One on one...with Essi Viding

University College London, Psychology and Language Sciences; Spearman Medal winner 2011. Includes web-only answers.

One book that you think all psychologists should read

Michael Rutter’s Genes and Behaviour. It eloquently and effortlessly gives a comprehensive overview of behaviour genetics.

One little known fact about psychopathy

It is not untreatable. There is now data from juvenile settings that is very promising with regard to treatment outcome. The challenge is to figure out what drives behavioural change and get better and more effective in delivering treatment.

One thing that you would change about psychology

Nothing. This is a diverse field doing some of the most exciting science around.

One challenge you think psychology faces

Translating basic science into practice, particularly in a way that fully utilises findings from different traditions of psychology and different methodological approaches.

One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists

Don’t take the review process personally. You have to be able to eat humble pie in the face of constructive criticism and to be bold enough to ignore the less constructive sort.

One way genetic research in psychology is developing

Researchers are really starting to crack the mechanisms of gene–environment interplay, which is exciting. Some of the coolest work at the moment is done by people working on epigenetics, such as Jon Mill at the Institute of Psychiatry. He is looking at how environmental influences can determine whether a gene is expressed or not, and how gene expression in response to environmental influences may vary between individuals who have different genotypes.

One cultural recommendation

Hefner, for music and lyrics.

One alternative career path you may have chosen

Architect. In fact, I seriously considered it before applying to do psychology. My son’s second name is Alvar in homage to the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

One hero or heroine from psychology past or present

In the interest of equality, I will pick both a hero and a heroine: Robert Plomin and Uta Frith. Both are amazing researchers who have been trailblazers in their fields and both are incredibly generous mentors for the next generation of researchers.

One psychological superpower you'd like to have

It would be handy to be able to crank out complex stats without a computer.

One great thing that psychology has achieved

Innovative social psychology research that has explored the effects of cultural stereotypes on behaviour. Cordelia Fine has done a magnificent job in overviewing some of this research in her book Delusions of Gender, which debunks many of the sex difference stereotypes that we seem to hold so dear.

One problem that psychology should deal with

It is frustrating to see so many excellent female scientists and practitioners not progressing to the more senior roles in their profession. I am confident that better mentoring arrangements would go a substantial way towards solving this problem, as would formal institutional arrangements such as organising lectures and meetings at child-friendly hours/dates.

Web-only answers

One hope for the future of psychology

I think that the field is alive and well due to its enthusiastic embrace of multiple research methodologies to understand how the mind works.

One moment that changed the course of your career

I worked as a research assistant with James Blair after my BSc. I was convinced that I would go on to do clinical psychology, but found the research so fascinating that I decided to do a PhD instead.

One proud moment

I was extremely proud to see my PhD student Charlotte Cecil present her research to a large audience last week. She was completely brilliant.

One thing that organised psychology could do better

I think that there could be better formal structures to promote mentoring of young researchers/professionals.

One inspiration

I have been lucky to have several extraordinary mentors who have inspired me. I have to mention at least four: Robert Plomin, Francesca Happé, Uta Frith and Terrie Moffitt.

One regret

I don’t really ‘do regrets’, but if the Psychology Genie offered a wish I would probably choose to go back in time and do a post doc where I learnt more about psychopharmacology.

One final thought

At the start of my career Robert Plomin told me to pick my collaborators carefully. This advice has served me well and I have been lucky to work with some excellent and inspiring people throughout my career. My closest collaborator is Eamon McCrory and together we run a research group at UCL. It is absolutely great for both productivity and sanity to work together with someone.

Coming soon

Articles on longevity, thought suppression, workaholism, mindfulness and much more...

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