I joined the School of Psychology at UEL on 1st November 2017, as part of the Drug and Addictive Behaviours Research Group, for an initial period of three years. This position is funded by the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA), after I was awarded the 2017 SSA Griffith Edwards Academic Fellowship. My research will investigate gambling behaviour using immersive virtual reality, to develop our understanding of both regular and disordered gambling behaviour.
As a behaviour, gambling can be difficult to accurately recreate in experimental setting and can therefore prove challenging to study; my research aims to combine the experimental control provided by traditional laboratory based experiments, with the increased ecological validity afforded by naturalistic research. We will build a range of fully immersive, virtual reality gambling environments, such as a casino, and a bookmaker’s to allow us to better understand the influence of specific game features such as stake size and speed of play on the psychological underpinnings of gambling behaviour, and gambling addiction.
Gambling research can at times be a highly sensitive and politicised research field, as the implications and ramifications of disordered gambling cover a wide spectrum. Disordered gambling has only in the most recent edition of the DSM been classified as an addictive disorder, highlighting a gradual shift in perception towards behavioural addictions. The SSA has never before funded a fellow to investigate a behavioural addiction; to award the fellowship to a gambling researcher represent a significant step towards the legitimisation and acceptance of behavioural addictions in to mainstream addiction research.
Arriving at the gates of the Stratford Campus on my first day, I was struck by a sense of deja-vu; almost exactly ten years ago, I stood in the same spot, having left a job in the financial sector to become a full-time mature student, studying Psychology at UEL. I loved studying for a degree here, including a final year module where I first learned about gambling addiction. That lecture eventually led to a volunteer position at the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and my success in my degree here led to a master degree at UCL. I was then lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship to read for my PhD in Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, where I truly began my career as a gambling researcher, investigating cognitive distortions and decision making within gambling populations. Most recently I have been working as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Lincoln on a range of gambling related projects, however when the opportunity arose to conduct my own series of gambling studies, back at the place where I started, there was only ever one way the decision was going to go.
Looking back, ten years ago I was naïve, nervous, even apprehensive, unsure if quitting work to become a full-time Psychology student was a good idea. Ten days ago, I stood at the gates as Dr Sharman, SSA Academic Research Fellow, still a bit naïve, still with a few butterflies, but feeling confident, and happy to be back where this incredible journey began, ready to take the next step forward.