Dr Merryn Thomas
My research is interdisciplinary and focuses on public perceptions of environmental risks. For my PhD, I used a mixed-methods, mental-models approach to explore public and expert perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary. I am currently working on a project with Professor Nick Pidgeon, jointly with the Centre for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of Santa Barbara, California, using qualitative methods to explore public perceptions of shale gas development in the UK and USA.
I supervise a Year 3/4 (level 6) research project spanning environmental psychology and risk perception. I also teach an ‘Introduction to qualitative research methods’ seminar in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, have taught on and assisted with field courses, and have taught and mentored outside of academia.
Selected publications (2014 onwards)
Full list of publications
Research topics and related papers
Public perceptions of shale gas in the UK and USA
Together with Professor Nick Pidgeon and a team from the University of California in Santa Barbara (USA), I am currently researching public perceptions of shale gas in the UK and USA. The United States has undergone a shale gas ‘boom’ in the last few decades, and more recently there has been a lot of interest in shale gas prospectivity in the UK. Understanding public perceptions of these technologies is important given the role that they may play in future decisions about them. This study therefore qualitatively investigates public perceptions of shale gas developments in Britain and the USA, in order to a) gain an understanding of these perceptions and what influence them, and b) provide a comparison between perceptions in a country where shale gas extraction is new, and where it is more established.
Public and Expert perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary
My interdisciplinary PhD research was based both in the School of Psychology and the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Cardiff. I used a mixed-methods, mental-models approach to explore and compare expert and public perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary, a threatened coastal environment in the southwest of the UK. A three-phase methodology was adopted. First, expert perceptions were investigated through semi-structured interviews, probability elicitations and cognitive mapping (N=11). Second, public perceptions were investigated through mental models interviews that included a semi-structured discussion, a picture sorting task, and a cognitive mapping session (N=20). Third, perceptions raised during public interviews were explored by way of a wider survey of members of the public living around the Severn Estuary (N=359). These perceptions were then compared and contrasted using both qualitative and quantitative methods.
Results showed areas of public understanding consistent with expert understandings: most public respondents thought that sea levels will rise, leading to increased flooding and property damage. However, the public did not feel well informed about sea-level change, and there were a number of key differences between expert and public perceptions. Perceptions were influenced by many factors including information sources and the ways in which individuals think about the future. Many findings were consistent with climate change research more generally, for example: respondents tended to express low concern about sea-level change in relation to other matters such as the economy; they felt detached from the issue, seeing it as something that will happen in the future to other people; and they perceived that neither the causes of nor responses to sea-level change were their responsibility.
Flood inundation modelling for the Isles of Scilly
My Masters research was supervised by Professor Paul Bates at the University of Bristol, and part-funded by a Duchy of Cornwall grant. The study used the LISFLOOD modelling environment to develop methods to estimate probabilistic flood risk and determine their value in decision making for small island environments.
Other research experience
My other research experience includes work carried out for the Developing the Sustainable Laboratory project (December 2011-June 2012; funded by Welsh Crucible), for which I organised and conducted stakeholder interviews, qualitatively analysed the data and wrote a summary report. I also assisted with 19 workshops for various Understanding Risk Group research projects between 2011 and 2012.
Our current shale gas research is part of a wider work programme of the US National Science Foundation Centre for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara (CNS-UCSB).
My PhD research was funded by a President’s Research Scholarship from Cardiff University.
I obtained funding from the Duchy of Cornwall for my MSc research into flood inundation modelling for the Isles of Scilly.
BA Geography, University of Oxford
MSc Science of Natural Hazards, University of Bristol
PhD Psychology, Cardiff University
February 2014-present: Research Associate, School of Psychology, Cardiff University.
2011- 2014: Photographer, Merryn Thomas Photography, Cardiff.
2008 - 2010: Researcher, Nature Picture Library and Bluegreen Pictures, Bristol.
2007 - 2008: Researcher, Icon Films, Bristol.