Being bilingual does NOT make you smarter

The widely held belief that being bilingual makes you smarter is being challenged by psychologists in a newly published paper.

Writing in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology, a group of language experts from Abertay University describe how they began – quite unintentionally – to unravel one of current psychology’s big myths: that being bilingual makes you smarter.

Professor Vera Kempe and her colleagues began their latest research assuming – like everyone else – that a cognitive advantage in bilinguals was an established fact.

Based on this assumption, they wanted to see whether there was a similar cognitive advantage to speaking two dialects – something that had not been looked at before.

To find out, they compared cognitive control in a group of people who switch between speaking the very distinctive Dundonian dialect and Standard Scottish English, with cognitive control in two other groups: those who speak two languages, and those who speak only one.

To their great surprise, their research produced some wholly unexpected results, contradicting everything they thought they knew: the bilingual control groups performed no better in the cognitive task than those who spoke only one language and those who spoke in a dialect.

There were no differences whatsoever.

Professor Kempe explains why this is an important finding:

“When we started our research, we were convinced – like everybody else – that there was an advantage to being bilingual, but when we carried out our analysis, we were astonished by the results.

“Although we had replicated the original study to the letter, we found no benefit in either of our bilingual groups; neither in the Gaelic-English bilinguals, nor the bilinguals speaking a variety of Asian languages.

“At first we were stumped. How could this be? How could we have failed to find an effect, when we knew there was supposed to be one?

“When we began to dig deeper, we discovered that – far from being an anomaly – our study is actually one in a now growing number of studies that fail to find that bilingualism makes you smarter.

“In other words, there is actually no conclusive evidence that bilingualism makes you smarter.”

Referring to something called ‘publication bias’ – where a study only gets published if an effect is found – the authors point out that, at present, it is misleading for educational policy recommendations to be based on the belief that learning languages makes you smarter when it is not yet clear whether this is true.

Publication bias is a long-standing problem, and is one of the main causes for this myth about bilingualism having been created.

Professor Kempe continues:

“Saying that ‘some scientists carried out a study, but didn’t find anything’, doesn’t make for a very good story – and that is where the problem lies.

“There is so much pressure to demonstrate novelty and real-life impact that it has sometimes been difficult for scientists to get studies published if they haven’t found something startling and newsworthy.

“Other factors that come with being bilingual – like being an immigrant or coming from a culture which values mentally challenging activities – may be responsible for a benefit in some instances.

“Psychologists are working hard to find out whether studying more languages and knowing them well can really make a difference to mental agility, but so far we simply do not have conclusive evidence.

“What we can do in the meanwhile, though, is to encourage everybody – especially young people – to learn languages not based on the selfish motive of boosting individual brain power, but because knowing languages affords us the opportunity to connect with different people from different backgrounds and cultures.

“Perhaps being able to see the world from another point of view is the most beneficial and mind-enhancing effect that comes with learning languages.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to Editors:

  • Vera Kempe is Professor of the Psychology of Language Learning at Abertay University. Born in Russia and brought up in the former East Berlin in Germany, Professor Kempe is fluent in Russian, German and English.
  • This research was carried out by PhD student Neil Kirk. The paper is entitled ‘No evidence for reduced Simon cost in elderly bilinguals and bidialectals’.
  • The cognitive test that was used is known as the Simon task, which enables psychologists to examine inhibitory control.

Originally it was proposed that bilingualism helps suppress irrelevant information – needed, for example, when trying to ignore the intrusively loud conversations of fellow train passengers while attempting to read your newspaper.

Since bilinguals constantly have to suppress one language while using the other, it was assumed that over time they get better at suppressing irrelevant information in general, not just in the context of using language.

Neil’s research – and that of many others – has shown that this is, in fact, not an established fact after all and that further research is needed before claims that being bilingual makes you smarter can be made.

  • The average age of the 80 participants in this study was 70. The ages ranged from 60 to 89 years.

16 bilingual participants were speakers of Gaelic and Standard Scottish English. They were recruited from the Western Isles and the West coast of Scotland.

16 bilinguals were speakers of English and either Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Malay, Punjabi or Urdu who had immigrated to the UK before the age of 35. They were recruited from London and Dundee.

16 bidialectals were speakers and regular users of Standard Scottish English and Dundonian. They were recruited from Dundee.

16 monodialectals spoke Standard Scottish English, but had regular exposure to, and could understand (but did not use) the Dundonian dialect. They were recruited from Dundee.

16 monolinguals were speakers of Anglo-English, spoken in the South of England. They were recruited from different parts of England and Scotland.


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OAPs get fit with HIT

The health of OAPs can be dramatically improved with high-intensity training (HIT), a new study has shown.

Scientists at Abertay University, who specialise in exercise and the ageing process, put a group of pensioners through the exercise regime – a population group on which HIT had never been tested before.

They found that – in just six weeks – doing one minute of exercise twice a week not only significantly increased physical fitness and functional ability (the ability to get up out of a chair or carry shopping), but also significantly reduced blood pressure – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

These discoveries have important implications.

Currently, more than 10 million people in the UK are aged over 65, with this figure set to double in the next 30 years.

As people get older, muscles get weaker and smaller, and poor muscle function is a major health concern in the elderly.

The older population is also at greater risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes and – together with frailty – these health issues cost the NHS in the region of £30 billion a year.

Although it is well-known that exercise can help reduce the effects of these age-related declines and can improve quality of life, the majority of older people find it difficult to meet the current exercise guidelines.

These consist of performing moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity – such as fast walking or running – several days per week.

Lack of time is reported as the most common barrier to meeting these guidelines, and the research team at Abertay believes that HIT offers an alternative to the current, unrealistic, recommendations.

Dr John Babraj explains:

“The ageing process is generally looked on quite negatively by society, with everyone knowing that you find it more difficult to carry out day-to-day activities like standing up from your chair, or carrying your shopping, as you get older.

“What we found with this study – which involves doing just one minute of exercise twice week – is that it not only improved the participants’ physical health and ability to do these things, but also their perceptions of their own ability to engage in physical activity. They enjoyed it, were delighted with the effects it had on their health and, on top of that, felt they could fit it into their lives, which is something they aren’t able to do with current exercise recommendations.

“If people aren’t meeting the targets, we need to find ways to work with them when it comes to exercise, rather than just persisting with something that isn’t working. High-intensity training is an achievable alternative that could make a real difference to people’s health and their quality of life.

“With the current increase in the number of retired people, it is important that we find new ways to keep them active that have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing.

“There is eight years of evidence which shows that HIT has a significant impact on obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and this study adds to that, showing that it is something that older people can benefit from too.”

In the study participants were divided into two groups, with one acting as a control and the other required to take part in two sessions of high-intensity training per week.

Each session consisted of 6-second all-out sprints on an exercise bike, with each participant fitted with a heart rate monitor throughout.

The number of sprints in each session was progressively increased over the course of the trial from 6 x 6-second sprints to 10 x 6-second sprints.

A minimum of one minute recovery time was allowed between each sprint, and participants were not allowed to start sprinting again until their heart rate had gone back down to below 120bpm.

Dr Babraj concludes:

“When it comes to the sprints, you don’t have to go at the speed of someone like Usain Bolt. As long as you are putting in your maximal effort – whatever speed that happens to be – it will improve your health.

“However, as with any type of exercise, it is important to consult with your doctor before you begin doing HIT, in case there are any underlying health issues.”

The research team are always keen to hear from people who would like to take part in their studies. Anyone wishing to volunteer or find out more can email


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to Editors:

  • The paper – entitled ‘Extremely short duration high-intensity training substantially improves the physical function and self-reported health status of an elderly population‘ – is published in the latest edition of The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
  • Dr John Babraj is a Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at Abertay University. He published the first major paper demonstrating that HIT improves insulin sensitivity (the ability of insulin to clear glucose from the bloodstream) and aerobic fitness in sedentary people.
  • The current exercise guidelines for older people consist of performing moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity – such as fast walking or running – for at least 30 minutes, five days per week.
  • The fourteen, untrained individuals in this study reported at the time of signing up to take part that they had done no regular exercise during the previous 12 months. A health check established that they were all healthy – taking no prescribed medications – and all had the approval of their doctors to start exercising.

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Scientists grow tiny beating human hearts to give them heart disease and find a cure

Miniature human hearts that beat of their own accord are being grown by scientists at Abertay University.

They have been developed specifically to find a cure for heart hypertrophy – a form of heart disease that can lead to sudden death.

Made from stem cells, the tiny hearts are just 1mm in diameter and contract at around 30 beats per minute.

Although healthy to begin with, the scientists are using chemicals to simulate the physiological conditions that will make them become hypertrophic – enlarged, due to abnormal growth of the cells that make up the heart (cardiomyocytes).

Once diseased, the hearts are then treated with newly developed medications to see if they can prevent the damage from occurring.

Hypertrophic cardiomyocyte

Hypertrophic cardiomyocyte

Professor Nikolai Zhelev, who is leading this research, explains:

“Although human hearts have been grown in labs before, this is the first time it has ever been possible to induce disease in them.

“Heart hypertrophy can be hereditary, can be caused by diseases such as diabetes, or can be caused by doing too much strenuous exercise.

“The disease causes the heart muscle to thicken and stiffen, and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body.

“In some people, a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm will develop, and this is the most common cause of sudden death in young people.

“Although there are treatments, these only help to control the symptoms, and there is no known cure at the moment.”

Hypertrophic cardiomyocyte with DNA and drug target highlighted

Hypertrophic cardiomyocyte with DNA and drug target highlighted

However, the miniature hearts being grown in Professor Zhelev’s lab could help change that.

Using biosensors, Professor Zhelev has been able to label specific molecules within the miniature hearts to see where they are going – which pathway they follow.

By establishing which molecules cause the hearts to become hypertrophic, he has been able to target drugs at these molecules and prevent them from going down the path they would usually take, and prevent them from becoming hypertrophic.

He continues:

“We’ve tested a number of different compounds on these hearts – some of them entirely new ones that haven’t been tested in humans yet, which is why we’re testing them on these hearts we’ve grown in the lab.

“One of these compounds, however, is a drug that we have developed which has just completed phase-two clinical trials in cancer patients and has had very positive results.

“Although heart cells are the only ones in the body that will never get cancer, we noticed that the pathways the molecules in hypertrophic hearts follow are similar to those followed by molecules in cancerous cells, so we thought testing this new drug on these hearts might have the same positive effect. And this has certainly proved to be the case.

“Some of the compounds we’ve tested have had undesirable effects – such as increasing the number of beats the hearts do per minute and making them stop beating – but others, such as the new cancer drug that is in development, have managed to protect the hearts and prevent them from becoming hypertrophic.

“We are still testing new drugs using this system to find new compounds with better efficiency and fewer side-effects.

“Once we know exactly which compounds work and which don’t we’ll begin developing new drugs which will then undergo further tests, before eventually being trialled in humans.

“Although there is still a long way to go before the drugs become available commercially, we are extremely hopeful that we will one day be able to stop heart hypertrophy from developing in those at risk of the disease.”

To move the experiments further along, Professor Zhelev has begun working with Professor Jim Bown – a systems biologist who uses computer models and games technology to visualise cell behaviour.

He has started taking the data from Professor Zhelev’s experiments to create computer models that will predict how the cells are likely to grow.

This means that, rather than merely looking at a set of mathematical equations, Professor Zhelev will be able to see how the cells he is growing are likely to develop over time and how they will be affected by a particular drug.

Working with partners at St Andrews and Edinburgh universities, Professor Bown has already shown that this technology can inform experiments in cancer.

This research with heart hypertrophy is an exciting new development and the model could, eventually, be used to help find cures and preventative treatments for other types of diseases as well.

Professor Bown explains:

“By creating interactive models and interactive animations which visualise cell growth, we are able to simulate what would happen if different doses and combinations of drugs are applied to cancerous cells, and to predict how they will affect cell growth.

“Because the signalling pathways in cancer cells and hypertrophic heart cells are so similar, we’ve been able to adapt this technology and apply it to cardiomyocytes.

“The way this will work is by taking information about how the cells grow from Nikolai initially, building models based on that data and making suggestions to him about which experiments to try out next. So we’re carrying out a mix of experimental and theoretical biology here, using complex new technology to help us better understand the systems we’re working with.

“Ultimately, the aim is to reduce the number of wet-lab experiments that Nikolai needs to do in order to find the drugs that are most likely to prevent heart hypertrophy from developing.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to Editors:

Professor Nikolai Zhelev is a cancer biologist and Professor of Medical Biotechnology at Abertay University, where he is also Director of the Centre for Molecular Cellular Biosensor Research (CMCBR).

He will present this research for the first time as a plenary talk at the 5th World Congress on Biotechnology in Valencia, Spain, on Thursday, June 26 at 2.45pm.

Professor Jim Bown is a computer scientist, who uses computational models to understand complex biological phenomena.

He is Professor of Systems Biology at Abertay University, where he is Co-Director of the Scottish Informatics, Mathematics, Biology and Statistics (SIMBIOS) Centre.

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Diabetes prevented with just two minutes’ exercise

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by doing just two sessions of high-intensity training (HIT) a week, new research published in the journal Biology has shown.

In the paper, the authors from Abertay University state that HIT not only reduces the risk of disease, but is also just as effective at doing so as the exercise guidelines currently recommended by the UK Government.

These state that five, 30-minute sessions of exercise should be carried out each week – something that very few people manage to achieve.

The most common reason cited for this is lack of time, and the research team behind this latest study believe that HIT is the perfect way for people who are time-poor to improve their health.

In the study, overweight adults – a group at high-risk of developing diabetes – took part in a HIT regime for a period of eight weeks.

This involved completing twice-weekly sprints on an exercise bike, with each sprint lasting just six seconds.

10 sprints were completed in total during each session, amounting to just two minutes of exercise per week.

This short, but high-intensity, regime was enough to significantly improve cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity – the body’s ability to clear glucose from the bloodstream – in the participants, and is the first time that so little exercise has been shown to have such significant health benefits.

Previous research by the same team had shown that three HIT sessions a week were required, but this study has eclipsed these results by showing that the same can be achieved with just two.

Dr John Babraj – who heads up the high-intensity training research team at Abertay University – explains:

“With this study, we investigated the benefits of high-intensity training (HIT) in a population group known to be at risk of developing diabetes: overweight, middle-aged adults.

“We found that not only does HIT reduce the risk of them developing the disease, but also that the regime needs to be performed only twice a week in order for them to reap the benefits. And you don’t have to be able to go at the speed of Usain Bolt when you’re sprinting. As long as you are putting your maximal effort into the sprints, it will improve your health.

“And this is the beauty of high-intensity training: it is quick to do and it is effective. Although it is well-established that exercise is a powerful therapy for the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes, only 40 per cent of men and 28 per cent of women in the UK achieve the recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on five days of the week.

“Lack of time to exercise, due to work or family commitments, is cited as the most common barrier to participation, so high-intensity training offers a really effective solution to this problem and has the added benefit of reducing disease risk which activities such as walking – even if done five days a week for 30 minutes – don’t offer.

“There is a clear relationship between the intensity of exercise and the magnitude of health improvement, so it is only through these short, high-intensity sprints that health improvements can be seen.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to editors:

  • Abertay is the only university in Scotland where research into HIT is carried ou
  • Dr John Babraj published the first major paper demonstrating that HIT improves insulin sensitivity (the ability of insulin to clear glucose from the bloodstream) and aerobic fitness in sedentary young people.
  • According to Diabetes UK, Since 1996 the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has increased from 1.4 million to 2.9 million. By 2025 it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes. Most of these cases will be Type 2 diabetes, because of our ageing population and rapidly rising numbers of overweight and obese people.

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3D printed soil reveals the world beneath our feet

Soil scientists at Abertay University are using 3D printing technology to find out, for the very first time, exactly what is going on in the world beneath our feet.

In the same way that ecologists study the interactions of living organisms above ground, Professor Wilfred Otten and researchers at the university’s SIMBIOS Centre are taking advantage of the new technology to do the same below ground.

Using X-ray Computed Tomography (CT scanning), the team have already been able to create 3D images of the intricate structure of soil – a network of pores not unlike the holes in an Emmental cheese.

3D image of soil

However, they now want to know how these holes, or “pore spaces”, determine the ways in which the fungi and bacteria living within them interact.

And 3D printing technology has enabled the scientists to start finding out, as they can now turn the 3D images on the computer screen into real-life, hand-held, 3D objects.

The incredibly detailed plastic cubes that are printed out are replicas of the structure of the soil, and are being used by the scientists as experimental systems in the lab.

By inserting microorganisms (such as fungi and bacteria) into the pore spaces within the plastic soil, the scientists can now observe how these microorganisms move through it, survive, find food sources and interact.

Fungus growing in the 3D printed soil

Although 3D printing is becoming more common, and people can buy 3D printers to use at home, it has never been used to print something so intricate and detailed as soil before.

Before CT scanning became available, soil samples were dug up and the structure and pore networks of the soil were disrupted.

This, Professor Wilfred Otten explains, was like studying the rubble of a demolished building:

“In the past, before X Ray CT scanning became available, soil samples were taken back to the lab and studied there. But that’s like studying the rubble of a collapsed building – you would never be able to tell what the structure of the building had been before it fell down, how many rooms it had, or how many people lived in or used it, and all the different things the different people used it for.

“These days we all know about the ways that species interact with each other and their environments above ground, and how sensitive they are to changes in their habitats. What we often forget, however, is that everything above ground relies on the soil it stands on – it plays a major role in food security and the carbon cycle, for example – but we still know very little about what goes on down there.

“What we have become aware of over recent years is that there are millions of organisms living in just 1g of soil. We know that they move around a lot within that environment, and that they interact with each other, but it has always been difficult to study these interactions in the natural environment.

“So 3D printing is a major breakthrough for us, because we now have the ability to examine the structure of soil up close, to see how big the pore spaces within it are, how they are linked together, and how the bacteria move through them as we watch their progress in the lab.”

fungal growth

Dr Ruth Falconer, who works with Professor Otten in SIMBIOS, adds:

“In our experiments, we think of the 3D prints as microcosms and use them to test theoretical models that predict how microbes (like fungi and bacteria) live and survive in 3D structures such as soil.

“We can analyse one species to begin with – providing it with simple food sources – and gradually add more complexity, so that we can eventually get close to replicating the environment they would naturally live in below ground.

“However, it isn’t just the 3D printing which makes all this possible. The CT scanning is how we obtain all the data which shows us what the pore structure looks like so, without it, these live experiments wouldn’t be possible.”

Professor Otten concludes:

“By printing out the structure of the soil in 3D, we are now beginning to find out exactly what is going on in the soil underground and, although we are still in the very early stages of our experiments, we will eventually be able to move away from looking at isolated sections of soil to looking at the bigger picture, as we will have a much better understanding of the implications that our over-use of soil has for food security in an ever growing population, as well as soil’s role in climate change.”


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to Editors:

SIMBIOS – the Scottish Informatics, Mathematics, Biology, and Statistics Centre – is an interdisciplinary research team at Abertay University that focuses on understanding what goes on at a microscopic level so that we can better understand the environment in which we live.

The team are world renowned for their work with soils and ecosystems, with leading academics from around the world having joined the Centre in recent years.

The 3D printer used by Abertay to create the plastic cubes of soil’s structure belongs to the ESPRC-funded Additive Manufacturing Centre at Nottingham University.

A 1cm³ sample of soil is used to create one of the experimental cubes currently used in the SIMBIOS labs.

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Invisible artwork to be created during forensic science residency this summer

Cloud Chamber by Beatrice Haines

Out of over 110 applications, London-based artist Beatrice Haines has been selected to work within Abertay University’s ground-breaking forensic science department this summer, as the University’s artist-in-residence.

Spending up to four days in the lab with Dr Kevin Farrugia, Beatrice will explore the many ways in which print visualisation techniques – such as chemical enhancement and specialised photography – can be manipulated to recover finger- and shoeprints from crime scenes.

The purpose of the residency is to produce a work of art that will be exhibited at the inaugural Print Festival Scotland – a celebration of the cultural diversity, historical significance and future potential of print.

The Festival will run alongside the world renowned Impact8 International Printmaking Conference, which will be held this year in Dundee.

Print Festival Scotland events will take place across the country, but Dundee has a particularly rich printing and printmaking heritage, and there is a strong link between these disciplines and the field of forensic science.

A multi-disciplinary artist, Beatrice is keen for the artwork she creates to reflect the scientific nature of the residency.

She intends to do this by creating a series of interactive, and potentially invisible, prints that will undergo a physical change as they are viewed, making the spectator feel as if they have taken part in a scientific experiment.

This will be achieved by treating the prints, made in diluted blood, with a substance such as Acid Yellow 7 – one of many chemicals used by forensic scientists to enhance latent fingerprints in blood at crime scenes.

The presence of Acid Yellow 7 on the print will mean that, when it is viewed under special lighting, it will fluoresce and bring the print to the fore so it can be seen for the first time by the naked eye.

Speaking about what made Bea’s proposal stand out from the others, Clare Brennan, who was a member of the selection panel and is curator of the Hannah Maclure Centre – Abertay University’s exhibition space and art gallery – said:

“There were so many amazing ideas for this residency, so I must first just say thank you to everyone who applied. It really was wonderful reading through such a range of high-quality proposals.

“But Bea’s one stood out from the start, and I think this was mainly because the essence of Kevin’s research was so evidently already embedded in her work.

“She uses prints to record the traces of their lives that people leave behind them, and spoke about how these traces have their own story to tell, just like forensic evidence does.

“It just fits perfectly with the reason that we decided to offer this residency, which was to bring science out from behind closed doors and into a different, and perhaps more easily understandable and engaging, environment.”

Beatrice will have full use of the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts) Print Studio to develop ideas inspired by her time in the lab.

The Print Studio has some of the best printmaking facilities in Scotland, from the traditional printing presses right up to the latest digital and electronic forms.

Speaking about why she applied for the residency and what she hopes to create, Beatrice Haines said:

“Scientific enquiry and, more specifically, forensics, has been an underlying inspiration in my artwork for many years, so when I discovered the chance to do a residency in a forensics lab I jumped at the opportunity.

“The links between forensics and printmaking (the study of fingerprints, shoe imprints, tyre prints etc) provides rich ground for an artist, so being able to create my artworks at DCA’s Print Studio and exhibit them at Impact8 is really exciting.

“With the artwork I create, I want the viewer to experience the same sensation that I had looking through a microscope for the first time – that a secret has suddenly been exposed. So the idea of being able to create something that suddenly materialises or, at the very least, changes, right before people’s eyes, will, hopefully, capture their imaginations.

“As well as the prints, I hope to make some sculpture for the residency which, like the prints, will physically change as people look at them. I’m really looking forward to getting started with this – I’ve never witnessed the functionings of a working lab before, so it’ll be fascinating getting to see behind the scenes and getting the chance to experiment with the new techniques I learn about.”

Applications for the residency came from all over the world, including Thailand, Brazil, Australia, the USA, Taiwan, Serbia, Ukraine, Hong Kong and many more.

Proposals were from artists working in sound design, sculpture, print, painting, performance, photography, as well as interactive media.

To find out more about Beatrice, and to view her portfolio, please visit

A selection of her work includes:

  • Sanatorium, Solo exhibition at Marlborough College, 2011
  • A Place Called Home, exhibition at the Clearlake Hotel in London, 2012
  • The Open West, upcoming exhibition at Newark Park National Trust House and Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, July 2013.

She was also winner of The Mann Drawing Prize 2010 and nominee for Best Newcomer at the Royal Academy Summer Show 2007.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07922041198 E:

Notes to Editors:

  • The residency opportunity was offered jointly by Abertay University and the art collective Yuck ‘n Yum.
  • Abertay University is at the forefront of forensics research and has made a number of breakthroughs in this field over recent years. For example, the University recently published the UK’s first academic paper on how to recover latent fingerprints from foods.
  • Yuck ‘n Yum has been sponsored by the Hannah Maclure Centre for the past few years and is making waves in the arts world. The black and white zine Yuck ‘n Yum produce comes out every quarter, and is distributed across the UK as well as, more recently, in Europe. They have a huge network of artists who have contributed work to the zine and participated in their many public art projects:
  • Print Festival Scotland will run from August 23 – September 1. It will feature an extensive programme of exhibitions, performances and public print events across the country
  • The Impact8 International Printmaking Conference is an international forum for print artists and artisans, academics and educators, theorists and critics, curators and collectors, and suppliers of printmaking materials and presses. It will take place in Dundee between August 28 and September 1.
  • Now in its 14th year, it is being organised in Dundee by Dr Paul Harrison and Professor Elaine Shemilt from the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. The conference is held every two years, with previous editions having taken place in Melbourne, Bristol, Tallinn, Berlin, Poznan, Cape Town, and Helsinki.
  • The theme of this years conference is ‘Borders and Crossings: the artist as explorer’ and is intended to celebrate the practice, concept and application of print and printmaking in its widest possible constituency.
  • It is a celebration of the cross-disciplinary nature of print and fits well with Abertay’s own interdisciplinary approach: the Hannah Maclure Centre is part of Abertay’s Institute of Arts, Media and Computer Games, and the Division of Environment and Forensic Sciences where Dr Farrugia works is part of the University’s School of Contemporary Sciences.
  • There is a strong printmaking heritage in Dundee: the publishing company DC Thomson has been printing newspapers and magazines in the city for over 100 years – and it is from the printing industry that the techniques print artists use originate.

Over the centuries, as new inventions and developments were made in the printing industry, artists adopted and experimented with these techniques to make works of art.

Screenprinting, for example – made famous by Andy Warhol’s pop art prints – was initially used for on printing cartons and boxes.

Etching – used to decorate guns, armour, cups and plates – was adopted by artists such as Rembrandt, Goya and Castiglione.

Woodblock printing, used by artists such as Edvard Munch, was originally used for printing the letters in books and newspapers.

And lithography, which was used by Toulouse-Lautrec for his iconic posters of Parisian life, was also originally used as a method of commercial printing.

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Digital storytelling to put compassion back at the heart of social care

Dr Rosie Stenhouse and digital storyteller Rob 2

An innovative new digital resource that puts compassion right at the heart of social care will today (Wednesday, May 29th) be sent to the Nursing Directors of NHS Boards across the United Kingdom.

Entitled “Dangling Conversations”, the resource is a unique collection of reflective digital stories created to help people working in care re-engage with the personal experiences of their patients.

Recent reports – such as the Francis Report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust – have identified that there is a lack of compassion in the care and treatment of older people within the NHS.

The digital stories offer a practical solution to help address this.

Researchers at the University of Abertay Dundee and specialists from the award-winning Patient Voices Programme created the stories in a Reflective Digital Storytelling workshop with seven patients in the early stages of dementia, and one paid carer.

Each story is unique and is of personal importance to the individual telling it.

There was no obligation for the narrators to talk about their illness, but knowing that the story is told by someone with dementia, shapes how the listener hears and interprets it.

Each story is a blend of their past and present lives, and is accompanied by photographs and a series of reflective questions.

Together, these encourage the listener to think about the person telling the story, and about how they could use the insight the story has given them into the patient’s life, to provide the patient with better care.

Taken as a package, the stories equip the listener with what is known as “aesthetic knowledge” – an understanding of the human experience that is integral to the capacity of nurses to care for their patients.

It is hoped, by drawing the attention of NHS staff to the free availability of this resource, that it will lead to more compassionate care being delivered by both current and future healthcare providers and practitioners.

Dr Rosie Stenhouse, who was part of the team that developed the resource, explains why this is so important:

“In this post-Francis era – where the spotlight is going to be increasingly on nurse education, nursing practice, and how we are going to ensure that compassion is right at the heart of our care system – we need to take positive action to make sure that the type of poor-practice that occurred at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital, and elsewhere, never happens again.

“Policy changes can take months, if not years, but the digital stories in this collection are freely available online right now, so anyone working in a care setting, anywhere in the world, can access them.

“They can be used as a group teaching tool within hospitals, or can be listened to at home, and are as relevant to students as they are to those already working in care.

“We know from research that digital storytelling has a real impact on people’s emotions and helps with the development of empathy, so digital media has opened up a whole new range of teaching and learning opportunities for us.

“Previously, we relied on inviting patients into the classroom to talk about their experiences of healthcare and their health issues, but there have always been a number of ethical concerns about asking somebody with dementia to do this.

“So instead, we’ve relied on videos and other recorded material, where carers, and sometimes people with dementia, have talked about their illness-related experiences in response to interviewers’ questions.

“But with the digital stories there were no interviewers asking questions – each story was chosen and developed by the person narrating it, and each one is personal to the storyteller, so this is very different from what we’ve been able to do before.

“The digital stories aren’t designed to replace current teaching, but they do add a new dimension to it. They don’t all have to be listened to at once – they can be used over a range of different teaching sessions – and, because there are seven of them, it really helps get across the diversity of experiences that dementia brings.

“Because they are the stories of real people – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives – who have lives, histories, interests, jobs, and families, they really tap into people’s emotions, and it’s this personal connection that really draws people into the stories when we play them.”

Pip Hardy from the Patient Voices Programme said:

“Patient Voices was initially set up to give a voice to people who are not heard, and to help them tell their stories in such a way that the clinicians, managers and decision-makers listening to them become aware of the effects that the actions and decisions they take have on their patients.

“The use of stories as an educational resource is based on the acknowledgment that behavioural and systemic change often stems from a felt understanding of the implications of decisions, rather than from a purely abstract or theoretical one.

“Stories can be used to communicate visions and needs in a powerful way, as they offer a compelling and practical means of exploring issues and experiences from different perspectives, while promoting reflection and stimulating dialogue and debate.

“Robert Francis QC recently wrote in his report on the Mid Staffs scandal that “It is the individual experiences that lie behind statistics and benchmarks and action plans that really matter”, and it is these “individual experiences” that the Patient Voices digital stories get across.

“In the past year alone, we’ve had over 750,000 hits on our website, with a significant number of stories being downloaded for use in education and quality improvement programmes, and we hope that this number will continue to rise, as healthcare workers and management take action in the wake of the Francis report.”

The resource can be accessed on the homepage of the Abertay University website.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07922041198 E:

Notes to Editors:

  • In addition to the NHS Nursing Directors, information about Dangling Conversations will be sent to research institutions, health ministers, local authorities and health care charities across the UK.
  • The digital stories were created by the staff and service users of the Dundee Alzheimer’s Scotland Resource Centre during a four-day Patient Voices workshop facilitated by The Patient Voices Programme and researchers at the University of Abertay Dundee.
  • The Patient Voices Programme was founded by social entrepreneurs Pip Hardy and Tony Sumner in 2003, and aims to facilitate the telling and the hearing of some of the unwritten and unspoken stories of ordinary people so that those who devise and implement strategy in health and social care, as well as the professionals and clinicians directly involved in care, may carry out their duties in a more informed and compassionate manner.

The Patient Voices digital storytelling methodology is recognised by the National Audit Office (NAO), and others, as providing an excellent way to gather qualitative data about what really matters to patients, carers and service users.

The work Patient Voices has done on stories and storytelling in healthcare is a key element in a new initiative concerned with ‘humanising healthcare’ that involves the NAO, the Appointments Commission, the Royal College of Nursing and others.

Dangling Conversations is just one of over 500 stories on the Patient Voices website, that are told by people of different ages, from different cultures, about different experiences and a wide range of conditions.

The Patient Voices Programme won the British Medical Journal Award for Excellence in Healthcare Education in 2010; received a commendation in the 2007 Creating an Interprofessional Workforce (CIPW) Awards, and won the Dartmouth Hitchcock University Clinical Microsystems Conference Award for Minimizing Unnecessary Switching – Patients, Learners, and Professionals – Fewer Handoffs and the People’s Choice (Paul Batalden) Award in 2004.”

  • Aesthetic knowledge was first identified by Carper – an influential nursing education theorist – in 1978 and is now an established academic concept that is increasingly being used in clinical practice and policy-making.

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