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Source: University of Waikato

Noted developmental psychologist, Professor Vincent Reid, is heading up the University of Waikato’s School of Psychology, bringing with him a wealth of experience and a desire to take the school to new heights.

Having joined in the latter half of 2019, Professor Reid feels he’s nearly got the ‘lay of the land’, and is excited about other new appointments joining the psychology school.

His area of research interest is human development, in particular infants and foetuses, and one of his biggest achievements is showing there is a way to understand vision in a foetus, effectively opening the door for a new field of research with a fresh perspective on how we develop as humans.

“If you show a newborn baby an image of a face, they’ll find that more interesting than anything else. Previously it’s been said that this was because human faces are really important, however research has shown that it wasn’t the face that was important.

“Indeed, any object with more information in the upper visual field will be more interesting for infants, so we wanted to see if this was the case for foetuses as well.

“Using ultra-sound and by shining light through the uterine wall, we tracked the foetus’ movements and found that the foetus also had the same preferences as newborns,” says Professor Reid.

With the majority of Professor Reid’s work focussed on how infants understand other people, his findings have been used for a variety of applications including the development of epigenetic robotic systems in Japan, and to make it easier to collect neuroscience data on sufferers of epilepsy.

He’s also interested in how humans take in the peripheral world, as most of what we process are objects that we aren’t necessarily focussing on.

“Everything in our vision is too much for your brain to consciously process, so you tend to look at things and delete them from your attention. I’m interested in what infants pay attention to in the peripheral world.

“We know infants aren’t as skilled or advanced as adults, but what do they pay attention to? Is it the same objects as adults?”

Professor Reid’s work also has medical implications, one being research to find a way of identifying if a foetus is behaving as it should whilst in the womb.

“An Apgar test is given to newborns to see whether they are thriving or if extra care is required. With ultra-sound technology continuously improving, a pre-natal equivalent of the Apgar is now on the cards so problems can be picked up earlier.”

His most recent paper was published in Scientific Reports in early March, which focused on ‘baby-talk’. He found by measuring brain waves, that if you speak to a baby in a baby-centric voice, then present them with different objects, they more rapidly and deeply process faces.

“My more clinical-based research has related to schizotipy. This is when you hear voices when there is nobody nearby. It has some of the features of schizophrenia but is relatively common in the general population. A lot of the current knowledge says that these aspects of schizophrenia usually kick in during adolescence, but my research suggested that some root elements of it may exist well before that period.”

Professor Reid is originally from New Zealand, leaving 20 years ago for a holiday to the Northern hemisphere where he ‘got stuck’.

“I completed my Bachelors and Masters in Psychology at the University of Auckland, then went to London where I studied towards my PhD,” says Professor Reid.

“I then moved around Europe, working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany before heading back to the UK to Durham University.

“Moving from Durham University to Lancaster University, I became Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, then Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research when I met Professor Bruce Clarkson from Waikato University, who asked whether I had thought about coming ‘home’.”

Professor Reid sees psychology as a subject that can bring students into universities, and is a broad discipline ranging from medicine and neuroscience through to social science, and that this wide scope can be both a strength and a weakness.

Professor Reid is excited about the future of psychology at the University, and leading the school into new territory.