The Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation
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Doctor Kathrin Hicks

Nationality: Germany

Year: 2002

Subject Area: Social Sciences

I received a Wingate scholarship to help me complete my PhD in developmental psychiatry in 2002 and I will always be grateful for its support.

In September 2004, I handed in my thesis on the relationship between behavioural disorders and emotion processing in adolescence. My theory was that adolescents who exhibit disruptive behaviour problems (including aggression) process emotions differently from "normal" adolescents. This has been shown in adults who have been labelled as having antisocial personality disorder (still called "psychopaths" or "sociopaths" in the USA), who don't seem to show the same fear responses to threatening situations as "normal" adults do. I wondered whether something similar might be going on earlier in development.

It's tricky to test emotional reactions empirically, and a large part of my project involved developing an experimental protocol that would help me to elicit and measure emotions. I did this by showing my participants (adolescent who had come into contact with the local Youth Offending Team, as well as community controls) emotionally provocative pictures and measuring 1) their physical response (heart rate and skin conductance); 2) their subjective reported response (how pleasant/unpleasant and how arousing they found the pictures) and c) their viewing behaviour (they could choose how long they saw the pictures). The results were inconclusive: The disruptive behaviour group did differ in their responses, but these differences were somewhat inconsistent.

I had my viva in January 2005 and it came as a great shock when my examiners judged my thesis to be substantially flawed and gave me a choice between 2-3 years of work to make the necessary changes, or settling for an MSc.
By this point, I was training to be a clinical psychologist. I was enjoying this very much and did not have the time to undertake the extra experimental work required by my examiners, so I decided to settle for an MSc. This was a difficult decision and I felt that I had let down a number of people, not least the Wingate Foundation. However, two years on I am a qualified clinical psychologist and very happy in my work, and the laboratory commissioned on the basis of my initial PhD research is thriving and running an intense programme of research into emotion processing in adolescence.