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This Sussex Life: Author and BBC presenter Claudia Hammond. "Sussex has influenced my whole career"

Claudia Hammond

Sussex alumna, award-winning author and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind Claudia Hammond reflects on her many roles at Sussex, including her new one as Visiting Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology.

I’m very excited about my new role at Sussex. As Visiting Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, I'll be coming down six times a year to do several different things on each visit. We’re still working out the detail, but it’s likely I’ll be contributing to a range of things, from undergraduate lectures, right through to what we might do in the wider university or public lectures, and also media training for psychology faculty.

As an alumna, Sussex is my favourite University (obviously). This gives me another opportunity to find ways of getting psychology out there. All the things I do are about trying to take the best evidence from psychology and communicate it to the public in a way so that people can use it in their own lives.

I loved Sussex from the start. When I was a first-year undergraduate I stayed in East Slope, where we had really good parties, and we'd sometimes walk over to Stanmer village to have afternoon tea. After that I lived in Brighton and then I did an MSc at the University of Surrey, but I stayed in Brighton because I loved it so much.

I hadn't realised how interesting my course in Applied Psychology was compared with lots of other university psychology courses. It was much more forward thinking, looking at theory and application rather than just theory. My dissertation project was on attitudes towards menstruation, which would have been a much more fashionable thing to do now. I went into Varndean School in Brighton to conduct research with students and teachers.

I was completely torn between doing a PhD in psychology and working in radio. From the age of 14 I’d worked in radio, first as a volunteer at Hospital Radio Bedford, then as a newsroom assistant in local radio during my year out and then as a freelancer at BBC Radio Sussex. So I started working in both psychology and the media. I freelanced as a journalist at Radio Five Live and also began tutoring in psychology for Open University summer schools, which were held at Sussex, for the next ten years. I have a second layer of Sussex memories from that time, which was really fun and very rewarding because mature students were so keen and interested.

All in the Mind started in 1988 when I was in the sixth form. I used to think it would be great to present this programme, never imagining of course that I would get to do it. I’d started reporting for it in 1996, and took over from the psychiatrist Raj Persaud to present it in 2006.

People think there are the clinical psychologists or therapists at one end, and then there’s the “what your bikini says about you” pop psychology at the other end. But there's a mass in between of all sorts of interesting research, especially in behavioural economics and neuroscience. Psychology could do a better job of selling itself to the world and to have more input in policy decisions. Think tanks employ lots of economists and far fewer psychologists, if any at all.

Each of the books I've written about psychology has changed how I see the world. After Time Warped [a review of studies about the perception of time and Winner of the 2013 British Psychological Society’s Book Awards Popular Science Category], I worry much less about time speeding up as I get older. From looking at all the research, I now realise that if time feels as if it's going fast it’s because there’s variety in your life. Time goes slowly when people are feeling bored, or lonely, or rejected, or depressed. If you feel time is going fast perhaps you should be grateful. 

Mind over Money, the book I wrote about the psychology of money, has made me less worried about spending money on experiences. I don't necessarily spend less money, but I think more carefully before buying something.  Only if I think it will contribute to my well-being or someone else’s do I go ahead. The research shows that buying experiences on the whole brings you more joy than buying material things. 

For my latest book, The Art of Rest, we carried out research as part of a residency called Hubbub at the Wellcome Collection. We launched a global study on All in the Mind and on Health Check, which is a BBC World Service programme that I also present, to find out what activities people found most restful. Eighteen thousand people took part in 135 countries. Our research found that, even for extroverts, the most restful activities are the things you do on your own, such as reading. For me it’s gardening. Just a few minutes of deadheading plants and a wave of calm comes over me. I forget about everything I was worried about.

One aspect of Sussex that has influenced my whole career has been its approach to interdisciplinarity. I’m always trying to bring different subjects together. During the residency on rest we collaborated with poets, geographers and historians, as well as psychologists. I think it's fascinating to see how a poet or an artist approaches the topic of rest in a completely different way to a psychologist. I’m always trying to work out how to make what I do interesting to everybody.

This profile is part of our This Sussex Life series.

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 16 January 2020