Media

Psychology on the newsstands.

All sorts of psychologies 

A new magazine, Psychologies, appeared on the newsstands in the autumn: this is an English version of an established and very popular French magazine. What is it like? To find out we took a look at the first two issues.
Each has a cover photo of a celebrity, which makes them quite difficult to distinguish from other magazines. Inside, the format is familiar and in the ‘women’s’ magazine genre: taking a psychological approach to personal stories, relationships, ‘How to manage ageing’, ‘The real you’, ‘Revenge of the introvert’, and more.
A news and reviews section as well as coverage of beauty, well-being, food and travel, all incorporate a psychological dimension. For example, November’s health and beauty section covers sleep problems and the significance of smell.
Like many women’s magazines, the tone is one of how to change and, specifically, how to improve. The feature articles are quite long and dense – more Marie Claire or Good Housekeeping than Bella, though there are some quizzes (e.g. October’s ‘Who do you think you are?’).
And what of the psychology? Like other coverage of psychology in the media, most of the articles are written by journalists and refer to relevant research. Few psychologists are involved directly. Psychologist contributors so far include Oliver James (on being scared and getting to know yourself, in the October issue); Pamela Connolly (a regular therapy column) and Linda Blair (tackling readers’ problems each month). The magazine is well presented but, given the plethora of other women’s magazines covering very similar stories, it is not clear whether Psychologies will stay the course.
Psychologists contribute far more to Scientific American Mind, a relatively new publication available in some shops and from www.sciammind.com. Authors in the latest issue include Michael Gazzaniga, Robert Emry, and our own Alexander Haslam and Steve Reicher. The publication is amazingly ad-free, and the articles are engaging, informative and clearly well pitched at an educated but general audience (its editor guesses that less than 8 per cent of readers are working scientists).
What is impressive about Scientific American Mind is the way psychologists are trusted to write alongside journalists. Although the editor tells us that they invest a lot more editorial work in people who do not write for a living, and therefore scientists are paid slightly less, the join is invisible. This suggests either good editing, or that psychologists are getting the hang of communication. Worth checking out.
    Harriet Gross and Jon Sutton

THE Media page invariably focuses on the way in which psychologists and their work are featured in the media. Although valuable, this approach excludes the many ways in which psychological knowledge is reported by those outside of the profession, particularly the general public. Usually stored one shelf below the glossies for both him and her lie a welter of weeklies crammed with ‘true’ tales of incredible weight loss, infidelity and medical marvels. Easily identified by the banality of their titles, Best, Real, That’s Life, Take a Break and the like have circulations of over one million copies a week and offer large cash incentives for readers’ ‘true-life’ stories.
However, far from being true, some of stories in these magazines reveal the gaping discrepancies between individuals’ understanding of their conditions and current psychological theories. For example, in ‘Docs cut Mum from my brain’ (Full House) a woman describes how on waking in hospital following a fall and neurosurgery she was unable to recall any details of her mother. The headline and the article as a whole suggest that it was the neurosurgical intervention that physically sucked all memories of her parent from her brain, leaving all other memories and functions intact. This science fiction explanation is clearly at odds with the very considerable body of knowledge regarding the organic substrates of memory function. Similarly our colleagues in the Lesbian and Gay Psychology Section of the Society might have something to say about a story in the same publication the following week entitled ‘My anti-smoking pills have turned me gay’.
Although they are frequently written in the first person, these distortions do not spill directly from the individuals on to the page unedited. The sensationalist tendencies of publishers must also play a part, and an eye on these ‘real-life’ experiences gives a fascinating insight into the genesis and maintenance of many modern psychological myths. We are right to focus on the way in which our research is portrayed in the media. However, whilst we may be permitted a brief moment of self- congratulation/relief when a piece of psychological research is reported faithfully in the broadsheets or on Radio 4, such a narrow egocentric media watch may leave these myths to flourish unchecked.
    Sallie Baxendale

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