The unofficial psychology blog from Paul Hutchings

About me

Dr. Paul Hutchings CPsychol

BSc Psychology (Cardiff)

MRes (Cardiff)

PhD (Cardiff)

Primary Research Interests: Prejudice and discrimination; Group processes; Emotion displays and recognition; Influence of values on attitudes; Use of computer-mediated communication.

Current Position: Psychology Programme Director, Swansea Metropolitan University (2009 – present)

Member: British Psychological Society; American Psychological Association; European Association for Social Psychology; Association for Psychological Science; Society for Personality & Social Psychology.

Secretary: British Psychological Society Welsh Branch (2010 – 2011); formerly Treasurer (2008 – 10).

A potted life history

I was born in 1970, and spent the early years of my life growing up in a tiny, quite bizarre fishing village (Clovelly) in North Devon, England. It was an idyllic upbringing which left me completely unprepared for life outside of the confines of such a remote place! My father worked for the village as a sort of caretaker/odd-job man whilst my mother worked in a souvenir stall during the summer. It was certainly the case at the time that the majority of the village were probably ‘money poor’, but it was the sort of place where that didn’t actually matter – the money side of things never really meant that much in Clovelly, and the rewards were far more intrinsic.

My education up until the age of 11 was largely through the efforts of my fantastic primary school teacher, Mr. Curtis, who encouraged me to read and write pretty much whatever I wanted (ah, the days before prescriptive teaching from the age of four!), my grandfather who encouraged me to read everything possible, and the availability of whatever books were being sold for 10p at local jumble sales. And so my formative years were spent learning from the writings of Enid Blyton, Dashiel Hammet, Damon Runyon, George MacDonald Frasier, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Sven Hassell (possibly not to be encouraged on the modern school curriculum!). A trip to the library in Bideford, a few miles away, meant that I could get about five books which had to be returned a fortnight later – so I had no choice but to read lots and read quickly!

I feel terrible about senior school (Bideford School, or Bideford College as it is now). A perfectly good school, but I must have made them tear their hair out! I had talent, but no motivation (if any of my university students are reading this – you know that this is the one thing that really winds me up, and I know that makes me a complete hypocrite – but there we go!). It was only many years later that I realised this, but it cost me dearly. I didn’t turn up, couldn’t be bothered learning anything, and reached the age of 18 with half a dozen fairly poor-grade O-levels to my name. It was my own fault – I get bored easily if something isn’t challenging me, and that is something that I have had to battle with all of my life. Whilst I can recognise it and deal with it now, at the time I didn’t deal with it. So, by the time I got to the age of 18 I was bordering on homeless, lacking in any useful qualifications, and wondering what to do next.

It is probably true to say that I only joined the Royal Air Force in early 1989 because it was raining! A friend had gone for an aptitude test at the local recruitment office and it was pouring with rain, so I went in with him instead of waiting outside. They suggested I take the test as well and I passed the test to enrol as an airframe engineer. The RAF gave me a challenge, and that helped shape me and my skills. The technical aspects appealed to me, I travelled the world and saw the good and the bad, and this gave me my first interest in the differences between people and cultures which would be my main focus in later studies.

On a New Year’s Day 1999 I woke up and could not move my legs without suffering extreme pain. I had done severe damage to my back (how, I don’t know) and spent the next two years struggling with this. I ended up deskbound, filling out paperwork instead of working with the aircraft, and this almost drove me out of my mind. I knew, after 13 years in the RAF, that my engineering career was over but, unlike at age 18, I had a plan – my future wasn’t going to be decided by the weather!

I had been at a graduation ceremony at the University of Plymouth the year before, and the titles of the theses were read out as the graduates were awarded their PhDs. The areas being studied fascinated me, and stimulated my desire to study psychology. I was accepted to study at Cardiff, at the time one of the top psychology departments in the UK (and still is in my opinion). I threw myself into my studies; I had no choice. I knew nothing about psychology as a subject, and was having to learn everything from scratch. I seemed to have a flair for it though, particularly for seeing things in an ‘out-of-the-box’ way. I would often find myself asking questions that I thought were common-sense, but it turned out that things hadn’t been looked at in those ways. My outlook on life was also changed dramatically by being caught up in the suicide attack on Bandaranaike airport in Sri Lanka in 2001 and, perversely, I think this has helped me as well. It reinforced my desire to understand why people could dislike other groups so much.

There are many areas of psychology that interest me, such as biological/cognitive neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology. But my main areas have always been social psychology and social cognition, specifically the studies of prejudice and how group membership influences people. I worked as an unpaid research assistant during the university holidays to gain experience in scientific methods, and this helped me to formulate my ideas and gain ESRC funding for my PhD. I was fortunate to have brilliant supervision from Professor Geoff Haddock and Dr. Michael Lewis for my PhD, and they helped me to develop both my theories and the right way of doing things (so for all of my students who tire of me insisting that they do things in the right way, you have them to blame!)

As I approached the end of my PhD I started to look for work. I had to consider long and hard what I wanted to do – I was now 37 and the thought of temporary post-doc positions for the next few years was quite daunting. So I applied to all sorts of places, for post-docs and lectureships and jobs outside of academia as well. I arrived for an interview at SMU with no real intention of taking the job should I get it – but when I saw the potential and the challenge, I couldn’t resist. I love where I live, and loved the idea of helping to really build something. That was three years ago and I’m still here. Some days I go home exhausted and literally fall into bed, after 14 – 16 hours of non-stop work, and some days I rant and rage for a while. But I have never been bored and never gone home unhappy!

So that is me – I’m no genius in the common sense of the word, I’ve certainly had no favours from life – I’ve just worked extremely hard to get where I am today (eventually!). I started out as a boy from a normal family in a remote village, left school at 18 with almost nothing, ended up in warzones and got my hands dirty as an engineer, and at age 40 ended up with an undergraduate degree, a masters degree and a doctorate in a subject that I love. I go out at night and play pool, listen to rock, punk and opera, have my moods influenced far too much by the (mis)fortunes of Coventry City Football Club (pity my students on a Monday morning!), and enjoy the things that everyone else does. I just happen to have an ability which gained me a PhD.

In all likelihood I’m despised by my students because I insist on making them learn things and do things whether they like it or not – and I don’t care whether they hate me or not, because I simply want them to achieve the best that they can and not screw their life up in the same way that I did when I was younger!


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