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An interview with Psychology Section Editor Andrew Kemp

PLOS ONE has published a Psychology Curated Collection to highlight the diversity of psychological research we publish. We interviewed Psychology Section Editor Andrew Kemp to learn about his research, his thoughts on the future of psychology, and the importance of open science.

Section Editor Andrew Kemp

Professor Andrew Kemp is a Professor of Psychology at Swansea University. His research areas include existential positive psychology, wellbeing science and climate psychology. Before taking up his current position, Professor Kemp worked at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and the University of Sydney in Australia. His qualifications include a BA(Hons) in psychology from the University of Melbourne, a PhD in neuropsychopharmacology from Swinburne University of Technology, and a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Melbourne.

PLOS: Your early work was in emotion processing, and you have travelled—via anxiety, depression, and heart-rate variability—to wellbeing and climate psychology. Could you tell us a little bit about this journey, and how you became interested in these research areas?

AK: Fundamentally, my research focus has not changed, it remains and has always focused on emotion. For my PhD, I focused on the modulation of emotion by antidepressant medication, after which I began to explore the impacts of these medications on heart rate variability, a psychophysiological index of the capacity to regulate one’s emotion. More recently, I shifted my focus to wellbeing, a complex construct that includes hedonia (e.g., positive emotions) and eudaimonia (e.g., meaning and purpose in life) and I have begun to explore how we might facilitate wellbeing in a range of populations, including university students and people living with acquired brain injury in particular. This work has involved (re)connecting people to nature, which has obviously raised issues relating to the ethics of promoting wellbeing without also considering pro-environmental behaviours and the capacity for such behaviours to improve wellbeing. I am now very interested in the question of how to promote wellbeing during an era of climate catastrophe.

PLOS: You have held positions in universities on three continents. Do you think working in different countries has given you a broad perspective on science and collaboration? What have you learned that you may not have learned had you stayed in one place?

AK: Since my time as a PhD student, I have always been encouraged to extend myself with regards to the questions, methods and approaches I use in my research activities. In fact, when finalizing my PhD, research funders in Australia would not support applications for postdoctoral positions which involved working with our PhD supervisors. This also encouraged me to gain a wide range of experience working in different departments, institutions, and countries over nearly two decades. This background has certainly been influential in the way I now think about science and collaboration across disciplines to answer big questions.

PLOS: Can you tell us about any new and exciting projects you’re working on? What do you foresee as the next step in your research journey?

AK: I am now working on projects that involve thinking about how we might build wellbeing alongside hardship and suffering, focusing on people living with chronic conditions, with a particular focus on acquired brain injury (ABI). One of our papers published in PLOS ONE is  included in the curated collection. This paper explores the capacity for surf-based therapy to promote wellbeing in ABI. There is much to learn from people who have faced major adversity about emotional resilience and post-traumatic growth, and how these insights might be applied to the emerging discipline of climate psychology, which focuses on psychological responses to the climate emergency.

PLOS: Other than your own areas of specialism, what do you think is the most exciting area in psychological research at the moment?

AK: I am particularly excited by the rise of the emerging discipline of climate psychology, a relatively new field whose impact is growing quickly, alongside an acute awareness of the climate emergency. Historically, clinical psychological science has focused on the individual to resolve mental health crises. This is no longer appropriate in 2022 and has led to new frameworks for understanding how our emotional lives relate to wider socio-structural factors and challenges. This is a very exciting agenda for future research—and its applications—and is creating many opportunities to increase the impact of our discipline. Psychologists have a bag of tools that can be applied to research activities being conducted in many other disciplines.

PLOS: Since you started your career, what changes have you seen in challenges/barriers to conducting and publishing psychological research?

AK: The greatest challenge to psychological science in recent years has been the replication crisis, forcing us to rethink our assumptions, our practice, and what we teach. I have been inspired by how psychological scientists stepped up to meet this challenge, with some fantastic initiatives arising including preregistration, preprint servers, and communities of scholars focused on improving methods and practices in our discipline (e.g. Society for Improving Psychological Science). Open Science has played a key role in tackling the replication crisis, especially in regards to making data, materials and publications open and freely available.

PLOS: How has the publishing landscape changed, and what role do Open Access journals like PLOS ONE play?

AK: The landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade. I am pleased to say that many institutions, including my own, are now investing significant resources into agreements with open access publishers to support researchers to make their published research openly available, in line with initiatives such as Plan S. This initiative, supported by cOAlition S, requires scientific publications based on research funding from public grants to be published in open access journals or platforms. In the UK, our papers must be made publicly available to be valid for assessment in the research excellence framework assessment process.

PLOS: What are your thoughts on open science, and to what extent has your research community embraced open science?

AK: I have been a long-term advocate of open science, and my experience in Brazil was especially eye opening in regards to the impacts of research being placed behind paywalls. Colleagues simply did not have the resources that academics from developed countries have come to rely on to conduct and publish quality research outcomes. It really highlighted to me the gross inequalities between academia in the developed and developing world and reinforced the importance of making our research openly available and accessible to all.

PLOS: Why did you decide to become a board member and section editor?

AK: I wanted to play an active role in supporting the open science initiative and became an Academic Editor for PLOS ONE in 2011 and a Section Editor in 2013.   

PLOS: What are your thoughts on the Psychology Curated Collection?

AK: I am excited to see the range of articles featured in the Collection, including a broad range of methods, countries, and topics ranging from consciousness to climate change. It is also good to see the breadth of articles being featured, which span basic science (such as reporting on the validity and reliability of a set of multimodal, dynamic emotional stimuli) to applied science (including a focus on vaccine hesitancy). I hope this collection will inspire more psychology researchers to consider PLOS ONE as a journal for publishing their work. PLOS ONE is a multidisciplinary journal and psychological science is similarly broad in scope.

PLOS: Why should psychology researchers submit to PLOS ONE?

AK: PLOS ONE is a solid multidisciplinary journal with wide reach and is well regarded by colleagues in psychology. I have always found the peer review process supportive with an eye on improving the quality of the paper. While there is often much work required on part of the authors to improve their work to reach high editorial standards, the journal provides a rewarding experience from the point of view of the author as well as the editor.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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