ARC Project profile: Situate


16th April 2021

Lawrence Barsalou is a professor of Psychology at The University of Glasgow, we chat with him to learn more about his venture, SITUATE, which assesses health behaviours like stress and creates strategies to help manage them.

This project profile is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator, Class of 2021. ARC (formerly SUCCESS) is now on to it’s second cohort of university-based ventures seeking to change the world through their innovative, creative and disruptive ideas.

ARC, Interview, SUCCESS and The University of Glasgow

Q: What’s your academic background and how did it lead to starting your venture?

I was trained as a cognitive scientist, with my work and expertise focusing on the human conceptual system, or what’s often referred to as semantic memory. I’ve also played a central role in helping to establish the theoretical perspective of grounded cognition, situated cognition, and embodied cognition.  In the background, I’ve always been interested in health behaviours asking “how could you study health behaviours from this perspective?” Along the way, I became very interested in neuroscience. Neuroimaging was a natural way to test a lot of the hypotheses I was working with from the grounded perspective. So I segued from being a behavioural scientist to a neuroscientist for the last 20 years.  Since then my work has increasingly been evolving toward a focus on health behaviours, examining them from a grounded perspective.

Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?

SITUATE aims to assess a health behaviour, like stress, on two dimensions of situatedness, where one dimension is the situations that are relevant when people feel stressed, and the second dimension is that within those situations, we assess the critical mechanisms that contribute to stress. This is what’s unique about our approach.  We measure something like stress in terms of the situations where it occurs, and then additionally go into the scientific literature to find out and incorporate the mechanisms that produce stress. Besides applying this approach to stress, we’ve applied it to eating, drinking, social isolation, compulsive hair pulling, mindfulness, emotion regulation, emotion differentiation etc.

It’s a basic framework that can be applied to any health behaviour related to physical or mental wellbeing.

Lawrence Barsalou, SITUATE

Additionally, we’ve discovered that we can use SITUATE to teach people about the mechanisms that underlie their health behaviours.  Using stress as an example, we can use SITUATE to help people identify the specific mechanisms most related to their stress, and then to further identify interventions for working with it effectively.

Q: How is the ARC Accelerator program supporting you in bringing your venture to life?

I’m really enjoying it. I’ve been doing research for a long time and it’s great, but I’m ready to do something else and I think this is the kind of thing I want to do. I’ve been learning a lot and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity. I’m still at the early part of the learning curve so there’s a lot to learn.

You can find all the project profiles from the ARC Accelerator here

Photo credit: Keenan Constance via Pexels

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