Tom Hatherley Pear: Britain’s first full-time Professor of Psychology

The Pear Lecture Theatre, University of Manchester

The Pear Lecture Theatre, University of Manchester

In 2016, the University of Manchester celebrates the centenary of Psychology. Here, Natalie Bigbie, 2nd year BSc Psychology, digs in the archives (with the help of some dusty note-sifting by Prof Alan Costall) to find out about our first Psychology lecturer, and Britain’s first full-time Professor of Psychology:


Many students at the university of Manchester (who spend enough time on campus), will be familiar with the name Samuel Alexander. But Psychology students, however, may not. His memorial building is part of the School of Humanities. ‘Why bring him up then?’ you may ask. What you may not know is we have Alexander to thank for introducing Psychology to Manchester.

Before joining the Philosophy department at the University of Manchester in 1893, Alexander studied experimental psychology in Germany, hoping to commit to ‘new psychology’, and bring it to our university. He was one of the few members of the British Psychological Society in its conception and, by 1902, had started an experimental psychology lab class at Manchester. In addition, he gathered other scientists, such as the pathologist Lorrain Smith and the famous physiologist Charles Sherrington, to further encourage psychological research; to top it off, Alexander planned to establish a department of Psychology. Alexander searched for the perfect lecturer for the department, deliberating between American, German and British psychologists. He first had his sights set on C.S. Myers, but he was ‘lost’ to King’s College London.

The place was later offered to an undergraduate by the name of Tom Pear (pronounced ‘peer’). Pear was a Physics student at King’s, but, after attending Myers’ lectures, became obsessed with the psychological issue that underlies all science – that scientific observation requires an observer. Pear’s attention was caught by Myer’s insight, so much so that he went on to become his protégé, alongside Cambridge psychologist Frederic Bartlett. Nudging from both Alexander and Myers resulted in Pear’s arrival at Manchester. Like a scene from a thriller movie, Pear was approached by Alexander in a corridor at UCL on a dark winter afternoon, where Alexander proposed the idea of a department of Psychology at Manchester. The only catch was that Pear needed to obtain a first.

As luck, and hard work, would have it, Tom Pear gained his first class degree at Kings, and so was invited to stay in Alexander’s home. At this point, several important figures at the university ‘looked him over’. Having gained their approval, Pear was sent to finish his psychological studies under guidance of Oswald Kulpe in Germany, before arriving in Manchester in 1909, taking up his new role as Manchester’s first lecturer in Psychology. In this role, he discussed science with noted figures (such as the physician Elliot Smith), immersing himself into the social life at the Medical School. This later helped to expand pathological and psychiatric education and research at the university. Later that year Pear was elected to the British Psychological Society.

The First World War tore Pear away from Manchester and thrust him into the Military Hospital in Maghull (near Liverpool). There, Pear engaged in therapy and teaching to wounded soldiers, increasing his prominence in Psychology and Psychology’s prominence in Britain. His work with Smith in Maghull led to significant advance in the understanding of ‘shell shock’. Upon returning to Manchester in 1919 Pear was promoted from lecturer to Professor of Psychology, establishing a new department of Psychology and, in the process, becoming Britain’s first full-time Professor of Psychology. Over the 32 years that Pear was Professor in Manchester, he was joined by only a handful of other academic staff, many of whom are remembered to this day, such as R.H. Thouless and H.E.O James. Despite the small department, Pear’s connections and contacts brought together several areas of Psychology at the university, including industrial, occupational, anthropological and social psychology. More broadly, he also engaged and worked closely with others from a range of physical and social sciences (including noted correspondences with Professor AV Hill).

Despite Pear’s time, effort and contribution to Psychology, his name is now remembered more for his legacy within Manchester than for the legacy of his work. The range of Psychological disciplines within Manchester perhaps stands testament to this. Today, Psychology is an established and prominent science; a glance over the past 100 years shows us just how far the subject has advanced. From a single student in 1916 to over 200 a year now, this year we celebrate how far Psychology has come at the University of Manchester.

Improving lives with Psychology


Lucy Nightingale

At the University of Manchester we know there are a vast number of options for our graduates. Take for example Lucy Nightingale, a 2010 graduate from the School of Psychological Sciences. Lucy wanted to use what she’d learned from her degree to help others in need. She joined up with a Sri Lankan youth worker and headed out to Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean to work with those suffering from mental illness, to attend youth workshops and to help local mental health professionals.


Lucy’s experiences opened her eyes to what could be achieved with psychological training. Following her Sri Lankan experience, she set up the ‘SLV placement with Mental Health’. This new venture, a collaboration with the King’s College London resource centre for trauma, displacement and mental health, created a responsible volunteering charity, offering tailored placements based on interests and experience. It allowed psychology graduates to help support children and vulnerable adults in Sri Lanka.


The success of SLV can be easily measured – it works with a number of Sri Lankan charitable organisations, has been featured on the BBC2 programme ‘See Hear’, and has recently expanded its efforts to create a similar volunteering programme in Bali.


SLV shows that with a psychology degree and some drive, enthusiasm and initiative, Psychology graduates can have far-reaching positive impact.


Here you can find out more about SLV, what it’s like to live in Sri Lanka, and what you need to get involved. 


New hub for Quality of Life Research

Quality of life is important to us all, whether we are coping with a stressful job, experiencing serious medical conditions or enjoying a holiday. Finding ways to optimise our quality of life, despite the circumstances, is key to better living. Professor Suzanne Skevington has recently launched a new International Hub for Quality of Life Research (IHQoLR), here at Manchester’s School of Psychological Sciences. Suzanne explains to the Psychology@Manchester blog what the hub aims to achieve:


Who are the world’s happiest people?
Do city-dwellers have the poorest wellbeing?
What is the quality of life like for refugees?

Every day, we hear people ask these questions. At the new International Hub for Quality of Life Research (IHQoLR) at the University of Manchester we aim to carry out research which will address questions such as these. We study how people feel about their quality of life and examine how we can best measure a person’s quality of life experience.

Over 20 years, our research has focussed on improving the quality of people’s lives in health, and health care. International health and health policy, and cross-cultural research, are primary areas of interest. Our research has covered all age groups across the lifespan, from childhood and adolescence to the very end of life. Through working in an international collaboration, we have developed a suite of cross-cultural questionnaires to measure quality of life around the world, including UK. In doing so, this has identified some of the unique factors that can improve daily life for well and sick people, but also highlights the common features that people consider important to them across generations, conditions and cultures.

The Hub continues this ongoing program of work in areas that include common chronic diseases and conditions (e.g. cancer, kidney disease, dementia, pain), infectious diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDs, TB), and diverse settings (poverty & deprivation, physical environments, primary care). Health psychology researchers at the Hub seek to assist health practitioners to use quality of life information to improve their practice, and to enhance shared decision-making with their patients.

Prof Skevington

Prof Skevington (image copyright, Miriam Kings)

Prof Skevington is an international lead in a collaboration convened by the World Health Organisation to measure quality of life among diverse cultures – the WHOQOL Group. As part of this, she has published widely cited papers on the WHOQOL-BREF, which is a standardised measure for assessing quality life across cultures. This measure is now available in around 90 languages. Her research also helped to advance the design of new measures suitable for niche areas, such as diverse ethnic groups and spiritual quality of life. See more about some of Prof Skevington’s work in this Youtube video.

PhD student Emily Williams reports on upcoming Outreach events…

Emily Williams: Widening Participation Fellow

Emily Williams: Widening Participation Fellow

Hi all, I hope the exam period treated you well and that you’re ready to begin Semester 2. If not, it has a habit of starting without you anyway! My name is Emily Williams and I wanted to let you know about some of the upcoming Outreach events within the School of Psychological Sciences. I’m a Widening Participation Fellow for our School, a role I’ve taken alongside the first year of my PhD. Before this, I completed a BSc and MRes in Psychology here at Manchester, so I can say with experience the value of having a work-life balance, and something to focus on beside your studies.

KarenWidening Participation is a facet of Outreach activities which target students from primary school age all the way up to college level. The students usually fit into some sort of criteria, e.g. a school in Greater Manchester with a low rate of progression to university, or free school meals. The aim of the events is to encourage students who might not have considered university to start seeing it as a real possibility. We also want to show them how cool Psychology is in particular – not biased at all.

Below is a selection of upcoming activities that we’re recruiting volunteers for. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date with Outreach volunteering opportunities, please contact Steph ( If you’re a postgrad student you will have the chance to get hands-on experience with our commonly used activities in the POW! Postgrad Outreach Workshop I’m running on Thursday 11th February. To sign up for this event, please follow the link ( Pizza included.

Psychology, Education and Wellbeing in Schools (PEWS)

What? The PEWS programme runs between December and June, with three sessions in a local school and three sessions on campus. Pupils will take part in a host of activities exploring University degrees, learning environments and student life. Pupils also have the chance to experience mini Health Psychology lectures, and gain the knowledge and skills necessary to have a healthy lifestyle. At the end of the programme the students ‘graduate’ in little caps and gowns – so cute!

Who? This event targets around 26 Year 6 Primary School pupils (Ages 10-11)

When? Half-day sessions in the school will take place on 15th December and 18th March. The pupils will then be invited to the university on May 18th and 25th, and 7th June. A final half-day will take place on 14th June in the school with parents.

Where? Both in a local school and at the University


What do Psychological Scientists do?

What? As you know, psychological scientists are involved in many kinds of research as they investigate different questions about how the mind works. Every year, we run an afternoon of interactive talks from scientists from the School of Psychological Sciences explaining their research to school and college students. Volunteers are needed to demonstrate fun activities during the breaks between lectures.

Who? This event targets students in Year 9 and above

When? Wednesday 24th February 2016

Where? At the University


Psychology Stall at the Science Fair (British Science Week)

What? The university hosts a four-day Science Extravaganza, where 250 pupils in years 7 to 9 visit each day and take part in a programme designed to give them a broad taste of different areas of science and showcase the work of our researchers. As Psychology, we have a stall at the Science Fair, with lots of hands-on activities such as the rubber hand illusion and optical illusions.

Who? This event targets students in Years 7 to 9

When? Wednesday 16th – Friday 18th March 2016

Where? North Campus at the University


Big Brain Summer School

What? Every year, lecturers and students from the School of Psychological Sciences deliver a summer school for Year 9 and 10 students to engage them in new learning experiences and areas of specialist study at a pivotal time in their school careers. Topics covered include the senses, communication, clinical psychology, and decision making. Volunteers are needed to demonstrate hands-on activities to groups of students.

Who? This event targets Year 9 and Year 10 students

When? Two consecutive days in June / July 2016 (Dates TBC)

Where? At the University


Psychology Research Experience Programme (PREP)

What? The University invites AS-level students with an interest in psychology onto campus for a two-day taster of what studying and researching here is like. Students receive short lectures from a number of psychologists, carry out a small research project in groups, and then present their research to their peers. The students also interview staff and postgraduate students about their own research, and receive a talk from the Careers Service to enable them to start planning their own careers. One or two volunteers are needed to help run the event.

Who? This event targets AS-level students (Year 12)

When? July 2016 (Dates TBC)

Where? At the University


We look forward to hearing from you!

Dr Rebecca Jackson: how the brain represents relationships.


One of our researchers, Dr Rebecca Jackson, has recently been awarded the prestigious 2016 ‘Frith Prize’ from the Experimental Psychological Society for her PhD work. Now an EPSRC postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Jackson explains her work and tells us why it’s important.

My research focuses on ‘semantic cognition’, our understanding of what objects are, and how this information might be represented in the brain. For instance, whether we hear a dog bark, read the word ‘DOG’ or encounter a real dog, we automatically retrieve a host of information about dogs. This might include what dogs are, how to interact with them and where they are found. Such ‘conceptual knowledge’ involves retrieving simple information from your different senses (stored in sensory brain areas, such as the sound of a dog bark from the auditory cortices) and complex combinations of this information (stored in brain areas important for conceptual knowledge, such as knowing that a dog is similar to a wolf).

I was interested in how the brain represents complex combinations of conceptual knowledge. To do this, I looked for differences in the brain areas that are active when I present objects that are either thought to be ‘similar’, in that they share features (e.g. vase and bucket), or ‘associated’, in that they are often found together (e.g. vase and tulip). People who suffer damage to the brain can show difficulty with some of these relationships but not others. For instance, some people who have suffered strokes provide associated words when naming objects instead of the object name (e.g. saying flower when they look at a vase).

First, we investigated whether ‘similar’ or ‘association’ relationships depend on different brain areas (Jackson et al., 2015). Similar and associated concepts were presented to healthy volunteers during a brain imaging scan (called functional MRI). We found that both relationship types led to highly overlapping patterns of brain activity in a single network, which was responsible for storing and retrieving conceptual knowledge. This suggests that ‘similar’ and ‘associated’ concepts may be less distinct than previously thought.

Next, we showed this same set of regions were often working together even when our volunteers were not performing laboratory-style tests, but instead merely thinking about anything they wanted to. This implies that the same brain network underpins our use of conceptual knowledge in the kind of free thought that we generally use in our everyday lives (Jackson et al., in press). This also suggests that our findings may have broad relevance for explaining how our brains retrieve information about objects, people and animals.

My future research plans are to investigate the role of a specific brain area, the medial prefrontal cortex, in conceptual knowledge. This region may involve multiple distinct parts which could have distinct roles in processing conceptual knowledge. By understanding the brain networks involved in semantic cognition, I hope we can predict the type of problems that people who experience brain damage may face – and so, eventually, offer better treatment.

Jackson RL, Hoffman P, Pobric G, Lambon Ralph MA (2015) The nature and neural correlates of semantic association vs. conceptual similarity. Cerebral Cortex.
Jackson RL, Hoffman P, Pobric G, Lambon Ralph MA (in press) The semantic network at work and rest: Differential connectivity of anterior temporal lobe subregions. Journal of Neuroscience.

Five tips for discussing news events with children

Coverage of distressing news events in the media is causing some parents cause for concern. This leads to questions about how to sensitively find out what children know, and how to discuss and explain events with them. Here, our head of school, Professor Rachel Calam, shares some advice on how to best approach these issues.

1. Listen to your child and hear their worries.
– Find out what they know. Given the prevalence of media it is increasingly difficulty to insulate them from these distressing stories. Hearing their worries will give you an idea of how to address their concerns.

2. Try not to make them any more anxious than they are already.
– Some people may feel that giving children the context to a situation will help them understand it. Think carefully about whether that is what they need. Part of this is about giving age-appropriate advice. Sometimes the more you look into an area, the more overwhelming and immediately threatening it can seem.

3. Reassure and comfort them.
– There are many things in our society and in children’s lives that can protect them. Friends, parents, teachers, the police, the army and even politicians can have a powerful, reassuring influence on a young imagination.

4. Explain how very rare these events are.
– In many ways, the power of terrorist acts is to make people afraid of extremely unlikely events in their everyday life. Gruesome images can heighten the sensitivity of our threat response systems but, statistically, the risk of harm is very low indeed.

5. Then do something enjoyable and different.
– Switch off the TV, shut down the laptop. Playing games, drawing pictures, reading books or taking your kids to the park is a great way to help children focus on the present.

For more information about how to discuss distressing events with your children, see:

How to cope with traumatic news – an illustrated guide. ABC News

Talking to children about distressing news stories (the Guardian, Jan 2015).

Rachel Calam is a Professor of Child and Family Psychology at the University of Manchester. She is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Association and a Chartered Psychologist. Her research has focussed on parenting and child behaviour difficulties. For more information about her work see:

Parenting and Families Research Group

SPS researchers engagement

School of Psychological Sciences researchers have been out in the local community this month, discussing how we learn behaviours and women in science.


Which way of learning tasks is easier: reading instructions or watching others perform the task? Dr Judith Bek from the Body, Eyes & Movement (BEAM) Lab, helped adults and children discover the answer through demonstrations with motion trackers and discussion of the lab’s latest findings. The event, on the 31st October at the Machester Museum and Whitworth Hall, formed part of the Manchester Science Festival.


Then, on Sunday 1st November, Dr Cheryl Capek and Maria-efstratia Tsimpanouli and other University of Manchester researchers took part in the Science Grrl event at the Museum of Science & Industry. Using model brains and brain scans, they discussed their own research, the techniques they use to examine brain function, and what this tells us about how we perform tasks. The Science Grrl initiative helps provide a voice for women in science throughout the UK, and aims to elevate the profile of women scientists in mainstream culture.

For more information about the BEAMlab and ScienceGrrl, visit their websites here:

SPS Green Impact Team: Swap Shop Thursday 28th October

The SPS Green Impact Team are holding a Swap Shop from 1:00 to 4:00pm on Thursday 29th October in the ‘Food for Thought’ café Ground Floor, Zochonis Building.

All are welcome – you can either bring along items to swap (clothes, accessories, books, DVDs, CDs for example), or pay £1 entry which will be donated to the Kindling Trust.

Any items which are not claimed on the day will be donated to the nearby Oxfam shop.

If you have any items you wish to contribute ahead of the day, please drop them off with either Gemma Cailler, 3rd floor Zochonis Building, or Clare Hamnett and Stephanie Fanner, Room G1, Coupland 1 building

National Suicide Prevention Week: Postgraduate Student Rebecca Owen reports…

BeckyI’m a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester. With last week being national suicide prevention week, I thought it might be interesting for psychology students to see how a topic as sensitive as suicide is tackled from a research perspective. Our work is investigating experience of suicidal thoughts, feelings and behaviours or attempts (also known as, “suicidality”), in people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Despite numerous suicide prevention efforts from various sources including, the NHS and charities such as Samaritans, suicide remains the leading cause of death amongst men aged 15 to 44 in the UK. Every four minutes someone makes a suicide attempt and every hour and a half someone dies – so it really is an epidemic.

Suicide tends to be investigated in terms of risk factors. Research studies will try to identify factors which put an individual at a greater risk of either becoming suicidal or attempting to end their life. Common risk factors include gender, age, employment status, marital status, a previous suicide attempt and a mental health diagnosis. Although these factors can help to predict who might become suicidal, they don’t really tell us anything about why someone became suicidal. For example, simply being male and unemployed doesn’t give us any explanation of the underlying psychological processes and pathways which led to the development of suicidal feelings.
This is where our work comes in – we’re interested in finding out more about these underlying psychological processes. For example, feeling hopeless, feeling defeated and trapped within a situation, feeling like you can’t cope. By understanding more about these processes, we hope that we’ll be able to better inform psychological interventions which specifically aim to change these processes in order to reduce suicide risk in bipolar disorder.

This type of research is a relatively new area in the field of bipolar disorder, so we started off by conducting an exploratory qualitative study with 20 participants. We found that factors which protected against suicidal behaviour included, (1) thinking about the impact that suicide would have upon family members and friends, and (2) having a strong social support system. We found that triggers for suicidal thoughts included, (1) experiencing mental health stigma, and (2) feeling like a burden to other people.

These findings have informed a larger, quantitative, questionnaire based study. Recruitment for the questionnaire study will close by February 2016. If anyone would like any more information about our work or would like to take part, please get in touch with me directly by email at or by phone on 0161 275 2593.

Next SPS Research Seminar: 30th April 4pm: Prof Chris Armitage

Please join us for the next in the series of School Research Seminars on Thursday, 30 April at 4pm, in Room 3.204 in University Place. All are welcome and refreshments will be available.
The talk this month, “The E-cigarette wars and how to lie with science”, will be given by Professor Robert West from University College London, and hosted by Professor Chris Armitage (from the host section Clinical and Health).


Electronic cigarettes have become highly controversial. Usually in matters of public health where there are commercial interests at stake it is the commercial sector that seeks to distort science to minimise the apparent harms and maximise the apparent benefits of their products. However, in this case it appears to be some high profile public health activists who are presenting research findings in a way that is misleading. This appears to be confusing clinicians, policy makers and the public with potentially damaging effects both in relation to tobacco control and trust in public health more generally. This includes: 1) presenting ‘ever tried e-cigarettes’ as though it were ‘current use’ to create alarm about non-smokers taking up e-cigarettes; 2) identifying presence of toxins in e-liquids and vapour without acknowledging that the concentrations are orders of magnitude less than in cigarette smoke, or obtained under unrealistic conditions, leading to the impression that e-cigarettes are as harmful as cigarettes; 3) interpreting correlations between e-cigarette use and smoking in terms of e-cigarettes causing smoking or undermining quitting rather than the obvious explanation in terms of common pre-disposing factors; and 4) making strong recommendations in research papers that do not follow from the study findings. The agency in England that is responsible for policy on this issue, Public Health England, has fortunately not been taken in by the misleading claims because it has close links with a strong academic base, but other agencies in the UK and abroad do not have the benefit of this resource and are making decisions that are ill-informed.

Dr Harriet Over will be presenting at the next SPS Seminar the week after on Thursday, 7 May. The session is about “The origins of belonging: Young children’s connections to their social groups” and will run from 4pm in University Place, Room 3.204 (3rd floor).