveal about our attitudes to the EU. View the #myimageoftheEU gallery throughout the day and even add your own image. In the evening, sign up for the expert Q&A session on What the European Means in Different Parts of the UK.

The daytime event is unticketed so feel free to pop in throughout the day.

Timetable:

10.00 – 12.00 Brain, Behaviour and Attitudes to The European Union

A drop in session for demonstrations of what our brains, behaviour and social media activities tell us about our attitudes to the European Union this includes hands-on workshops. View our #myimageoftheEU gallery and watch or join in our interactive sessions to learn more about what eye-tracking, face-emotion coding, social media analysis and brain imaging can tell us about our attitudes to the EU.

12.00 – 14.00 What Does the EU Really Mean To You?

Catch one of our lightning talks on how the public imagines the European Union and what neuropolitics can tell us about this. A series of different talks, each lasting 10 minutes, will start every 20 minutes. You are welcome to drop in for a specific talk or stay for as many as you can. In addition view our #myimageoftheEU gallery, we asked the public to tweet how they see the EU see a gallery of the best and most though provoking images and add your own.

14.00 – 16.00 Closed session for schools visit and workshop

18.00 – 19.30 ‘What Does the EU Mean’ – Panel discussion and a Q&A

The discussion is to be chaired by Kenneth Macdonald, BBC Scotland Science Correspondent, the speakers include Professor Anand Menon, King College London, Director UK in a Changing EU programme; Professor Micheal Keating, University of Aberdeen, Director Centre for Constitutional Change and Senior Fellow, UK in a Changing EU programme; Dr Huw Pritchard member of the Wales Governance Centre and Professor Laura Cram, Director NRlabs Neuropolitics Research, University of Edinburgh, and Senior Fellow, UK in a Changing EU programme.

Tickets for the evening event can be obtained through eventbrite:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/what-does-the-eu-mean-tickets-24624986999

Your Image of the EU: Launch of #myimageoftheEU

The people of the UK are soon to vote in a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. What are your opinions on the EU? What does it make you think of? What do you see in your daily life that evokes thoughts of the EU?

We are inviting you to get involved and be part of the debate! Tweet your images, cartoons, videos and comments that capture your image of the EU. Examples might be EU funding signs, or flags in different spots, but the only limit is your imagination.

We will use your images to create a Twitter gallery that will be accessible to the public, academics, policymakers and political elites. We would particularly welcome images from those who don’t feel a part of the central debate. Get your voices heard. We will be using some of these images in an art installation on Europe Day, 9 May 2016. Prizes will be awarded for the best images.

To participate, tweet images stating where you spotted them, or where you are based, and how the image makes you feel about the EU to @myimageoftheEU, using the hashtag #myimageoftheEU, or email them to us. See the tweets featured here for examples of what to do or visit our Twitter wall.

Our #ImagineEurope project is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s The UK in a Changing Europe programme. Look out for our regular updates as the project tracks developments in the debate on the UK’s membership of the EU and follow us on Twitter @myimageoftheEU for more information on this and other projects.

This article was originally published on the ImagineEurope Storify.

Exploring Bias: Comparing Approaches for Collecting Twitter Data

In our Imagine Europe project, we are tracking the UK’s EU referendum debate to explore the various ways in which the public imagines the European Union. We are using Twitter to map trends in response to emerging events. This analysis allows us to gain a more nuanced understanding of those who are motivated to comment on UK-EU-related topics. See our Twitter demo for interactive visualisations of the data.

We have collected Twitter data on the referendum debate for the past five months. We are using three methods for collecting data from Twitter: 1) Using hashtags chosen by an expert panel as search queries; 2) Collecting a random sample without specified search terms and extracting referendum-appropriate data automatically; 3) Collecting from the three official campaign groups @vote_leave, @LeaveEUOfficial and @StrongerIn.

Each method of collection influences what data will be collected and therefore each data set has certain biases. The hashtag and random stream sample sets are heavily influenced by the terms used for data collection. Those terms differ greatly when automatically extracted (the random stream set) or chosen by experts (the hashtag set).

The expert method is designed to follow a wider variety of terms that the experts expect will become discussion topics over the longer-term referendum debate, whereas the automatic method extracts data using terms which are commonly associated with known referendum-specific terms. Examining the three different sets allows us to contrast what is being collected and gives us the ability to have a broader understanding of public and elite opinion. In particular, we are examining how topics differ between these data sets and how they influence each other.

The hashtag set is the largest by a considerable amount. During the five-month period, the set collected using hashtags contained 5,556,027 tweets. The set extracted from the random stream has 8,777 tweets and the official campaigns 2,606 tweets. To determine how relevant the data collection is to the debate, we extracted 100 tweets from each set and asked three annotators to consider the relevance of each tweet in two ways: 1) whether it is directly relevant to the UK-EU referendum debate, and 2) whether it is about a topic that would likely influence voter opinion.

We found that the data from the official campaign groups and data automatically extracted from the random stream are more relevant to the topic than the data gathered using hashtags. The hashtag set has a low relevance score for ‘directly relevant to the referendum debate’ but this rises significantly when the topics that will influence the debate are considered.

This was as we expected. The differences can be explained as follows. The official campaign set contains the information from the campaign groups which are publishing tweets in order to influence the debate. This gives us a small, very specific, very opinion-driven set. The random stream set gives a set of data from the wider public, but only tweets that contain terms that are closely related to the debate, therefore providing a very topic-specific set. The hashtag-gathered set is a much larger set, collected using a wider variety of terms. It contains more non-relevant information but also covers the topics likely to influence voters not identified in the other sets.

We did find that much more data was collected by the hashtag method in early September. On further inspection this data relates to refugees and migrants. This shows that the campaign groups are not talking about the refugee crisis or related migration issues. It is not being directly related to the UK-EU referendum debate, but instead it is being widely discussed.

Analysing the frequency of commonly used hashtags gives an indication of topics discussed in each of the datasets. Much of the discussion in the tweets from the official campaign and the random stream data are directly related to the UK-EU referendum. This is echoed by the hashtags #brexit, #leaveeu, #voteleave and #euref being the top four most frequent in both collections.

Hashtags with a pro-Leave sentiment appear more frequently in all three of our data sets. We do not see any pro-Remain hashtags appearing in the hashtag-gathered set, and only #strongerin and #remainineu in the random stream set. We have a very small number of pro-Remain hashtags in the official campaign data.

Since we are collecting from the three campaign groups and only one is pro-Remain, we would expect a lower level of pro-Remain hashtags in the official set – but not as low as we are seeing. This suggests that either pro-Remain supporters don’t use hashtags, use them in unexpected ways or there is a strong pro-Leave sentiment on Twitter.

We also see another phenomenon within the data – where hashtags are used to draw attention to specific themes. Within the official stream, certain hashtags have been heavily used by the two pro-Leave campaigns. For example, @LeaveEUOfficial launched #theknoweu, #justsaying, #fudgeoff and #twibbon and @vote_leave launched #wrongthenwrongnow and #theinvisableman. We can see that #twibbon also appears in the random stream data set and therefore has cross-pollinated and is being discussed by the wider public. The @StrongerIn campaign does not seem to be using hashtags to the same extent and rarely uses any beyond #strongerin. It is possible that the lack of use of hashtags by the @StrongerIn campaign means that their supporters are not using hashtags as well. This is something we will need to investigate further.

In the hashtag-gathered data, many of the top hashtags indicate a focus on the topic of refugees (#refugeeswelcome, #refugee, #refugeecrisis) and in discussing particular countries (#uk, #usa, #syria, #germany). In the random stream data, we also see a discussion of the referendum-specific terms #brexit and #leaveeu, but very little occurrence of the #strongerin hashtag.

Our #ImagineEurope project is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s The UK in a Changing Europe programme. Look out for our regular updates as the project tracks developments in the debate on the UK’s membership of the EU and follow us on Twitter @myimageoftheEU for more information on this and other projects.

This article was originally published on the ImagineEurope Storify.

Volunteers needed! (Neuropolitics fMRI study)

Hello,

We are inviting healthy volunteers from Scotland who are interested in participating an exciting fMRI study from our newly launched NRLabs Neuropolitics Research (see also our website http://www.pol.ed.ac.uk/neuropoliticsresearch), School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.

We are currently looking for people from Scotland to take part in the study, which involves having an MR scan. This will involve lying on your back in the scanner for up to one hour, watching videos and playing an interactive game. We will be looking at which parts of your brain are activated during this process. If you are new to MR scanning, experiencing an MR scan can be quite noisy for you at first. We will provide you with ear plugs and headphones to minimise MR noise. Usually participants relax fairly quickly and get used to hearing the MR noise during their scans.

If you are interested in taking part, you can follow the link below and fill out a short survey to check your suitability for MR scanning. Even if you do this you are free to change your mind and withdraw at any time, without a problem. Any information we collect from this survey will be anonymised and will not be shared.

https://qtrial2015q4az1.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_b9NDcURaMrwDQSp

If selected to participate in our MR study, you will be given £20 to cover out of pocket expenses. Please feel free to forward this link to anyone you know who might also be interested. For further questions or inquiries, please contact Sujin Hong (sujin.hong@ed.ac.uk). Thank you.

 

 

 

 

UK-EU Twitter Sentiment Analysis: An analysis of the sentiment in the twittersphere towards the UK leaving or remaining in the EU

In this article, we look at the sentiment of hashtags towards the UK’s EU membership in our dataset. We look at sentiment in general and, in particular, the difficulty in measuring it. In a previous article we discussed in detail the hashtags used by groups campaigning for the UK to either remain in or to leave the European Union (@StrongerIn,@vote_leave, @LeaveEUOfficial).

One of the aspects we want to address in our work is the identification of sentiment in our dataset. We want to ask questions such as: Are people in the UK positive or negative about the EU? and Can we quantify this opinion by topic and/or geography?

Identifying the target of sentiment expressed in a tweet or a piece of text in general is a hard task. There is software available that measures the strength and direction of sentiment in a segment of text, but it is harder to identify what that sentiment is expressed towards. This is what we call the target of the sentiment and it is difficult to automatically extract this target.

For example, we have the tweet below. We can clearly see that this tweet is pro-Remain. If we use a general sentiment analysis tool, the text from this tweet would have a positive sentiment score based on the language used. We can see that there are two targets in this sentence which both have positive sentiment – Sir John Major who ‘is clear’ and Britain which ‘is stronger in Europe’.

After the identification of sentiment polarity, strength and target, we would aim to combine this information to see how these relate to more general topics of discussion and to the relationship between the UK and the EU. In the tweet above, even though a pro-Remain sentiment is expressed, it is difficult to automatically relate the positive sentiment towards the UK and a pro-Remain point of view.

With this tweet, we can use further context and qualifying information, such as the hashtag – but not all tweets contain this information. Of course, not all EU-related tweets have a stance on the future of the UK-EU relationship. We are currently looking into ways of addressing this issue in more detail and will report our results at a later date.

To present an initial overview of sentiment in the data collected, we are calculating the percentage of hashtags in the data which express a polarity of either pro-Leave or pro-Remain.

We launched the Neuropolitics Research Labs website on 1 December 2015, where you can find more information on our work.


Neuropolitics Research

The Neuropolitics Research Lab produces transdisciplinary research, utilising developments in the cognitive neurosciences, to shed new light on political attitudes, identities and decision-behaviours. Our aim is to test the utility of methods more typically associated with neuroscience, informatics and cognitive psychology in helping us to understand more about political attitudes and behaviours.


As part of this site, we have launched the interactive #ImagineEurope Twitter Demonstrator. This provides access to visualisations of the Twitter data we have collected since 7 August 2015.


Twitter Analysis

Social media is being used to monitor ongoing shifts in public imaginings of the European Union at this critical time. Here Twitter is used to track current trends using advanced Twitter analytics, hashtag tracking, sentiment scoring (indicating the rising and falling emotional content of tweets) and trend analysis in response to emerging events.


On the #ImagineEurope Twitter demo there is a sentiment dial – a map showing locations extracted from Tweets and a wordle of commonly used hashtags. This is an overview of the entire dataset. Further pages can be linked to that show sentiment, locations and hashtag wordles by day.

The dataset presented in our interactive Twitter demonstrator is gathered using a set of hashtags related to the upcoming referendum on the UK’s EU membership. We discussed how we collect the data in a previous article. Since then, we have added new hashtags to reflect the ongoing discussion and those used by the Leave and Remain campaigns. These are: #migrant, #refugee,#strongerin, #leadnotleave, #voteremain, #britainout, #leaveeu, #voteleave,#beleave,#loveeuropeleaveeu.

We have initially adopted the approach of counting the hashtags in our dataset which clearly have a pro-Leave or pro-Remain bias. The Remain hashtags used in the sentiment calculation are:#yes2eu, #yestoeu, #betteroffin, #votein, #ukineu, #bremain, #strongerin,#leadnotleave,#voteremain. The Leave hashtags are: #brexit, #no2eu, #notoeu, #betteroffout, #voteout,#britainout, #leaveeu, #loveeuropeleaveeu, #voteleave, #beleave.

We can see from the dial that most of the data in our sets contains Leave hashtags. We can break this down to show the counts per hashtag.

This breakdown shows that the #brexit hashtag is the most used. This hashtag is not always used to signal support of #brexit. We have discussed in a previous article how in fact this hashtag is used by both pro-Leave and pro-Remain groups. #Brexit appears to be used as a label of the referendum discussion in general rather than an indicator of sentiment direction.

To move beyond the current solution, we are working with The TAG Research Laboratory at the University of Sussex. The Laboratory is involved in research into social media analysis. We are working with them to adapt their software to our data to find a solution to this tricky sentiment problem.


TAG Research Laboratory

In Summer 2010, Jeremy Reffin, and I co-founded the Text Analytics Group (TAG) Research Laboratory. We are currently a team…


Our #ImagineEurope project is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s The UK in a Changing Europe programme. Look out for our regular updates as the project tracks developments in the debate on the UK’s membership of the EU and follow us on Twitter @myimageoftheEU for more information on this and other projects.

This article was originally published on the ImagineEurope Storify.

Neuropolitics Experiment Now Running

NRLlogo_online_2colourAre you aged between 18 and 30 (inclusive) and eligible to vote in the upcoming EU Referendum here in the UK?  Then why not come and visit the brand new Neuropolitics Research Laboratory at Edinburgh University and take part in an experiment.

Lasting between 35 and 55 minutes, you’ll watch a series of video clips relating to contemporary European politics and issues. The task is just to watch each clip carefully before providing simple feedback on what you have just seen.  While watching the videos your facial emotional reaction will be automatically analysed from your webcam image.  There are also some standard demographic and personality questions to complete at the start and end of the experiment.

As an added incentive you’ll receive a total of £10 to cover any travel expenses and as compensation for your time.

For further details and to select a suitable time please sign up by using the Eventbrite system at:

https://neuropolitics-experiment.eventbrite.co.uk

This will issue you with a “ticket” to take part (there is no need to print this – it is just a convenient way of managing the sign-up process).