Society

2006 Doctoral award 

STUDIES into the way chimpanzees ‘talk’ to each other, both in the wild and captivity, have secured Dr Katie Slocombe the 2006 Award for Outstanding Doctoral Research Contributions to Psychology. The Society’s Research Board honoured Dr Slocombe, who was awarded her PhD from the University of St Andrews in December 2005, in recognition of her research on chimpanzee communication.
Dr Slocombe began her PhD because she thought that the absence of evidence of vocal behaviour in chimpanzees was due to a lack of concentration on the behavioural psychology of the animals, and not to a lack of competence in the apes
Her research showed that chimpanzees that engaged in arguments produced distinct scream vocalisations, depending on the social role they play in a conflict. Victim screams were different from aggressor screams and contained information about the severity of the aggression, even to the point where callers tended to exaggerate the severity if a high-ranking group member was in the audience and was potentially able to help. She also found that chimpanzees produced acoustically distinct grunt vocalisations when finding food. Callers encoded at least three different categories of food with these calls and she was able to assign different call variants to individual food items, suggesting these calls effectively functioned as names for foods.
Dr Slocombe was nominated by her supervisor, Dr Klaus Zuberbuhler, who said: ‘The impact of her findings on the scientific landscape cannot be overestimated. Her contributions have been extraordinary and absolutely outstanding. She has been able to show that our closest living relatives already possess some of the cognitive capacities required for a uniquely human skill – language.’
Dr Slocombe studied for a BSc in psychology at the University of Nottingham, gaining a First class honours degree in 2002. Since completing her PhD she has stayed at the University of St Andrews and is now a research fellow after securing nearly £150,000 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to continue her research with both wild chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest in Uganda and captive chimpanzees at Edinburgh Zoo.
On receiving the award Dr Slocombe said: ‘I am delighted to receive this award, and it’s a boost to the field of evolutionary psychology to receive such recognition from the BPS.’

Ethics Column No.11
REsearch on the internet
Advances in technology, such as the internet, have extended opportunities for research in psychology. The term ‘internet mediated research’ (IMR) covers a wide range of activities, from purely observational studies (e.g. analysis of behaviour of people in chatrooms), through surveys and in vivo quantitative studies (such as a comparison of the personality profiles of job applicants and employees), to highly structured and well-controlled experiments (e.g. a psycholinguistic lexical decision task). In January 2005, a working party to develop guidelines for conducting research on the internet was convened by the Research Board. The principal aim of this group was to provide a supplementary guidance document to the Code of Ethics and Conduct, focusing on additional ethical and practical issues inherent in IMR.
The resulting guidelines have now been approved by the Research Board and will be published in August 2007 (please contact Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard ([email protected]) for a copy). Two key dimensions (level of identifiability and level of observation) form the basis of the guidance offered in this document. Specifically, depending on the research design, participants in IMR can be identifiable or anonymous; they can explicitly consent to participate, or they can be invisibly observed without their knowledge.
Ten issues inherent when researching online are also covered within the guidelines – verifying identity; public/private space; informed consent; levels of control; withdrawal; debriefing; deception; monitoring; protection of participants and researchers; and data protection.
IMR, along with most innovations, brings with it many advantages for the researcher, but is accompanied by some corresponding constraints and disadvantages. Apparent or actual ease of obtaining/observing large numbers of participants from a range of backgrounds is set against problems of verification of their identity and control over research conditions and privacy. Issues such as protecting potentially vulnerable participants from inappropriate or distressing procedures and ensuring that they are able to give properly informed consent and that their confidentiality is maintained are clearly all relevant for an appropriate ethical code of practice. Other broader issues concerning control of experimental conditions, and so on, are also important, and step firmly into the realm that should be covered by ethical codes.
Nevertheless, the nature and speed of developments in information technology means that all eventualities cannot be anticipated, and researchers must be constantly alert to new potentials and pitfalls. As is stated in the Code of Ethics and Conduct: ‘Thinking is not optional.’

- For articles on the internet and research from The Psychologist archive, see www.bps.org.uk/4ruu and www.bps.org.uk/8xs2.

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber