Research Grand Challenges

Psychology Grand challenges

Did you know that by 2035, according to government figures, it is projected that 23% of the UK population will be aged 65 or older with 3.5 million people over the age of 85? And that by 2050, obesity rates are expected to rise sharply in the UK with the largest increase predicted to be in 20-60 year-old women living in Yorkshire and Humberside?

With these shifting challenges, how can we ensure that people live active, healthy, as well as longer lives, locally and nationally? This is just one of the complex questions that are embodied within our Grand Challenges, which form the central focus for much of our research work.

We can't tackle issues of this magnitude alone. To help us, we work closely with leading scientists from across the University, country-wide and internationally as well as private and public sector bodies, with our students and, crucially, the public: people wishing to make lasting changes in their lifestyle. To help tackle our Grand Challenges, we’ve broken them down into four key areas of research:

The four key areas of research in the Grand Challenges.

The Nervous System and its Disorders

We take a holistic view of the nervous system and aim to understand the many different factors that underpin healthy brain function as well as brain disorders.

Working closely with national and international colleagues across a range of disciplines, our research seeks to increase understanding of the neural substrates of cognition, such as language, memory, attention, motor control, somatosensory information, and anxiety disorders. We identify and generate methods and tools for patient and family benefit.

We aim to study and understand the brain by using electroencephalography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and

transcranial direct current stimulation. Our research is funded by a variety of sources including the EU, Leverhulme Trust and Leeds City Region.

We work closely with colleagues in the School of Biomedical Sciences, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, and the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Read more about our research groups who address this challenge: Cognitive Neuroimaging, Language and Memory, and Perception, Action, Cognition.

Lifespan Development

Underpinning this Grand Challenge is research which focusses on psychological, social, nutritional and neurological processes associated with successful childhood development and healthy ageing. As well as collaborations with leading national and international academics and institutions, research on children benefits from strategic partnerships with the Born in Bradford initiative (one of the world’s largest public health research projects following the lives of 13,500 children and their families), Leeds City Council Children's Services and West Yorkshire schools.

Later life research seeks to characterise age-related impairments in cognitive and motor function and to develop tools to beneficially impact the lives of older adults and their families. Our research is multidisciplinary and builds links to older adult groups in the community, whilst collaborating with leading scientists and clinicians in the UK, Australia, Canada, the US, Sweden and Switzerland.

This grand challenge is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Research Sciences Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, EU FP7, Danone, the Leverhulme Trust and Education Endowment and Nuffield Foundations.

Read more about our research groups who address this challenge: Appetite Control and Energy Balance, Infant Feeding, Health and Social Psychology, Language and Memory, Nutrition and Behaviour, Perception Action Cognition and Successful Ageing.

Health and wellbeing

Health and wellbeing are easy to take for granted. Maintaining good health and psychological wellbeing is a cornerstone of future social and economic sustainability. There is an urgent need for greater insight to tackle unhealthy behaviours.

Our response to this challenge builds upon our particular distinction in psychobiology and incorporates our primary expertise in psychology, behaviour, and neuroscience.

Through this Grand Challenge, we address the topics of nutrition, appetite control, and obesity; pain and the somatosensory system; exercise and energy balance; the neurochemistry of reward, emotion and anxiety; mindfulness approaches to stress reduction and qualitative approaches to understanding psychological and physical health.

Our work is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Grand Challenge Research Fund, Medical Research Council and Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust. Our projects are multidisciplinary and we collaborate with leading academics and policy groups.

We work closely with colleagues in the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences.

Read more about our research groups who address this challenge: Appetite Control and Energy Balance, Health and Social Psychology and Nutrition and Behaviour.

Behaviour change

Addressing the Grand Challenge of behaviour change is crucial to tackling serious national and international public health and social issues.

We have undertaken NHS-funded reviews of techniques to reduce smoking, improve diet, and increase physical activity with a view to informing practice and improving public health. This includes the work of our collaborative Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research Group, which spans researchers at both the School of Psychology at Leeds and our colleagues at the University of York. This group has had a positive impact on patient safety in the region by achieving behaviour change, focusing on embedding health services research into NHS practice. 

We design, implement and test behaviour change interventions in diverse populations and for diverse behaviours, including stress, smoking, alcohol, exercise, diet, prejudice reduction, and social interaction. Keeping the public at the heart of what we do, we cultivate public and patient involvement strategies to ensure our research meets the needs of specific communities. Our work is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), NIHR, EU and the United States Army.

Read more about our research groups who address this challenge: Appetite Control and Energy Balance, Health and Social Psychology and Nutrition and Behaviour.

How to contribute

We're keen to continue to build highly skilled, passionate, and dedicated teams. If you want to help us, or simply want to learn more about the work that we do, then contact us. We'd love to hear from you. Please email Jacqueline Hunt or call 0113 343 6693