In the REF 2014 assessment, for the first time the government introduced a measure of impact. That is, did research influence the real world rather than only considering academic matters? The Swansea Department of Psychology was one of only four departments out of the 82 assessed to achieve a 100% four-star rating, the maximum possible score. Want to know more? Read on!

Impact Case Study 1: The impact of alcohol test purchasing by underage adolescents on the availability of alcohol to minors

The Home Office commissioned a study in the Swansea Psychology Department of the effect of underage test purchasing of alcohol; that is sending children into shops to see if they were sold alcohol. The study, designed by Professor Paul Willner, led directly to changes in legislation.  It was found that the proportion buying their own alcohol increased from 6% at age 11 to 52% at age 16.  The primary concern of shopkeepers was to avoid prosecution and they sold alcohol freely as the risk was perceived to be small.  There was very limited evidence that proof-of-age cards were effective in decreasing alcohol sales.

 Prior to the Swansea study, test purchasing of alcohol by children had been used occasionally by some police forces to develop evidence, but this could not lead to a successful prosecution as this set up a defence of entrapment. The study aimed to establish whether the legalization of alcohol test purchasing would help to combat underage drinking and the positive findings lead to changes in legalisation in England and Wales in 2001, in Scotland in 2005 and in Northern Ireland in 2008.  As a result every UK Police Force and local authority Trading Standards Department adopted alcohol test purchasing as a routine enforcement method.  They sent children into shops to see if they can buy alcohol.  Following the UK precedent, underage test purchasing of alcohol was adopted internationally; in the case of Australia and New Zealand based explicitly on the UK experience.

A national evaluation in England and Wales (2009) reported that, “There have been impressive increases in compliance levels in areas … where test purchases have been conducted”.  A 2012 national survey reported that the proportion of 11-15-year olds who had ever drunk alcohol declined between 2001 and 2011 from 61% to 45%.  The Swansea research was carried out in two police areas, Thames Valley and West Yorkshire.  In these police areas before the legislation 52% and 63% of those aged from 13-16-years were able to buy alcohol; levels that fell to 24% and 19% when the law had been changed.

 Impact Case Study 2: The development of food items to benefit cognition and mood

 The objective of Professor David Benton’s research is to either development food items, or make dietary recommendations, that improve either mood or cognition.  The research has been widely quoted to support public policy; for example, by the European Food Information Council to support the view that “Breakfast breaks the overnight fast and provides energy to kick-start the body and sharpen the mind”.  The US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, when they recommended a School Breakfast Program, quotes Swansea research to support the view that “Children who eat breakfast are more likely to behave better in school and get along with their peers than those who do not”.   The impact of the Swansea research was acknowledged by the Education Committee of the House of Commons when they considered Behaviour and Discipline in Schools.  It was noted that there is good evidence that eating breakfast is beneficial to the performance and behaviour of school children, a view “reinforced by … Professor David Benton … who had conducted research which found that eating breakfast improved the cognitive performance of some children…”

As one example of Swansea research, it was reported for the first time that food that slowly releases glucose into the blood stream improves mood and memory in the late morning.  This phenomenon played a role in the development of the BelVita breakfast biscuit, that been said to have “revolutionised the biscuit category” by establishing a new sector of the market.   It is clear from the advertising that quotes Swansea research, that the work has influenced the positioning and advertising of the product.  In 2014 BelVita was reported to be worth half a billion dollars.  The Grocer (September 2013), reported that “Sales of breakfast biscuits show no signs of slowing.  The category has risen 78.9% to £76m (in UK) year-on-year following an 88% increase the year before.  The market continues to be dominated by Belvita …. worth £57m (in UK) after less than four years”.