UCL Institute of Mental Health


Small Grant Funding 2020

As part of its commitment to support mental health research, the IoMH has established a small grants scheme and is pleased to announce awards totalling £25,000 in the coming academic financial year.

Successful applications for our small grants scheme 2020/2021

The IoMH have successfully awarded 2020/21 Small Grants to fund three proposals that support interdisciplinary mental health research.

An exploration of how older people with hearing loss use videoconferencing technology to mitigate the effects of social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic

Lead applicants: Lucy Handscombe, Rebecca Gould 

Description: This project is a collaboration between four UCL departments: the Ear Institute, the Centre for Behaviour Change, the Division of Psychiatry and the Institute of Health Informatics. We are united by a keen interest in how older people with hearing loss are adapting to the use of videoconferencing platforms, which have become such a popular way of keeping in touch with friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of advice about shielding, people over 70 have been particularly isolated and at risk of suffering from loneliness and associated mental health problems. We want to know whether and to what extent people aged 70 and above with hearing loss have felt able to use videoconferencing, and whether this has mitigated feelings of loneliness. By conducting a survey and in-depth interviews, we will investigate perceived benefits as well as barriers and facilitators to use. With further lockdown periods predicted, we feel it is crucial and timely to gain a better understanding of how videoconferencing technology can be made more accessible and helpful to people most at risk of loneliness.

Computational mediators of behavioural activation and cognitive restructuring

Lead applicants: Quentin Huys, Steve Pilling

Description: Depression is an illness that affects many people around the world. One approach to treating it is psychotherapy. Although this has been proven to work, it does not work for all. Psychotherapies often contain many different components, such as behavioural and cognitive interventions. However, while therapy packages have been compared, we know less about how the components that make up a complex package work in individuals, and hence who will respond to which component. Here, we will attempt to understand why individuals respond to some but not other components by using specially designed computer tasks and computational models. The tasks probe specific cognitive and learning functions which are thought to be engaged by particular psychotherapeutic interventions. The aim is to use them to identify, in advance, who will or will not respond to a specific component, and to understand why this is.

Understanding paranoia in light of the social brain

Lead applicants: Nichola Raihani, Vaughn Bell

Description: We aim to understand the psychology of paranoid thinking. Paranoia is the commonest symptom in psychotic disorders but also exists as a continuous trait in the general population and involves the exaggerated belief that harm will occur and that this is intended by other people. Dysregulation of the brain’s dopamine system is present in psychosis and when induced through drugs, like amphetamines or antipsychotics, can cause or dampen paranoid delusions respectively. A central characteristic of paranoia is how it alters how we understand others. We are a profoundly social species, and part of social life involves detecting and avoiding threat from other people and rival coalitions. Dopamine is affected by social interactions and altering dopamine function affects social motivations. This suggests that dopamine may regulate how we perceive social groups and that this may go wrong in paranoia, and this is what this project aims to understand.

We will test two main hypotheses: [1] paranoia involves alterations to the perception of group boundaries (decreased in-group identification and perceiving groups where none exist) and an increased perception of conspiracy and [2] altering dopamine functioning of healthy participants through safe lab-based drug administration (using levodopa) will temporarily alter the perception of group boundaries in a similar way to paranoia. To test these ideas, we will use (i) large-N online behavioural experiments; and (2) lab-based dopaminergic manipulations. By manipulating dopamine in healthy subjects, we hope to tie paranoia-relevant mechanisms to a well-evidenced neural pathway.