Including sex and intelligence, terrorism, CPD and more.

Sex and intelligence

RICHARD Lynn (‘Sex differences in IQ’, Letters, August 2005) contends that men are more intelligent than women, and that my contention that males have a stronger drive to ‘systemise’ is support for his position. (For some reason, Lynn misquotes this as a males having a stronger ability in ‘synthesising’, which of course is something completely different. I can only assume this is a typo).
Systemising is the drive to analyse a system (any kind of system, be it mechanical, natural or abstract) into input–operation–output relations. Maths is of course the prime example of systemising, and it is well known that far more males than females are attracted to work in maths, at higher levels. The same marked sex ratio biased towards males is seen in physics, engineering and computer science, all disciplines that require strong systemising skills.
But in my book The Essential Difference I discuss the issue that measures of systemising conflate ‘interest’ and ‘ability’, and at present it is hard to disentangle the two. That is, it may be that all we are observing is a stronger interest to systemise among males, and that it is the interest that then drives the individual’s ability levels.
Second, my talented PhD student Jac Billington has recently looked at the correlations between systemising (as measured on a questionnaire called the Systemizing Quotient (SQ)) and an IQ test (the Raven’s Progressive Matrices). She finds that the two are uncorrelated. She confirmed the established sex difference on the SQ (males scoring higher than females) but did not find men scored higher on the IQ test. In fact, women scored higher than men on Raven’s IQ test.
All this points to the following conclusions: that Lynn is wrong to assume that systemising and IQ are one and the same thing; and that a stronger drive in males to systemise does not mean males are more intelligent overall.
I wish Lynn had read the relevant section of my book, which I quote here:
Overall intelligence is not better in one sex or the other, but the profiles (reflecting relative strength in specific domains) are different between the two sexes. I am investigating the claim that women are better at empathizing and men are better at systemizing, but this does not mean that one sex is more intelligent overall. (p.10)
Simon Baron-Cohen
Cambridge University

I FOUND the content of Richard Lynn’s letter strangely outdated. I thought everyone was aware that it is not the size but the density of the brain that is relevant. (Women have generally a denser and more ‘connected’ brain, while men are usually thought to have fewer cross-brain connections and activity.)
The plasticity of the brain suggests, however, that a lot of the difference in IQ scores is cultural, and certainly the content of IQ tests generally favour white men men over other groups, which probably reflects what this group has historically thought important. But it is interesting, however, that girls are scored more harshly than boys on IQ tests at age c.11 years because girls otherwise would en masse do better than them.
Finally, I hardly think asking people to rate their parents’ intelligence is helpful given the cultural norms and sexual biases of our age. In any case, I think most of us would take one look at the world and realise that whatever men have more of it doesn’t appear to be what most of us would call intelligence. Perhaps all of this just suggests how outdated IQ testing really is.
Jennifer Poole
48 Winchester Road

A conflict of interest

I WOULD be grateful for members’ opinions on a matter of ethics and professional behaviour that has come to my notice and bothers me. Recently I have noticed some psychologists doing detailed medico-legal reports that recommend hours of private therapy, even stipulating the likely fees. Then I have found cases in which these psychologists have gone on to do the work themselves.
I have asked some lawyers and colleagues who agree that this represents a conflict of interest. If one is assessing and recommending private work, one is generating a well-paid job. It then seems inappropriate to do it oneself. There may be temptation, such as the client begging one to do it, the difficulty of finding competent others in the area, etc. However it seems to be unprofessional and unethical. One cannot be unbiased about the sort of therapy, length of therapy, or indeed whether it was even necessary, if one has proposed it.
Is this a subject worthy of a statement in The Psychologist to guide members in their behaviour in this area?
Margaret Ballard
30 Paradise Walk
London SW3

Editor’s note: I have forwarded this for consideration as a topic for a future ‘Ethics column’ in The Psychologist.

Addressing the parenting paradox

WE read with interest Lisa Woolfson`s article (‘Disability and the parenting paradox’, July 2005) as we have recently completed a study which was a replication and extension of the Chavira et al. (2000) study on a UK population, using quantitative methods. This study also raised the paradox that in reducing the degree to which parents attribute responsibility, in order to reduce levels of anger, there might also be an effect of reducing the expectation that children may be able to make positive changes. The literature offers two different approaches to addressing this issue.
Weiner (1995) differentiates between responsibility and controllability. Controllability
is an attribution made regarding the degree to which an action is under a person’s control; responsibility is a moral judgement that arises after a controllable judgement has been made and been subject to the consideration of possible ‘mitigating factors’. It might be possible to use mitigating factors, perhaps building a social model of disability for the parent in considering their child’s behaviour, that would lead to a reduction in judgements of responsibility but maintain a judgement of control.
An alternative model is offered by Brickman et al. (1982), who consider the judgement of responsibility as an attribution but who distinguish responsibility for the development of a problem from responsibility for the solution. This may also provide a useful way of working with parents or carers for children with severe learning disabilities and communication impairments.
Using the Brickman et al. model it is possible to suggest to parents or carers that behaviours such as aggression produce a response that meets a need for the child, which, given their difficulties, they have no other means of communicating. This reframes the behaviour as resulting from an interaction between the child and the environment, and therefore sees the child as not being solely responsible for the development of the behaviour. However, it is then possible to work with parents and carers to explore how a child can then, over time, be helped to develop alternative means of communicating the same need, thus seeing the child as having some responsibility, and an active role, in the solution.
We would be interested in other people’s view of these ideas.
Heather Armstrong
Vale of Aylesbury Primary Care Trust
Dave Dagnan
North Cumbria Mental Health and Learning Disabilities NHS Trust

Brickman, P., Rabinowitz, V.C., Karuza, J. Jr et al. (1982). Models of helping and coping. American Psychologist, 37, 368–384.
Chavira, V., Lopez, S.R., Blacher, J. & Shapiro, J. (2000). Latina mothers’ attributions, emotions and reactions to the problem behaviour of their children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 245–252.
Weiner, B. (1995). Judgements of responsibility. New York: Guilford Press.

Models of terrorism

I NOTICE the Society’s response to the London bombings published in the August issue refers readers to several articles of potential relevance. Alas, all these pieces implicitly accept the model of terrorism in which ‘we’ are the victims of terrorist acts perpetrated by individuals whose psychological ‘motives’ we are charged to understand. Regrettably, no mention was made either of Phil Banyard’s letter (November 2004) or my own and Anthony Esgate’s (February 2005) in which we situate terrorism within the wider political context.
For example, the standard definition of terrorism (adopted by all the major security agencies) sees it as ‘the use or threatened use of violence against civilian populations in order to achieve economic or political aims’. Using this definition enables us to see
US and UK actions over many years (including the current actions in Iraq) as having been responsible for killing enormous numbers of civilians of other nations in order to achieve political and economic aims. These numbers dwarf those which have resulted from the actions of ‘individual’ terrorists. Thus if we are really interested in terrorism (and in resolving it) we could choose to view the current terrorism directed against the UK as one of the consequences of UK and US state terrorism; we would learn much more about the phenomenon by studying why our political leaders so willingly endorse its use. The US, incidentally, is the only country to have been found guilty by the international courts of perpetrating state terrorism, through its support for terrorist attacks against the people of Nicaragua.
The views of the majority of the UK population in believing that the London attacks are related to the war in Iraq, and that the risk of further attacks has been elevated by the Iraq war, are consistent with this wider notion of terrorism. Sadly the BPS appears to take the narrow view endorsed by the British government which places our country’s terrorist actions firmly outside the zone of responsibility for why others would wish to attack us. Any psychological perspective on terrorism which ignores Anglo-American state terrorism is simply not worthy of serious consideration. Again I ask whose interests are being served by this subservience to elite interests?
Ron Roberts
Kingston University

Monitoring continued professional development

I HAVE I attended one of the ‘roll out’ sessions for the Society’s continuing professional development scheme. It is worryingly bad.
I am very much in favour of CPD for psychologists with the aim of maintaining – in some cases establishing – the highest professional standards, but the scheme being imposed on the Society is unlikely to achieve this aim.
In order to acquire a practising certificate, I will need to submit a satisfactory CPD log. That sounds reasonable, but there is no clear indication in the scheme about who will decide that an individual’s CPD is satisfactory or what criteria will be used. We were told some logs might be evaluated ‘in office’. Others will be evaluated by someone from the same Division as the applicant. Applicants that choose not to belong to a Division will have to nominate the Division that most matches their work.
Not surprisingly, the establishment of Divisions, which many of us opposed, has proved divisive. Is it really believed that no clinical psychologist would be capable of evaluating the CPD log of an educational psychologist? Or is the Society intending to use academics with limited practice experience to assess CPD submissions; presumably on the basis of compliance with any current trends they may wish to foster?
There is nothing in the plan to say how evaluators of CPD will be selected, what criteria they will apply and, importantly, how the inevitable disputes will be resolved. The scheme seems lack any standard for evaluators and any appeal process.
Brian Osman
Langham Road

Tony Cassidy, Chair of the Standing Committee for Continuing Professional Development, replies: The CPD monitoring system will consist of two stages. Firstly, every CPD submission will be checked in the BPS office to ensure it contains all the information set out in the requirements (see www.bps.org.uk/cpd in the members’ area). Secondly, a 5 per cent sample will be randomly selected for qualitative assessment by Divisional CPD assessors. During the consultation process, a large majority were in favour of evaluation by experienced practising psychologists, preferably from a similar or related area of work to that of the person submitting the CPD log. Using the existing Divisional structure was clearly the most appropriate way of achieving this. Lead CPD assessors will help ensure consistency within and across Divisions by auditing decisions made by assessors in their Divisions and meeting at least quarterly to moderate Divisional CPD assessments.
Consultation on the question of who should assess the logs of those not currently Divisional members resulted in various suggestions, including the use of Branch members. Discussions with the Branches Forum highlighted practical difficulties in matching CPD submissions with appropriate assessors. It was therefore agreed that during the first year of operation, chartered psychologists who are not members of a Division would be asked to nominate a Division for monitoring purposes (i.e. the Division to which they feel their work most closely relates). This was on the understanding that the monitoring processes will be reviewed in the light of experience gained in that first operational year, during which no sanctions will be applied.
There is no intention to limit CPD assessors to members working in academia. We expect applications will be received from members covering widely different areas of practice. The selection process for assessors will be undertaken by the Divisions, based on the criteria set out in the job specifications (now available from the Society’s office).
CPD assessments are likely to ask: Are the development needs identified appropriate
to the role? Are the activities appropriate in addressing the development needs identified? Does the CPD log indicate an ongoing process of reflective evaluation?
Detailed criteria for qualitative assessment have
not yet been published. This year will be used as a further developmental stage with the information gained from the first sets of assessment helping to inform the breadth and depth of criteria required. Findings from the 2003 pilot study led to the recommendation to proceed with a developmental approach rather than be tightly prescriptive in the first instance, the aim being to introduce a realistic set of criteria appropriate across the Society.
Any member who disputes a CPD assessment decision will have the right of appeal under the Society’s appeals process, which is designed to be equitable and transparent and has been developed to enable processing of appeals against decisions in respect of all areas of membership and qualifications.


A REPUTABLE psychological body like the BPS could use part of its website to publicly debunk psychological myths that are damaging many people’s lives – we could list dozens. There are several such sites already, but they can be as suspect as what they claim to explode.
Valerie Yule
57 Waimarie Drive
Mount Waverley

Editor’s comment: That could indeed be interesting for the Society or The Psychologist. On a similar note, although perhaps more internal to psychology,
I have been considering a ‘Bad psychology’ column not unlike the ‘Bad science’ column in The Guardian’s Science section. It would flag up research that, due to poor hypothesising, shoddy methods or unwise interpretation of results, fails to inform our understanding or even misleads. Of course, researchers would have the opportunity to respond. What do readers think?

Free range ethics?

I AM sure I wasn’t the only chicken to have my feathers ruffled when reading Sarah Lee’s ‘Reason and the yuck factor’ (August, 2005).
My mother hen taught me from an early age that I had nothing to fear from humans
as she said they had evolved a very sound ethical system based on the study and transmission of sacred texts. She said that practices such as necrophilia and bestiality were banned in advanced human societies, and that all human beings knew about this.
Imagine my horrified clucks, then, when I read that all ethical thinking had suddenly been reduced to the maxim that anything is OK as long as it doesn’t harm any ‘sentient’ being. Anything above and beyond this was described as an emotional ‘yuck’ factor. Thus readers were led to think that their disgust at reading the opening ‘sex with the dead chicken’ scenario was not up to the ethical standards of the so-called moral philosophers.
I can’t squawk too loudly about this, because I know that if being shown a religious taboo-breaking scenario causes someone emotional anguish, this is because they understand the basic concepts of human dignity which atheistic philosophers fail to grasp. Harm to sentient beings plays only one part. Failing to show respect and reverence for existence itself is far more serious. The thought of a man being reduced to having sex with a dead bird not only invokes physical repulsion it also somehow breaks one’s heart and pierces the soul.
Unlike we birds with our pea-brains, you humans have evolved to be deeply ethical creatures. You don’t just think it’s wrong to have sex with a dead chicken, you know it is wrong. This is much more than an instinctive biological ‘yuck’; it’s a deeply existential reaction that you have learnt through the cultural transmission of religious teachings through thousands of years.
I have no wish to peck at Ms Lee as I know she meant no harm, and she has a right to produce evidence as she finds it. However, because the article fails to mention the possibility of an ethic of human dignity, it is possible to come to the conclusion on reading it that bestiality and necrophilia are perfectly acceptable activities.
Diana ‘La Poule’ Barker
La Maison Solaire
8 Route de Pietat
64110 Uzos


- I AM a 32-year-old primary teacher with a degree in social psychology. I am seeking to reawaken my long-standing interest in child psychology with a view to a possible career change in the future. Thus I would be grateful of any voluntary work experience in the Dorset/Bournemouth area. Rebecca BrowneE-mail [email protected]

- I RECENTLY graduated with a ‘Graduate Diploma in Psychology’ with GBR status. I am 35 years of age and have several years’ experience in working with adults with mental health problems in a variety of settings. I am due to start an MSc health psychology in September and would very much like to volunteer on a part-time basis in the area of health psychology. I am particularly interested in eating disorders, chronic pain clinical work and ME. I am based in northwest London. Please contact me if you are able to assist with opportunities.
Julie Cohn
E-mail: [email protected]; tel: 020 8203 7028

- I AM a psychology graduate with an upper second class honours degree. I am searching for voluntary work experience or research experience in clinical psychology, particularly in the West Midlands. I have full CRB clearance. My dissertation was on attitudes to schizophrenia and whether there are sex differences in the relationship between causal beliefs and attitudes towards schizophrenia, I have voluntary work experience in a special school.
Louise Eccleston
E-mail [email protected]

- I AM clearing my shelves of loads of books; if anyone is interested in taking any away please e-mail me for a list. They range in dates from the 1960s to 1990s. The more recent textbooks could still be of use for introductory courses, the earlier ones may be of interest from a historical or theoretical point of view. You’ll need to get to west London to pick them up though.Jonathan Smith
E-mail: [email protected]

- I AM a psychology graduate with an upper second class honours degree. I am searching for voluntary work experience (full- or part-time) in counselling psychology, preferably in the West Midlands. I hold an enhanced disclosure (due to be renewed). I wish to study for a master’s in counselling psychology in September 2007 and would like practical experience to help build my knowledge.
Sadie Howell
E-mail: [email protected]; tel:01299 822632, 0773 282 0930

- I AM looking for a training course on mediation that focuses on young people and their families, with an aim to try to avoid the young person becoming homeless. Does anyone know a good one in the London area? My background is in youth and community work and I currently work in a youth offending team.
Michael O’Sullivan
Tel: 020 8901 4455; e-mail: [email protected]

You can also use the forum at www.thepsychologist.org.uk to seek work experience and information.

Emotion theories and signalling

I REFER to Tony Manstead’s article ‘The social dimension of emotion’ (August 2005) and its references to theories of emotion and to facial expressions. I wish to draw attention to one theory of emotion and emotional behaviour which I believe, from a review of theorising about emotion from the 19th century to the present (Salzen, 2001), is distinctive in that it says that emotional behaviours are the social signals of social needs and satisfactions. This is the ‘thwarted action state signalling’ (TASS) theory of emotion (Salzen, 1991) that is based on the ethological analysis of vertebrate agonistic and courtship social displays.
This analysis shows that such displays can be understood as the intention movements of aroused activities that are blocked (thwarted) either by the lack of the adequate stimulus situation or by ambivalent stimulation giving conflicting action states. This aroused but thwarted state is the state of emotion while the thwarted intention movements and postures and the associated perceptible autonomic states constitute emotional behaviours that convey the nature of the aroused motivations and their desired behaviours to a social partner.
In the course of evolution social partners have come to respond to these displays in ways that bring about the required adequate stimulation or remove the ambivalence and so allow performance of the aroused activities. The switch in behaviour from the display to the consummatory behaviour has also evolved into special relaxation displays (e.g. smiling and laughter) that signal that the social partner’s helping behaviour has been successful and can cease, so reinforcing the probability of its recurrence on future occasions (i.e. it is rewarding).
I have previously given a full analysis of human facial expressions of emotion in terms of such intention movements (Salzen, 1981) and this analysis pre-dates by
a decade the reference to Fridlund’s treatment of facial displays as communicating intentions.
In short the TASS theory of emotion provides a solid foundation for the social dimension of emotion in that it shows that emotional displays are emitted (and indeed in evolutionary terms may be said to be designed) primarily to affect the social partner. Only secondarily have they come also to affect the emitter through self-perception of these displays and their associated internal perceptions – contrary to most emotion theories, which make the experience of the internal emotional state as primary to the concept. This secondary self-perception of emotional behaviours and states has, of course, important consequences in terms of self-awareness and self-control and I have considered these elsewhere (Salzen, 1998). The papers to which I have referred may not be easily available and anyone interested in emotion who would like copies of these and related papers should contact me.
Eric A. Salzen
Psychology Department
King’s College
Aberdeen University

Salzen, E.A. (1981). Perception of emotion in faces. In G. Davies, H. Ellis & J. Shepherd (Eds.) Perceiving and remembering faces (pp.133–169). London: Academic Press.
Salzen, E.A. (1991). On the nature of emotion. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 5, 47–88.
Salzen, E.A. (1998). Emotion and self-awareness. Applied Animal Science, 57, 299–313.
Salzen, E.A. (2001). A century of emotion theories – Proliferation without progress? History and Philosophy of Psychology, 3, 56–75.

Henry Ferguson 1906-2004 

HENRY Hall Ferguson died in October 2004 on the eve of his 98th birthday. I owe
a deep debt of gratitude to him as his student for the way in which he contrived, as Head of the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews within the Department of Philosophy, to pioneer the scientific use of psychological measurement. The knowledge now embodied in the Level A and Level B Certificates of the British Psychological Society was substantially covered in his lectures on scientific method, which were boring but comprehensive and sound.
They were complemented by Psychology Practicals in which his students tested each other in pairs on a wide variety of tests. His notes were still relevant and useful 50 years later.
Apart from this significant contribution, his talents were underestimated. He was colour-blind, accident-prone and had a stammer, which made his sceptical students suspect that his study of psychology was a voyage of self-discovery. He expressed himself best on paper, and was the author of two books and several journal articles in the 1930s. But at St Andrews he had arrived and was content.
Henry Ferguson was a pupil of the eminent psychologist George Frederick Stout, and gained an MA with first class honours in philosophy in 1928. But he identified with psychology and joined the BPS in 1932, and became a Fellow of the Society in 1943.
Around 1930 he emigrated to Otago in the South Island
of New Zealand where he lectured on psychology and philosophy, reaching associate professor status by 1939. He arrived in St Andrews in 1947 and held the position as Head of the School of Psychology for 24 years until he retired in 1971, thereby preserving the Stout legacy that psychology
is really a part of philosophy.
David C. Duncan
Social Audit Services
74 Park Avenue

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber