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MPs’ Royal Society visit

19 January 2010

Jenny Willott MP is shown key brain imaging techniques with her fellow MP Roger Williams (left to right) by Dr David McGonigle and Dr Natalia LawrenceJenny Willott MP is shown key brain imaging techniques with her fellow MP Roger Williams (left to right) by Dr David McGonigle and Dr Natalia Lawrence

Members of Parliament Jenny Willott and Roger Williams have visited the University as part of a unique ‘pairing’ scheme run by the Royal Society.

The two Welsh MPs were given the chance to see first-hand and experience life in psychological research. They visited the University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre where they experienced a simulated MRI scan before seeing a real brain imaging study in action.

They also tried their hand at some psychology tests and met with research students and staff in the School of Psychology.

The visit follows a four-day visit to Westminster in November which saw Dr Natalia Lawrence from the School of Psychology paired with Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central and Dr David McGonigle, of the Schools of Psychology and Biosciences, with Roger Williams, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire.

Jenny Willott MP said: "This pairing scheme has been fascinating. I found it very interesting hearing Natalia's take on some of my meetings in Westminster and thoroughly enjoyed my time in CUBRIC.

"I have learned a lot and it has made me look at some current political issues in a new light."

The Scheme, established in 2001 as part of the Science in Society programme, aims to build bridges between some of the best research workers in the country and members of the UK parliament.

Dr David McGonigle, from the Schools of Psychology and Biosciences, was able to demonstrate to the MPs neuroimaging techniques that he uses to study the function of touch processing in the human brain, which has implications for disorders such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Dr McGonigle said: "Following our visit to Westminster this was an opportunity for us to return the favour and for the MPs to experience something of our day-to-day life as an academic. With scientists under increasing pressure to demonstrate the immediate social and economic impact of their work, we hope that this visit will highlight the importance of funding basic research which often takes a number of years before its impact is appreciated."

The MP-Scientist Pairing Scheme is a unique way of illustrating to scientists how their research can inform and influence the political process, and also provides politicians with the opportunity to increase their understanding of science and its role in society.

Dr Natalia Lawrence, School of Psychology, demonstrated to the MPs how brain imaging and behavioural techniques can be used to tease apart conscious and unconscious (habitual) motivations to eat, which has implications for understanding obesity.

Dr Lawrence said: "The MP-Scientist Pairing Scheme has been a real eye-opener for us scientists and for the politicians. MPs are incredibly busy and have to cope with a wide range of complex issues and perspectives, whereas scientists strive for focused expertise and prioritise evidence. We obviously need to work together for the good of society and this scheme demonstrates how we can do this."

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