Madeleine Pownall
September 2021

What do you work on?

So, I have three main strings to my research bow: 1) social fem­i­nist psy­cho­log­i­cal research on stereo­typ­ing and sexism, 2) ped­a­gog­i­cal research on student expe­ri­ences in Higher Edu­ca­tion, 3) schol­ar­ship on the move­ment to improve open and repro­ducible research. Some­times these three inter­ests come togeth­er, for example, in projects that look at open science teach­ing with under­grad­u­ates, or studies on fem­i­nist psy­chol­o­gy and repro­ducibil­i­ty, or appli­ca­tions of social psy­chol­o­gy to student wellbeing.

My PhD work (that I’m just about wrap­ping up now) inves­ti­gates whether the­o­ries from social psy­chol­o­gy (namely stereo­type threat theory and objec­ti­fi­ca­tion theory) may provide insights into the cog­ni­tive per­for­mance of women in pregnancy.

What did you do using Gorilla and what did you find?

I used Gorilla in one of my PhD studies that inves­ti­gat­ed whether explic­it­ly acti­vat­ing a ‘baby brain’ stereo­type, which sug­gests that preg­nant women have impaired cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, can harm actual per­for­mance across cog­ni­tive tasks. This was a con­cep­tu­al repli­ca­tion of another study I ran which inves­ti­gat­ed this effect with memory ability. Thanks to Gorilla, I was able to attempt to repli­cate this effect using a wider range of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, using the Open Mate­ri­als that Gorilla share. In my study, I used tasks includ­ing a Flanker task, Levels of Pro­cess­ing task, and a maths test.

Has this study been published?

Yes, it’s pub­lished in the Journal of Applied Social Psy­chol­o­gy. You can find it here.

For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?

The support! Twitter advis­ers, Face­book support groups, respon­sive emails — Gorilla has so many dif­fer­ent ways to get help, which is fab when you’re an early career researcher fig­ur­ing out this stuff as you go.

How do you think online research is going to change your field?

I actu­al­ly think that there’s a real social justice/accessibility/inclusivity benefit of online research methods. For example, if my studies (which typ­i­cal­ly recruit preg­nant women) had to be done in the lab, I would likely only be able to reach people who were able to take time out of their day to visit the campus. That limits my sample enor­mous­ly and per­pet­u­ates the problem of psy­chol­o­gy research only hearing from one kind of demo­graph­ic group. Online research is fab­u­lous for widen­ing that net, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it’s done with funding in a way that allows par­tic­i­pants to be prop­er­ly and fairly remu­ner­at­ed for their con­tri­bu­tions too.

On a per­son­al level, what are you most proud of?

My aca­d­e­m­ic baby – my book! I spent 2020 writing an entry-level text­book for under­grad­u­ates called “A Fem­i­nist Com­pan­ion to Social Psy­chol­o­gy”, which is forth­com­ing in Novem­ber 2021 with Open Uni­ver­si­ty Press. I’m so proud of it because it is the book that I was des­per­ate for when I was an under­grad­u­ate. It essen­tial­ly takes the core social psy­chol­o­gy cur­ricu­lum and pro­vides a com­pan­ion com­men­tary to it through a fem­i­nist lens. My co-author, Wendy Stain­ton-Rogers, and I were keen for the book to be fun and acces­si­ble, which I think we managed to pull off. It was so much fun to write and a really proud moment.

How did Gorilla make your life or research better, easier or faster?

I simply wouldn’t have been able to run my study using dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive tasks without Gorilla. I have written quite a bit about the esca­lat­ing demands and expec­ta­tions on PhD stu­dents and early career researchers, so I think any way of running complex studies that doesn’t require long and expen­sive train­ing courses is very welcome to me. Gorilla is perfect for that.

Who or what orig­i­nal­ly inspired you to work in your field of research?

When I was an under­grad­u­ate student at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lincoln, I attend­ed a lecture by Dr Nathan Heflick on objec­ti­fi­ca­tion theory and remem­ber think­ing “This is it! This is what I want to do”. Nathan was kind enough to let me work as a research assis­tant on some projects with him and I soon had a long list of PhD ideas. I love research which has a really prac­ti­cal, mean­ing­ful outcome – for example, objec­ti­fi­ca­tion or stereo­type threat have been found to affect actual per­for­mance on tests. That has huge con­se­quences for con­tin­u­ing inequal­i­ties and harming self-concept and self-esteem. I got really inter­est­ed in this kind of research, in an attempt to under­stand these process­es a bit better.

What is the most excit­ing piece of work or research you’ve ever done?

I’m doing some work at the moment which inves­ti­gates how body func­tion­al­i­ty (i.e., think­ing “look at what my body can do!” rather than “what my body looks like”) may be pro­tec­tive against self-objec­ti­fi­ca­tion in preg­nant women. This is an open con­cep­tu­al repli­ca­tion and exten­sion of a study pub­lished ten years ago (Rubin & Stein­berg, 2011) and it’s in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Erin Nolen at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas. I’m really enjoy­ing the whole process of working openly and build­ing direct­ly from pre­vi­ous literature.

Why did you choose Gorilla?

I chose Gorilla because a) it allowed me to do the complex behav­iour­al tasks that I wanted to do, and b) the Gorilla team give off great vibes, so I felt con­fi­dent that they would be able to help me if I got stuck. I like the inter­face of Gorilla so much that I con­vinced our depart­ment to get a whole depart­ment licence when we pivoted to online dis­ser­ta­tion super­vi­sion, and it’s been going really well since then.

What are the main ways people mis­un­der­stand your thesis?

In my PhD thesis, I’m inves­ti­gat­ing how social psy­chol­o­gy may provide insights into the so-called “baby brain” that preg­nant women expe­ri­ence and report. One mis­con­cep­tion that I’ve come across is people who think that I’m trying to claim that ‘baby brain’ is a made-up construct/myth/stereotype. Instead, I’m trying to see the extent to which social phe­nom­e­na (such as stereo­type acti­va­tion and objec­ti­fi­ca­tion) exac­er­bates per­for­mance deficits.

What’s your favourite paper to use for teach­ing and why?

My favourite paper ever is by Dr Rachel Calogero (2013) and it’s called “Objects don’t object!: Evi­dence that self-objec­ti­fi­ca­tion dis­rupts women’s social activism.” I think it’s such a beau­ti­ful paper because it has the clever­est pun ever in the title and it looks at the behav­iour­al con­se­quences of self-objec­ti­fi­ca­tion, which I think is really impor­tant to study. Every year stu­dents have to sit through a lecture with me saying “Objects don’t OBJECT, get it? Do you get it?!” when we discuss objec­ti­fi­ca­tion and body image. I always enjoy that.

Are there any online courses, pod­casts, dis­cus­sion groups or resources that you’d rec­om­mend to others?

PsyPAG! The Psy­chol­o­gy Post­grad­u­ates Affairs Group. If you’re a post­grad­u­ate (PhD, masters, pro­fes­sion­al trainee, any­thing) then do join PsyPAG. I’ve met so many friends, col­lab­o­ra­tors, and col­leagues through them and they’re a really friend­ly bunch.

Madeleine Pownall
Social Psychology
Postgraduate Teaching Assistant and PhD researcher
University of Leeds
Portrait of Madeleine Pownall

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