Essex academics share the secrets of being human

10 March 2010

Happiness, police interviews, 'competitive conversations' and workplace smells are just some of the subjects that academics from University of Essex will be talking about in a week of presentations aimed at explaining to the general public what it is that social scientists actually do.

The series of free public lectures, being held in the Minories Bistro in Colchester between the 15 and 19 March, are part of the nationwide Festival of Social Science. The Festival is run by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is aimed at helping the general public discover the world of social science.

As one of the country's leading social science research institutions, the University of Essex is showcasing some of the exciting research currently underway at its Colchester-based campus.

The first talk, which takes place on 15 March at 18.00, will explore the importance of smells in the workplace and demonstrate how companies use smells as a tool to change workplace atmosphere, for example, to increase productivity.

The rest of the week's events are:

  • Tuesday 16 March: a look at the so-called 'happiness gene' which tends to make people more optimistic, resistant to stress and better able to cope with negative events.
  • Wednesday 17 March: this talk is about conversations - and how they can be 'both cooperative and competitive' at the same time. The audience will hear how conversations that appear to be about some form of agreement can in fact be highly competitive.
  • Thursday 18 March: using extracts from real police interviews the session will explore how officers get information from suspects and how this matches, or doesn't match, the popular view of police interrogations.
  • Friday 19 March: the week will end with an exploration of the controversial question, should public money be used to fund the arts? It will also look at the value arts and cultures add to society and how, if at all, this value can be measured?

Explaining the purpose of the week, Dr Kathleen Riach from the University's Business School, said, "First and foremost, social science research is about trying to increase our understanding of our day-to-day experiences. This series of events will give members of the Essex public a chance to hear about some of the fascinating academic research that is being undertaken within their own community. The informal nature of the events will also give people the opportunity to share some of their own beliefs or experiences as they relate to the topics under discussion".

For further information contact

  • University of Essex Communications Office, University of Essex
    Telephone: 01206 872400

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. Being Human
    • Organiser: Dr Kathleen Riach, University of Essex
    • Monday 15 - Friday 19 March 18.00 - 19.30
    • Venue: The Minories Bistro, 74 High Street, Colchester CO1 1UE
    • Audience: Suitable for all
    • All the presentations are open to the public and start at 18.00. Seating is limited, so please book your place in advance by contacting Linette Edonya on 01206 872925 or emailing
  2. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and runs from 12 to 21 March 2010, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. With events featuring some of the country's leading social scientists, the festival celebrates the very best of British Social Science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. The Festival of Social Science provides insight into research in a variety of formats, from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. It is aimed at a range of different audiences, including policymakers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  4. You can now follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter (@ESRC), including new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more.