Letters

Web resources; boredom and mindfulness; after trauma; clinical psychologists under threat; and more
Please feed the spiders Do you provide your students with links to online resources? Are your materials in a secure system such as blackboard? If so, did you realise you are helping to kill off the very resources you are recommending?Search engines build their indexes using programs known as ‘spiders’. Spiders automatically crawl around the web from link to link, recording both the content of the web and how it is all linked together. When you search for a particular term, search engines return a list of pages ordered by their relative values, and these value scores are calculated using the linking information gathered by the spiders.

Please feed the spiders

Do you provide your students with links to online resources? Are your materials in a secure system such as blackboard? If so, did you realise you are helping to kill off the very resources you are recommending?Search engines build their indexes using programs known as ‘spiders’. Spiders automatically crawl around the web from link to link, recording both the content of the web and how it is all linked together. When you search for a particular term, search engines return a list of pages ordered by their relative values, and these value scores are calculated using the linking information gathered by the spiders. 
Just as the impact factor of a printed article is assessed by citations, if a certain web page has lots of links to it from other websites, this suggests the authors of those other websites think the page has useful content. These links act as votes for that page and the value of a page, from a search engine’s point of view, is (approximately) a weighted sum of the values of all the other web-pages that link to it.
This system provides an effective and reasonable way to indirectly assess the likely utility of web pages. However the system is dependent on the idea that the entire internet is available for public access.  Search engine spiders cannot look inside secure systems so they cannot see any links that are stored there. As departments increasingly move content (including links to third-party resources) into secure areas, their ‘votes’ for these third-party resources are lost.
As an example, three years ago my own website on attachment theory had about 150 visits a day and a first page listing in Google for the search term ‘attachment theory’. Today I have about 450 visits a day yet my site is now three pages deep in a Google search for the same term. Since I have software that tracks where my visitors come from, I know that the number of links to my site has steadily increased but new links and many old links are now hidden inside secure systems. As far as the search engines are concerned, my site has lost rather than gained votes.
I am not alone in experiencing this. As universities move their web materials into secure areas, resources linked to by those who are (arguably) in the best position to judge their value are losing ground to pages serving commercial interests. Companies often pay to get incoming links and people searching for academic content on the internet will increasingly find their results dominated by booksellers, full-text-for-$30-journal-sites, marketing for college courses, and ‘example’ essay writing services.
While there may be other factors involved, our increasing use of secure systems for course materials is undoubtedly reducing the ‘impact factor’ of the content that we leave in the public domain. Fortunately the solution is simple: whenever you include a link in your secured teaching materials, make sure you also provide a link from a public access page such as a departmental ‘useful links’ page or a personal homepage. If you want to keep open access psychology resources accessible then make sure your links are accessible as well: please feed the spiders.
Richard Atkins
Department of Epidemiology and Population Health
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

 

Boredom and mindfulness

I read Sandi Mann’s article ‘The boredom boom’(February 2007) with interest as I am just completing a PhD on the same subject. Whilst I would like to congratulate her on putting together an entertaining and thought provoking piece about boredom in the workplace, I would like to challenge some of her assumptions. Firstly, it is not at all clear that the incidence of boredom is increasing. The ancient Greeks wrote of boredom or ‘acedie’; the early Christians described boredom as the worst of the deadly sins; poets and philosophers in the 19th century had a field day on the subject, including Baudelaire, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger; and for the 20th-century existentialists, including Sartre, Camus and Moravia, life was meaningless, and therefore boring. For part of my study I interviewed people about their experiences of boredom. It seems to me, and earlier studies support the idea, that boredom arises largely from internal factors. Many of the people I interviewed became bored even when they were not working, and could have done almost anything they wanted to entertain themselves. It seems to me that boredom occurs when people find it difficult to concentrate on anything. This might be because they find whatever they are doing monotonous, but it could also be for internal reasons. They could be tired, or preoccupied with their own thoughts and worries. I also carried out a correlation between the Boredom Proneness Scale (Farmer & Sundberg 1986) and the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (Brown & Ryan 2003), and found that there was a significant negative relationship between these two measures. My conclusion is that as well as carrying out all the changes to work practices that Mann suggests, it might also be a good idea for people to learn how to concentrate better. Mindfulness practice has been shown to be effective in helping people to become more aware of the world around them and get more out of the present moment, rather than wasting time thinking about how their lives could be better (Baer 2003; Kabat-Zinn 2005). I believe that mindfulness could help us to be less bored. Marion MartinSchool of Health Professions
University of Brighton

References
Baer, R.A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125–143.
Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822–848.
Farmer, R. & Sundberg, N.D. (1986). Boredom proneness – The development and correlates of a new scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 50, 4–17.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.

 

If you read an article in The Psychologist that you fundamentally disagree with, then the letters page is your first port of call: summarise your argument in under 500 words. But if you feel you have a substantial amount of conflicting evidence to cite and numerous points to make that simply cannot be contained within a letter, you can write a ‘Counterpoint’ article of up to 1500 words, within a month of the publication of the original article. However, it is best to contact the editor about your plans, on [email protected]. We hope this format will build on the role of The Psychologist as a forum for discussion and debate.

 

New Ways of Working and occupational psychology

I write in response to James Japp’s observation that the NHS New Ways of Working report attempts to exclude occupational psychologists (Letters, February 2007). It is perhaps worth mentioning at the outset, that we have involved occupational psychologists in the project and indeed Angela Carter from the Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP) has played an important advisory role in some of this work. We have been encouraging the DOP to be more involved in the project, but there have been some difficulties committing other people to the project. Japp also raises the issue of competence regardless of Divisional affiliation. It is important to emphasise that the whole approach behind the New Ways of Working has been competence-driven, and this is indeed why the issue of generic training and questions about the current Divisional structures have been raised. The training models described were not intended to dilute competence. Finally, membership of the Division of Neuropsychology requires that a psychologist has first qualified as a member of another Division. Thus current members of the Division of Neuropsychology (DoN) are not exclusively clinical psychologists, although many are also Division of Clinical Psychology members. Japp is right that New Ways of Working has not looked specifically at the position of the DoN although the DoN has been represented on the core group. Tony LavenderCo-chair of the New Ways of Working for Applied Psychologists project

 

Following our own advice

I enjoyed the ‘Why I study…’ article by Amanda Daley based on her study of the quality of life and mental health benefits of exercise (February 2007); it works, even for us psychologists who follow our own profession’s advice! Those in the Society who remember me from my days in the Leicester office as Executive Secretary, especially my sports psychologist chums, will remember my passion for racing in physically demanding, high-performance sailing dinghies and how Elizabeth Mapstone even found an excuse to print a picture of me sailing my International Canoe on the cover of The Psychologist! After retirement I threw myself enthusiastically into the administration of my sport, but still very much as a participant. Last year I reaped an exceptional life-enhancing bonus when in Germany in July I became European Champion in this class of dinghy. I was 63 at the time, an age when most other older men and women have given up competing in dinghies. I can now brag about almost certainly being the oldest competitor in the history of my sport to win a European Championships in a single-handed sailing dinghy. I have been exceptionally fortunate with my health but, based on a sample of one and my observations of friends, I am convinced at any age the motivation to keep exercising comes from finding a sport or activity you enjoy and even into older age still setting goals for self-improvement. Add a few rewards like the buzz from beating competitors a third of my age, and motivation is found for the gym work in preparation for five-day championships. In my retirement speech I joked about becoming a ‘has been’; yes as a psychologist, but not as an ageing person. Sport may be my thing, but finding new interests in life, achieving new goals and remaining future-orientated, enhances self-esteem in retirement. Now where have I read that should be the case? Psychology works, even for psychologists! Colin Newman14 Seaton CloseBurbage
Hinckley

 

Clinical psychologists under threat

I thank ‘name and address supplied’ (Letters, March) for shedding a small shaft of light upon what has seemed to me like the elephant in the dusky room of professional psychology.It is my experience, too, that while the Society is occupying itself with the very worthy issues of regulation and new ways of working, there is a growing number of professional clinical psychologists in my area who now require no regulation because they are not working at all.Closure and downsizing of services along with redundancy, downgrading and redeployment of clinical psychologists is happening, now, in many parts of the country. This seems to be partly because we are relatively easy targets when savings have to be made by provider trusts, but there also seems to be a deeper and more insidious process at work.The much vaunted ‘access to therapies’ movement along with the nascent implementation of the Layard ideas promises to marginalise clinical psychology as a profession in favour of quicker, cheaper means of delivering therapy to those in need.This may, of course be a good thing, but for God’s sake, let’s have the debate. I’ll be quite happy if someone can reassure me that I’m a paranoid old dinosaur for putting together service closure with new systems and perceiving the erosion of quality therapy.
I did e-mail the society President and he replied that the ‘attacks’ on clinical psychology were being monitored closely.
I wonder if he (now she, welcome!) has any inferences yet.
Martin Moloney
41 Broadway
Kettering

 

Titles for sale?
I’ve just received a BPS leaflet telling me that I have the experience and qualifications to call myself a ‘Chartered Scientist’ if I pay the BPS £25. I probably could legitimately call myself a scientist because of qualifications gained outside of psychology, but I don’t see this as applicable to psychologists as a body. While not of particular relevance if used honestly, it could be used to misrepresent. Is this serving the public interest?
Cole Davis
154 Cheviot Gardens
London NW2

Reflections on the new BPS ‘Cash for Titles’ policy or ‘How Einstein really got his CSci’.
When Einstein was still a mere kid
He once read that for 25 quid
You could go on a list
And be a great scientist
So he thought ‘Yes I will’ and he did!
Andrew Bronn
15 Beckside, Northallerton

Editor’s note: See www.bps.org.uk/csci for criteria.

 

After trauma

YOUR recent report (News, February 2007) of our evaluation of trauma management practices at  the Royal Mail Group included a quote from Noreen Tehrani in which she suggests that our findings challenge the widely accepted view of debriefing as a potentially harmful intervention post-trauma. The authors of the research would like to make it clear that they do not agree with this interpretation.
The research is an evaluation of a novel response to trauma that includes a manager support protocol called Support Post Trauma (SPoT). The SPoT protocol was developed for Royal Mail Group by Atos Origin following Noreen Tehrani’s early work with the Post Office in the 1990s. SPoT specifically avoids the intense emotional re-experiencing of a traumatic experience that characterises psychological or critical incident stress debriefing so cannot be compared to ‘debriefing’.
Structural equation modelling of the data indicate that immediate practical support after the event is the most important factor in reducing trauma symptoms at three months and subsequently absence at 12 months post-trauma via perceived organisational response. The SPoT protocol was also found to contribute significantly to enhanced ratings of perceived organisational response although, as your report rightly indicated, there was some (non-significant) evidence of its being associated with increased trauma symptoms.
Overall, this research provides important evidence (we believe) about the positive steps organisations can take to support employees post-trauma. The findings demonstrate how appropriate practical, social and emotional support can be offered to employees, in line with recent NICE guidance. Readers can see the full report by going to www.bohrf.org.uk and clicking on ‘trauma’.
Jo Rick
Institute of Work Psychology
University of Sheffield
Andrew Kinder
Atos Origin
Claire Tyers (on behalf of Siobhan O’Regan)
Institute for Employment Studies

 

Blindsight – Fact or myth?

NICHOLAS Humphrey urges researchers to consider the possibility that recovery from early blindness in humans is due to blindsight (Letter, March 2007). I recommend they first read our early critique (Campion et al., 1983), and then review at the same level of detail that we did, more recent work. Weiskrantz (2007) provides a useful overview. Finally I recommend they consider carefully what an explanation of blindsight, as opposed to ordinary recovered vision, might entail.
Residual or recovered vision in cortically blind patients had been reported as early as Holmes (1918), and suggestions that this was mediated by extra-geniculo-striate pathways had been made as early as Bender and Krieger (1951). Blindsight’s reputation as a new and distinct entity rests entirely on the claim that it is unconscious.
Unconscious behaviour per se is not strange or unusual; it is seen in phenomena such as reflex actions, orienting, and automated skilled behaviour. But blindsight is quite different; subjects are required to make a conscious decision to guess the location or identity of some target object that they cannot see, under forced choice conditions. The bizarreness of this requirement often makes subjects balk at it (Weiskrantz, 2007). Contrary to received wisdom, performance is not sophisticated or accurate, but is very weak.
In 1983 we rejected blindsight in favour of an explanation based on residual normal vision, scattered light and shifting reporting criteria. I have yet to be persuaded away from this view. The fundamental problem is that human tasks used to define visual performance are very different from those used to define consciousness. And animal tasks are very different from human tasks, entailing, as they do, discrimination under forced choice conditions with feedback, and are more equivalent to the trained discrimination tasks I used in a case of apperceptive agnosia (Campion, 1987). Cowey and Stoerig’s (1995) claim that they are unconscious has been clearly refuted by Mole and Kelly (2006).
Unfortunately, misleading accounts of blindsight are unwittingly propagated by those who seem to be familiar only with the headline claims rather than the detail of the experiments. Several months ago a well-known senior scientific figure, speaking on Radio 4, reported that patients, blind with visual cortical damage, could nevertheless point to targets with ‘complete accuracy’. This is untrue.
Nicholas Humphrey admits that SRD’s recovered vision is more complete than is seen in blindsight and that there is no evidence of its being unconscious. To argue, then, that it is unconscious but that SRD just fails to mention the fact, seems not only to stretch credibility to the limit, but to verge on the perverse.
John Campion
Liphook
West Sussex

References
Bender, M.B. & Krieger, H.P. (1951). Visual function in perimetrically blind fields. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 65, 72–79.
Campion, J., Latto, R. & Smith, Y.M. (1983). Is blindsight an effect of scattered light, spared cortex, and near threshold vision? The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 6, 423–486.
Campion J. (1987). Apperceptive agnosia: The specification and description of constructs. In G.W. Humphreys &
M.J. Riddoch (Eds.) Visual object processing: A cognitive neuropsychological approach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Cowey, A. & Stoerig, P. (1995). Visual perception and phenomenal consciousness. Behavioural Brain Research, 71, 147–156.
Holmes, G. (1918). Disturbances of vision by cerebral lesions. British Journal of Ophthalmology, 2, 353–384.
Mole, C. & Kelly, S.D. (2006). On the demonstration of blindsight in monkeys. Mind & Language, 21, 475–483.
Weiskrantz, L. (2007). The case of blindsight. In M. Velmans & S. Schneider (Eds.) The Blackwell companion to consciousness. Oxford: Blackwell.

 

Negotiating access

I was pleased to see the article by Matthiesen and Richter on negotiating access to research participants in the ‘real world’(March 2007). I thought it highlighted accurately and honestly the challenges and rewards of conducting research in such ‘non-traditional’ settings. Personally, I am currently collecting data on a sample (N = 4000) of the British Army who are extremely busy preparing to deploy to an operational area and was therefore nodding knowingly, with a wry smile, at the range of issues brought up by the authors. I myself have planned for many of the potential hoops, hurdles and pitfalls that must be jumped through, jumped over and fell into. My newly acquired habits include head scratching, e-mail ping-pong, envelope packing, military style planning 24/7, and general franticness. There is an adage within the military that is paraphrased as ‘No plan survives first contact’, which dictates that no matter how good your original plan and organisation, it will have to change it when you first make contact with the enemy. I certainly don’t see the UK armed forces as my enemy, but this adage highlights the necessity to have a very flexible and patient attitude in dealing with ‘applied’ populations, military or otherwise, and the need to build flexibility into your plan. Despite the excellent advice and guidance by Matthiesen and Richter, things will still not go as planned.The range of applied populations is vast and I’m sure no two populations will ever be the same, whether they are private organisations, government departments, societal subgroups, or even cross-cultural student populations. I firmly believe that both undergraduate and postgraduate students would improve their design and collection skills should they choose to take up the challenge of collecting data in such non-traditional populations. Matthiesen and Richter’s article contained plenty of sage advice, possibly a bit overwhelming for a novice to this area; however, it was great to see such an article. The message was simple, if you fail to plan adequately (way ahead of time) then your research runs the very real risk of never getting off the ground. No planning = no relationships = no access = no data.Despite these challenges, and the occasional sleepless night, conducting research and collecting data in these environments is an enormously satisfying experience. I much prefer designing and executing data collection in such dynamic and complex environments than sitting in a lab!
Neil G. Verrall
Human Systems Group
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
Farnborough

 

Adoption support: A registration experience

In 2003 myself (a chartered psychologist) and my business partner (an occupational therapist registered with the Health Professions Council) formed an independent partnership to offer psychological and therapeutic services to families and children and professionals. We have extensive experience of working in health, education and social services and have particular expertise in working in the area of adoption and fostering. One of contracts was offering a monthly consultation clinic to adoptive families via our local independent adoption agency with whom we had worked previously in planning and delivering a training programme for adopters.In January 2006 we found, out via a counselling colleague, that new Adoption Act regulations had come into force in December 2005 which required all those working in the field of adoption support, who were not either employed by health, social services or education or by an independent registered adoption agency, needed to register with Commission for Social Care Inspection.
We contacted CSCI who told us we needed to go through the application and registration process. They also said we were acting illegally by seeing any families for post-adoption support and needed to stop any work we were currently involved in. This meant we had to stop seeing several families who had been referred to us and had to cancel our monthly clinic.
We found this position hard to understand as we felt our qualifications and fitness to do the work were governed by our respective professional bodies. CSCI assured us that all the relevant professional bodies had been consulted and knew about these new regulations. At this point I approached the BPS, who knew nothing of the new regulations.
Because we are committed to our work in adoption we decide to go ahead with the registration process. The procedure itself is cumbersome and it took us many hours to complete the application and provide all the evidence CSCI required. These included references from our bank, new CRB checks although we already had updated ones, information from our accountant, written polices on grievance procedures, equality statements, and so on.
During the initial stages of completing the forms the requirements changed and it was not always clear what forms we needed to complete. CSCI found it more or less impossible to cope with us as a partnership and have insisted one of us is named as the manager of our service, which is inappropriate for an equal partnership arrangement.
The whole process took us about six months and culminated in an interview to assess out ‘fitness’ to run an adoption support service – which meant were we people of integrity and reliability. It did not seem to be of importance how qualified or experienced we were in the field of adoption. At the interview we were told we would be inspected within the next six months.
Since our registration the negotiations undertaken by the BPS have resulted in the DoE changing their minds on one key point. They are now stating if independent practitioners are commissioned to do work for a registered adoption agency, or a local authority, they do not need to be registered with CSCI. It is up to that agency to be satisfied any individual is qualified to do the work. However, anyone who accepts referrals direct from the public or via another source (e.g. solicitor or GP) will still need to register. As we very rarely take any work other than via the local authority or the independent adoption agency, we need not have registered.
The registration and inspection service has now been transferred to Ofsted – we do not know if this will mean more changes.
Sue Holt
West Grange
Clyst Heath
Exeter

 

Information

AN east London (E17) primary school is seeking volunteers to work with individual children across Key Stages 1 and 2, supporting literacy and numeracy.Deirdre Folan[email protected]

A friend of mine is preparing and researching a book on Len Deighton’s iconic spy thriller The Ipcress File, both the original novel (published in 1962) and the 1965 film starring Michael Caine. The producer of the film, who acquired the rights to Len’s novel on publication, was the late Harry Saltzman, who also produced the Bond films. In connection with this he came across a brief article in the British film magazine Sight & Sound Spring 1962 issue, concerning Saltzman’s involvement with Dr Norman Dixon (of University College, London, and Charles Kasher, in an experiment using subliminal techniques in feature films – not for advertising purposes, but to ‘enhance the audience’s appreciation of a scene’. According to the article, the process was called ‘Psychorama’. He is keen to find out some more details about this experiment and Saltzman’s involvement. As Norman Dixon’s personal archive was destroyed in a fire, and UCL have no information in their own archives, we wondered whether any readers have any information or suggestions. Any leads would be much appreciated.
Sheila Stevens
[email protected]

As part of an evaluation of the Intermediate Psychological Service at the North East London Mental Heath Trust, I am investigating whether any similar services exist in the UK for an intermediate group of clients who may be too complex for primary care but not meet CMHT criteria. This group consists of people experiencing medium to long-term problems, with moderate (but not severe) impairment in functioning and/or relationships. Please contact me if you have any information about such a service.
Emily Pryce-Jenkins
[email protected]

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