Tag Archives: research

New research on the links between agriculture and economic growth

New research looks at the links between agriculture and economic growth

rice cultvation in India

Dr Camille Boudot-Reddy, Lecturer in Economics, is working on research entitled Watering the Seeds of the Rural Economy: Evidence from Groundwater Irrigation in India, evaluating the impact of access to groundwater irrigation on the rural economy.

Camille says, “We find that villages with access to groundwater witness a significant boost in agricultural productivity as well as an improvement in consumption (captured by an increase in household assets). Additionally, these villages draw in daily waged work from surrounding non-irrigated areas as well as a large amount of migration from poorer Scheduled Caste groups.”

rice cultivation

Groundwater is the largest source of irrigation water in India, however in recent decades the country has witnessed a depletion of its aquifers and managing this resource is high on the policy agenda. Camille’s research provides an understanding of the impact of groundwater irrigation, a critical component to the current debate.

Further information available in the paper here, and in this policy blog post.


Biological Sciences research team take us aboard the Intracellular Express!

In this blog, Dr Lucy Troman, Postdoctoral Research Associate (Biological Sciences) reflects on the adventurous approach taken to help the public understand cell functioning and regulation within the human body and the relevance to cancers, malaria and other disorders. 

pic of Lucy Troman

Dr Lucy Troman: conductor for the Intracellular Express

Earlier this year, in the Summer, myself and a team of Birkbeck’s Biological Sciences researchers attended the GreenMan festival in Wales to communicate our research to the public.  Our interactive engagement stall, funded by the Birkbeck Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF), used the relatable analogy of catching a train to enable visitor engagement with the transport networks within the cell: the cytoskeleton. This enabled us to communicate some of the cytoskeleton research done here at Birkbeck.  

GreenMan is the largest festival in Wales attracting 25,000 people from across the UK with a schedule of world-class live music and comedy. In addition to arts, the award-winning festival houses a dedicated science engagement area, Einstein’s Garden, offering the unique opportunity to reach a diverse audience with a wide range of science capital and literacy, many of whom might not usually engage with science.  

Our team played out the role of train conductors and distributed tickets for the Intracellular Express; an interactive scavenger hunt around Einstein’s garden. To participate, members of the public acted as transporters along the cytoskeleton where they had to follow the clues to successfully transport cargo to different organelles within the cell. Over the four-day period we had over 240 people successfully complete the activity and received extremely positive feedback. 

The cytoskeleton is primarily made up of three filaments used for cellular structure and organisation: actin, microtubules and intermediate filaments. The dynamic regulation of these filaments allow different specialised cell types to achieve a diverse range of different roles within your body.The key cellular role means the cytoskeleton has an expansive disease relevance. For example, the role of microtubules within cell division makes them an important target for anti-cancer therapeutics. Dysfunctional regulation of microtubules is often associated with neuronal disorder. Additionally, microtubules are critical for viral replication and they play key roles within the life cycle of the parasites responsible for malaria making them important potential targets for both anti-viral and anti-malarial therapeutics.  

Both myself and other members of Professor Carolyn Moores research group use a technique called cryo-electron microscopy to determine what these filamentous structures look like and through this we hope to gain insight into their dynamics and regulation both within mammals like humans, but also within parasites. My research looks at comparing the microtubules between different species of frogs. Frogs or Xenopus are good model organisms as they have large eggs containing lots of microtubules, and they have far less complexity than human systems. We are hoping that what we learn about the filaments in frogs will translate back to the same systems within humans. 


Understanding Internet Addiction

This blog by Marianne Cole, Centre for Neurodiversity at Work, is a lay summary of Pontes, H.M., Satel, J., McDowall, A. (2022). Internet Addiction. In: Pontes, H.M. (eds) Behavioral Addictions. Studies in Neuroscience, Psychology and Behavioral Economics. Springer, Cham.

This chapter summarises existing research into Internet Addiction (IA) and the wide range of definitions in the literature. It considers a number of different models that researchers have used to understand more about IA and its related disorders. The authors summarise how IA is diagnosed, treated and make recommendations for future, more reliable, research.

What is Internet Addiction?

There has been much debate around the term ‘internet addiction’ and what it means.  This is important when comparing studies because each study may be working to a different definition and looking at the condition through a different interpretive lens.  Some researchers think this term is too general and that we should focus more on specific online behaviours instead as people tend to become addicted to specific online activities.  IA is currently not recognised as a mental health disorder and there is no agreement on terminology. However, all definitions link behavioural addiction with serious health-related changes common across addictive disorders.

The positives and negatives of internet use

There are positive and negative implications of internet use, including but not limited to:


  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduction in social isolation
  • Potential platform for positive lifestyle choices
  • Increased access to information
  • Improved educational, social and psychological outcomes for students
  • Mood-enhancing


  • Increase in aggression and hostility (gaming)
  • Acts as a medium for addition, for example gambling, gaming, pornography
  • Increases depression and anxiety
  • Causes relationship difficulties
  • Disrupts sleep hygiene behaviours

Models to aid understanding of Internet Addiction

This chapter compares three interpretive models (others are mentioned) which help our understanding of IA: Cognitive Behavioural, Interaction of Person- Effect-Cognition-Execution (I-PACE) and a biological model.

  1. Seen through a Cognitive Behavioural lens, some people may be addicted to a particular online activity (e.g., games, social media, etc.), while others (over)use the internet without specific purpose. General internet addicts may feel that the internet is the only place where they feel good about themselves, and they may seek it out because of underlying conditions such as depression and/or social anxiety. Researchers have found a strong link between procrastination and general internet addiction.
  2. The I-PACE model looks more widely at behaviours and ways of thinking that might influence a specific internet addiction and short-term gratification. Some people may be more likely to react too strongly, for example, personality, mood regulation, impulse control and other mental processes may all play a part.
  3. IA has been linked to biological changes in the brain picked up during scanning, such as reduced grey matter and dopamine. We need to be cautious about interpreting these biological links to IA because there are too many variables to firmly state the cause.

Internet Addiction and related disorders

IA is linked to a range of disorders, including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mood/sleep disorders, and autism.  Research suggests that people diagnosed with these conditions are more likely to use the internet as a coping mechanism.  Again, conclusions need to be cautious because study methods differ, and it can be difficult to untangle the two-way relationship between IA and underlying conditions.

Some research has compared IA across different countries, which is useful in understanding how widely it affects different populations. But more research needs to be conducted with larger participant groups and improved study design.  It is difficult to make reliable comparisons when different definitions of IA are used alongside different ways of assessing it.


The chapter mentions a number of methods for assessing IA:

  • Questionnaires
  • Internet Addiction Test (the most popular)
  • Internet Disorder Scale-Short Form
  • Psychometric tests

These have been widely adopted across many countries but have been criticised for being unreliable as an assessment tool while there is no agreed standard for diagnosing IA.


There are medical (e.g. anti-depressants) and psychological (e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy) treatments for IA with the aim of regulating rather than stopping use. More and better-designed research is needed into the effectiveness of both these treatments.


Researchers seem to favour clear descriptions of specific forms of IA to make clear that it has different levels of severity – as opposed to a broader and unspecific category.  As long as there is ongoing disagreement over definitions, IA cannot officially be recognised as an addictive disorder. The authors are concerned that if researchers abandon this field, those with IA will suffer harmful effects both psychologically and socially, feeling that their distress is being played down. Researchers need to work with clinicians, psychologists and therapists to find evidence-based treatment for what is a vulnerable group of people.

Further Information


Physical workplace adjustments to support neurodivergent workers

This blog is a layperson summary of the paper Weber, C., Häne, E., Yarker, J., Krieger, B., & McDowall, A. (2022). Physical Workplace Adjustments to Support Neurodivergent Workers: A Systematic Review. Applied Psychology – An International Review.

Who are we?

We are a group of five researchers:

  • Clara is an environmental psychologist at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, where she researches how physical workplaces make people feel, think, and behave and reasons why.
  • Eunji is part of Clara’s team and is a workplace management researcher, who figures out how offices can be better managed.
  • Almuth and Jo are occupational psychologists at Birkbeck, University of London who research workplace health and diversity.
  • Beate is an occupational therapy researcher at Zurich University of Applied Science looking at making the work environment better for young people with autism.

What is neurodiversity and neurodivergence?

  • Neurodiversity means that humans are all different from each other with particular strengths and weaknesses. The different ways that humans feel, think and behave are associated with certain conditions;
  • Neurodivergence describes when someone’s brain learns or behaves differently from what is considered ‘typical’. Not everyone likes this word, but we use it because we looked at research carried out on people with certain conditions. We use the two words interchangeably here for this reason.

What did we do?

  • We looked at ‘physical workplace adjustments’ for neurodivergent workers. These adjustments are mostly ‘physical helpers’ that aim to make it more comfortable to work in an office.
    • For example, if bright light in the office is hard to tolerate, you might prefer a different artificial light that you can also control or choose to use sunglasses.
  • We wanted to know what research has been done, what physical helpers are used, and if they make a difference to people’s wellbeing;
  • We confirmed if studies were trustworthy and of good quality;
  • Finally, we confirmed where there are gaps in research.

We need this information to make recommendations and to guide future research.

Why did we do it?

  • Research shows that neurodivergent people are excluded from work. Many experience difficulties finding or remaining in work because workplaces do not easily accommodate different needs;
  • People who are neurodiverse often have unmet sensory needs in the workplace. This means that sounds, lights, the touch/feeling of things, or other people’s closeness can be too much. This can affect their health and work ability, with people commonly reporting headaches, feeling dizzy or sick;
  • We need to know how to make workplaces healthy and productive environments for neurodiverse workers and what types of physical helpers are best;
  • There is guidance from charities and advisory groups listing different physical helpers;
  • Workplace design companies also offer various creative physical helpers, but they don’t say if these actually work. Little is known about how these helpers are tried and tested.

What did we do specifically?

We did a systematic review of the research evidence. A systematic review follows very specific rules and steps in order to find studies and make sense of their findings. By using this method, we developed a picture of all the available research in a specific area;

We looked for any studies that considered at least one physical helper used in an office. We included studies if this helper had anything to do with:

  • how well people felt at work (health/well-being)
  • how well people were able to work (performance)
  • the extent to which people found it easier to stay in work (occupational longevity).

We searched academic literature and guidance documents from charities or advisory groups and:

  • found 319 studies connected with our research topic/question. Of these, only 20 studies mentioned our particular focus;
  • confirmed how trustworthy the results of the studies are. We rated the quality of their research design and reporting of information;
  • grouped all the physical helpers and their positive effects to see at a glance what types have what kind of effect.

What have we found out?

  • Few studies say anything concrete about links between these physical helpers and improved well-being, work ability or staying in a job;
  • Many studies are based on interviews asking people about experience, rather than testing over time to see if physical helpers make a difference;
  • No studies focused specifically on physical helpers. This means that studies only mentioned physical helpers if participants did so;
  • Some studies report general helpful office adjustments such as altering light or desk placement (if available);
  • No studies used strong, reliable research methods, meaning other researchers cannot test their findings by recreating them. Without robust studies, we cannot say anything about cause and effect;
  • So far, we can mostly say that study participants believed that some helpers contributed to a good experience but we have no evidence that they actually work.

Why is this important?

  • We urgently need more and better research;
  • Neurodivergent workers are likely to be better able to access helpers if there is evidence that shows they make a difference;
  • Organisations might be spending money on helpers which don’t help;
  • Charity and other guidelines should acknowledge the evidence base for the accommodations they recommend so that people are aware of the basis for this advice;
  • Developing a specification for return of investment would help researchers and organisations gather more data to inform our understanding of what works, for whom and when.

Further Information