Abstract: There is currently social concern about children’s extensive engagement in digital technologies and the negative impact that it might have on physical activity health, engagement in face-to-face human interaction, and connectedness with nature. My research, however, explores the potential for digital technologies to be used as a means to enhance positive interactions with animals (reduce cruelty and increase compassionate behaviour) and also increase children’s connectedness with nature. The talk will discuss a range of recent projects including: Using Minecraft as a research tool to investigate children’s connected with nature; the development and evaluation of interactive iPad games to reduce cruelty to animals among children; evaluation of the impact of mechanical toy animals versus traditional toy animals in animal welfare education interventions for children; and new research on teaching children and adolescents basic robotics and gaming development skills to enhance understanding of animals. Much of this work is cross-disciplinary and involves collaborations with the Scottish SPCA and postgraduate students in different disciplines.
Bio: Jo Williams is Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology (University of Edinburgh). Her research focuses on child and adolescent mental health and children’s interactions with animals, particularly how to promote positive children’s-animal interactions, enhance child wellbeing and reduce animal cruelty. Her research includes evaluations of of the impact of animal assisted interventions for child and adolescent health; the impact of pets on children’s development and wellbeing; psychological factors in children’s cruelty to animals; and animal welfare education. She collaborates with the Scottish SPCA and other welfare charities to develop educational interventions for children and adolescents often building on children’s interest and engagement in digital technologies.