Three PhD students in Applied Psychology commence projects funded through SFI research centre Lero

Lero is the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software a 13 partner consortium in based in UL with UCC as an academic partner.  Lero’s research spans a wide range of application domains from driverless cars to artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, fintech, govtech, smart communities, agtech and healthtech. Leros research is organised around three strands, reflecting; Computer Systems, Engineering Methods, and Context. The Context strand addresses concern for the world we want, and reflects the need in computing research and development to move beyond the satisfaction of technical requirements, towards ensuring that systems meet ethical standards with respect to privacy, trust, inclusion and fairness, and also facilitating responsible innovation.

There is both an opportunity and a necessity for social science researchers to contribute to research on understanding the context in which computer systems operate, and researchers in Lero are committed to such interdisciplinary research. UCCs School of Applied Psychology have become centrally involved in Lero in recent years, led by Prof. John McCarthy, who is one of the Principal Investigators for the centre. In October 2021, two research projects commenced, led by researchers in the School of Applied Psychology, and funded through Lero.

The first project, Sharing when Caring: Examining the Role of Digital Platforms as Social Support for Carers, is led by Dr. Sarah Foley and Prof. John McCarthy of UCC and Dr. Kellie Morrissey of the University of Limerick. PhD student Stephanie Murphy, a graduate of UCCs School of Applied Psychology, will work on the project, along with a colleague in UL.

Issues related to developing and experiencing trust in the online context have traditionally focused on designing usable, trust-worthy interfaces, that ensure users feel safe in sharing (and creating) data. While these changes in data usage policy and practice are universal, for some users, such as carers (e.g. parents, family carers, professional carers) online spaces are much-needed outlets to seek social support, advice or information. This project will examine the implications of sharing online for carers, a group of potentially vulnerable internet users, who have traditionally created online communities as sites of support in often isolated living conditions. These challenges require both human-centred and software responses if there are to be meaningful outcomes for users.

The second project, Deepfake Deception: Quantifying and mitigating the potential harm to trust, belief & memory, is led by Dr. Gillian Murphy and Dr. Conor Linehan of UCC, as well as Dr Mike Quayle (University of Limerick) and Dr Matthew Aylett (Cereproc/University of Edinburgh). Two PhD Students, Didier Ching and John Twomey, both graduates of UCCs School of Applied Psychology, will work on the project.

In recent years, there have been rapid developments in ‘deepfake’ software. Using AI, these programmes allow the creation of highly-realistic synthetic video and audio. While this has positive applications (e.g. allowing an individual to speak with their own voice if they have lost it through illness), there may also be extremely harmful effects on privacy (e.g., non-consensual ‘designer porn’), democracy, and trust in institutions (via misinformation, and fake news). This project will be amongst the first to investigate the responsible use of deepfake technology – quantifying potential benefits and harms, and developing strategies to limit negative impacts.

People and Technology Research Group, School of Applied Psychology

The People and Technology research group, led by Prof. John McCarthy and Prof. Lui Ciolfi, is committed to examining the role of technology in the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Our research explores both the role of existing technologies in people’s lives, and the potential of technology to improve quality of life. The group employ a number of methods within and beyond psychology to explore and examine topics including: Care; Health and Behaviour Change; Misinformation; Culture and Heritage; Communities and Technology. As the challenges and opportunities related to technology continue to unfold and develop, person-centred research that considers the complex and varied needs of users is vital.

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