Society

President’s column; Book Awards 2013; engaging with politics in Northern Ireland; communicating psychology to the public through dance; Division of Health Psychology awards; and more

President’s column
Richard Mallows
Contact Richard Mallows via the Society’s Leicester office,
or e-mail: [email protected]

Julian Assange, Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden have dominated the headlines over and above issues of conflict, austerity and unemployment. Motivations aside, what these individual’s actions have revealed is that conventional law and engineering solutions are of little help in a supranational environment:

The totality of human society has become existentially dependent upon the safe and secure operation of the cyber domain. It is impossible to envision a successful military operation without dependable access to the cyber domain. We will fail to comprehend the essential nature of the cyber domain if we continue to think of it as a technical or engineering system. The consequences of such a failure will be catastrophic. Machine age thinking has become obsolete. There is a now an urgent need for the development of a new, fundamentally interdisciplinary and human-centred approach to our understanding of the fifth domain.’

This abstract, taken from a defence-related journal but equally relevant at an individual level, points clearly to the role that psychology could and should play. Significantly more funding is required particularly from the Economic and Social Research Council to complement that from engineering and physical science.

A timely ‘First Annual Conference on Cyberpsychology’ was held at De Montfort University on the second floor of their Hugh Aston Building. Issues considered during the day included communication, cyberbullying, technology and crime. Many of the papers dealt with the fine detail of our everyday behaviour and experience with computers.

How do activities such as using e-mail, Google, Facebook, games, and so on, relate to our personality, identity and susceptibility?

Two floors below a week-long series of events on cybersecurity was in progress. As the magnitude of the interaction between humans and cybersecurity hit me as vital for the future of psychology, I wondered if I could gatecrash their conference. Fortunately this was not necessary as two relevant papers came at the end of the day. First, from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, which demonstrated just how complex the investigation of cyber defence is for psychologists used to experimental designs. A second paper given by Jason Nurse, a computer scientist at the Cyber Security Centre at Oxford University, proposed an alternative view. He was clearly entranced by the range of psychological aspects pertinent to the security world. Insight into how security mechanisms fail is not obvious for many who are happy to use insecure passwords on the basis that they feel less at risk than other users! Human beings are innately curious and impulsive. Who at work could resist an e-mail purportedly from their employer that had ‘Candidates for Redundancy’ as its subject matter? Security risk symbols need to be clear and consistent, but analysis of motivation is just as important.

Disrupting computer systems can be as facile as flushing someone’s electronic toilet or as serious as endangering lives. In this cyber domain it is not just a matter of securing our computers against a virus. Apart from the necessary minutiae that psychologists are currently considering we need to move on to the bigger picture; question our notions of freedom versus privacy and the value judgements made by the monopolies we have coalesced around such as Google with its claim to make the world’s information accessible and useful and Facebook with its Likes. Hardware is advancing all the time and we have to keep pace with the human perspective. Many of our current concerns could quickly become obsolete with the advent of quantum computing.

Society has become as dependent on global computer systems as it has on the printed word and electricity. The task of constructing a resilient cyber ecosystem will be dependent on social scientists working together with computer scientists. A new BPS Section of Cyberpsychology whose remit will be outward looking and inclusive is vital. If all is going to end well then radical approaches are needed. Shakespeare was prescient in describing: ‘the web of our life is a mingled yarn good and ill together’.

Book Awards 2013

A book described by Professional Manager, the magazine of the Chartered Management Institute, as ‘very practical…and perhaps indispensable to managers at all levels’ has won one of the Society’s Book Awards for 2013. This year, for the first time, awards were made in four categories, and Preventing Stress in Organizations: How to Develop Positive Managers by Emma Donaldson-Feilder, Joanna Yarker and Rachel Lewis (Wiley Blackwell) was chosen as the best ‘Practitioner Text’.

The winner in the ‘Academic Monograph’ category was Social Understanding and Social Lives: From Toddlerhood Through to the Transition to School by Claire Hughes (Taylor & Francis). This was lauded by a reviewer on the Economic and Social Research Council as ‘ideal reading for researchers actively working in the field, graduate and undergraduate students specializing in developmental psychology, educational and health professionals, and parents interested in learning about children’s early social development’.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Psychology: An Introduction by Victoria Clarke, Sonja J. Ellis, Elizabeth Peel & Damien W Riggs (Cambridge University Press) was the winning ‘Textbook’. This ‘engagingly written introduction’ to this area of study was praised in a review for the newsletter of Division 44 of the American Psychological Association.

The ‘Popular Science’ category saw a victory for the psychologist and broadcaster Claudia Hammond and her Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (Canongate), described by The Observer as a ‘lively account of our perception of time’. In 2012 Claudia Hammond won the Society’s Public Engagement and Media Award and gave a lecture on time at our Annual Conference in London. There she explained that we ‘judge time prospectively and retrospectively and these two perspectives on time can explain many of its mysteries’.
The four winners have each been invited to give a lecture at next year’s Annual Conference, where they will also be presented with a commemorative certificate.

Dancing statistics

Four short films that explain statistical concepts via dance, and that were partly funded by a 2011 BPS Public Engagement Grant, have been viewed thousands of times on the BPS YouTube channel.

The grant was awarded to Lucy Irving, a PhD student at Middlesex University, for her project ‘Communicating psychology to the public through dance’ that aimed to help psychology students get to grips with, what is seen by many, as the most difficult and scary part of a psychology degree, with Professor Andy Field from the University of Sussex coming on board shortly after. 

Lucy, who teaches research methods at Newham College University Centre, wanted to make learning about statistics fun and engaging and demystify the concepts. Lucy explained:
‘I knew this wasn’t an original concept but we hoped that representing complicated psychological constructs and statistical procedures in fun and memorable ways would enable more psychology students to understand and engage with them.’
Bringing together a team that included a professional choreographer Masha Gurina, filmmaker Kyle Stevenson, and project manager, psychology graduate and professional dancer Elise Phillips, they experimented with the dancers to find ways of communicating the concepts: correlation, variance, frequency distributions, sampling and standard error.

Lucy said: ‘People don’t ordinarily associate statistics with dance but it’s often the more unusual and surprising ideas that are most memorable. Often my students simply don’t know how to think about stats in a way that they’re comfortable with, they think it’s all maths and equations, so maybe thinking about them in a new way will take away some of their fear.  We hope the films enable them to see that actually, when you step away from all the Greek and algebra, just for a moment, statistics can be quite beautiful.’

Since being launched at Siobhan Davies Dance studios and subsequently placed on the BPS YouTube channel the videos have been viewed over 17,000 times in one week and have attracted lots of positive comments. The project also received funding from IdeasTap.If you have questions or comments about the films please contact @statsdancer on Twitter or [email protected].

The Society runs an annual public engagement grant scheme;
for more information please visit www.bps.org.uk/PEGrants 

 

Engaging with politics in Northern Ireland

Fifteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and with the advent of a relatively stable political system in Northern Ireland, increasing numbers of organisations are realising the value in positive public and political engagement to effectively influence the policy environment. The Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society is in a strong position in this regard and I am confident that the organisation can become the authorative, public voice of psychology here.

Looking ahead to the next few months, there are several pieces of legislation passing through the Assembly where the expertise of psychologists will be valuable. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and the Department of Justice are working jointly on a new Mental Capacity Bill, which aims to tighten safeguarding regulations around protecting vulnerable people.

The DHSSPS is also seeking to introduce the Adoption Bill, which will address the long-term implications for children and families affected by adoption processes. Finally, the Education Minister will introduce the Special Educational Needs Bill to clarify support mechanisms for pupils with specific physical, mental and emotional requirements.

In policy terms the DHSSPS continues its extensive review of health and social care provision in Northern Ireland. At the core of Transforming Your Care is a focus on prevention, early interventions, integrated care and personalised care to enable key services to be carried out more regularly in the community. Also in the coming months £2.4 million of investment will be attributed to the Obesity Prevention Framework, a new Breastfeeding strategy will be published and the Mental Health and Well-being promotion strategy will go out to consultation.

The NIBPS began its political engagement process in earnest recently by organising a highly successful event in the historic Stormont parliament building. Professor Jo Silvester, from Cass Business School, provided invited politicians and key Assembly staffers with a psychological perspective on what makes a good politician. The Northern Ireland Political Correspondent for the BBC, Martina Purdy, was also present and invited Professor Silvester to speak on Evening Extra, a popular current affairs programme. Members of the NI Branch also had a chance to network with politicians and answer questions about their specialisms. It was a positive and worthwhile event that created new relationships and opened doors to positive conversations that are to be continued.Ciara Fitzpatrick
Northern Ireland Assembly Liaison Officer
[email protected]
@CiaraFitz_MC

 

Financial matters for members
Tax break

The Inland Revenue has agreed to allow tax relief on all Society membership subscription fees, including Division, Section, Special Group and journal payments.
For more information, go to www.bps.org.uk/what-we-do/benefits-belonging/membership/income-tax-relief/income-tax-relief

Professional indemnity insurance

The government is planning to introduce legislation that will require registrants with the Health and Care Professions Council to declare that they have professional indemnity insurance when renewing their registration or when registering for the first time.
For more information, go to www.hcpc-uk.org/registrants/indemnity/

Health awards                                                                                     

At its conference in Brighton in September, the Division of Health Psychology announced the winners of its three annual awards.Dr Nicky Thomas from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust received the Division’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Health Psychology.

This award is made to someone who has an outstanding record of personal achievements and has also made significant contributions to the advancement of health psychology knowledge. Dr Thomas is best known for her work on sickle cell disorder. In 1997 she set up the UK’s first adult health psychology service to support people with the condition.

Professor Susan Michie from University College London received the Award for Distinguished Contribution to Health Psychology. She has enjoyed a varied career as a clinical and health psychologist, and currently works on designing and evaluating theory-based interventions to change people’s behaviour. She also advises the Department of Health on behaviour change in relation to health.

Dr Joseph Chilcot from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London received the Early Career Researcher Award. He specialises in the psychological factors associated with chronic illnesses and has a particular interest in improving the clinical and psychosocial outcomes for kidney dialysis patients.

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