Including treating sexual offenders, writing clearly, helplines, HIV care, NIMBYism, bullying, female domestic violence, funding news and more.

Success with sexual offenders

A PRISON treatment programme for rapists and sexual murderers is beneficial in rehabilitating offenders, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology, but specific areas remain to be tackled.
The Sex Offender Treatment Programme has been conducted in prisons in England and Wales since 1991 and is a cognitive behavioural approach to treatment, aiming to change the way an offender thinks about his crime and victim. It is currently the biggest treatment programme of its kind in the world, running in 26 prisons with 1000 men taking part each year.
Recently the Home Office and the Prison Service commissioned a study to evaluate the programme. It involved the use of psychometric tests to identify sex offenders’ problems and to examine the immediate or short-term impact of treatment programmes. To carry out the study complete data were collected on 112 rapists and 58 sexual murderers.
Sex offenders are categorised in three groups: grievance-motivated offenders, sexually motivated offenders and sadistically motivated offenders. The first group commit impulsive and vengeful offences that are not sexually motivated or planned. Following treatment these offenders continued to blame others for their actions; however, their grievance towards women had decreased significantly and their empathy towards victims had improved.
Sexually motivated offenders plan and fantasise about their sexual offences beforehand, and sometimes violence is used to avoid detection. After treatment they took more responsibility for their offences. Their empathy and attitudes about rape had improved, but their stereotypical views about women and acceptance of violence against women had not changed.
The sadistically motivated offenders have shallow emotions, are fascinated by sexual violence and are aroused by thoughts such as death and torture. The treatment process meant they became less hostile towards their victims and people in general, and their angry thinking had been reduced. They were also less likely to blame their offence on poor mental health, such as depression.
Professor Anthony Beech, BPS Fellow and lead investigator from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology, said: ‘We are satisfied that the programme is a success in some areas. Some areas need more attention, for example: grievance-motivated offenders need more work on anger and hostility; sexually motivated offenders should work on their stereotypical and negative attitudes towards women and sadistic offenders should complete a follow-up course in healthy sexual functioning to deal with deviant sexual fantasy and arousal.’
The researchers draw attention to the need for a central register of sex offenders to maximise the number of men entering treatment, because suitable offenders may not be sent to prisons where the rehabilitation programme is running. The researchers would also like to see a ‘buddy’ scheme set up for group members with literacy problems. This would enable those with reading and writing difficulties to complete the homework that is required by the scheme.     PDH


FAMELAB, an initiative of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, is offering to the most entertaining and original science presenter a prize of a masterclass in science communication, £2000 cash, and a chance to work with a producer on an idea that can be pitched to Channel 4. Auditions take place in Newcastle, Swansea, Edinburgh, London and Belfast in March and April with the final held at the Cheltenham Festival on 11 June.
o For full details of the scheme go to


NAOMI Burgess, a chartered educational psychologist with experience of ME, and Jane Colby, a former head teacher and severe ME sufferer, have produced the first comprehensive set of guidelines for educational psychologists who plan and carry out special educational needs assessments for children with ME.
o The guidelines, published by The Young ME Sufferers Trust are available free of charge at

Young people care but don’t trust the government

YOUNG people care about social justice but don’t trust the government to deliver it, according to a new report from the Nestlé Social Research Programme.
The study, authored by psychologist Professor Helen Haste (University of Bath), explores young people’s civic engagement in terms of voting, making one’s voice heard and helping in the community. It explores the relationship between these activities and young people’s values, identity, and experience of school and community.
o To download the report go to

Recommended OCD therapy

PSYCHOLOGICAL therapies have again been recommended as the first line treatment by National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines, this time for adult and child sufferers of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorder. OCD charities, including OCD Action and OCD-UK, have welcomed the guidelines, but concerns have been raised that there are not enough psychologists or other trained professionals who can deliver effective psychological therapy.
The guidelines, published in November, state that clients should first be offered self-help, telephone-based or group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), including exposure and response prevention. For more serious cases, or when low-intensity CBT is ineffective, clients should be offered a choice of more intensive CBT, or a course of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which is a kind of antidepressant.
Dr Tim Kendall, Joint Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, who developed the guideline on behalf of NICE, said: ‘This is the seventh mental health guideline where we have recommended psychological treatments
as key treatments for a mental health condition, and the fourth where we have recommended them as the first line treatment. We know that there are currently not enough people to deliver psychological therapies. Now is the time to increase our capacity and provide real help for those people that need it.’    CJ
- The guidelines:

The write advice, put simply

EVIDENCE adduced by psychological researcher Daniel M. Oppenheimer of Princeton University in New Jersey suggests that utilisation of unnecessarily elongated verbal expressions could have the consequence of their writer being perceived as less intelligent by readers.
Oppenheimer asked undergraduates to look at university application letters, half of which he had manipulated by replacing every noun, verb and adjective with its longest synonym from the Microsoft Word 2000 thesaurus (retaining linguistic sense and grammatical structure). Students who saw the modified letters were less likely to say that they would have admitted the author to university than were the students who saw an unaltered application letter.
Oppenheimer also presented a second set of undergraduate volunteers with student dissertation abstracts, half of which he had altered by replacing every word of nine or more letters with its second shortest synonym from the Microsoft Word 2000 thesaurus. Here, students judged the authors of the simplified passages to be more clever than the authors of the unaltered passages.
These effects also extended to an author’s font selection. For example, participants viewed the authors of text written in italicised Juice font to be of lower intelligence than did participants who saw identical wording written in Times New Roman.
Oppenheimer commented: ‘The continuing popularity amongst students of using big words and attractive font styles may be due to the fact that they may not realise these techniques could backfire.’ He suggested: ‘One thing seems certain: write as simply as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.’
The findings will be published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology.

Q: Do helplines help?

YES, according to mental health charity Rethink and the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE). They have jointly published research into mental health crisis helplines, revealing they can make a big difference in maintaining the mental health of service users and were particularly useful for people at risk of self-harm and suicide. The report, Do Helplines Help?, explores the impact of two Rethink 24-hour helpline services. The qualitative study, commissioned as part of a government review of services, included site visits, focus groups, analysis of caller logs and telephone interviews, gathering the views of all stakeholders – helpline staff, local mental health professionals and service users. The study’s key results from helpline staff and mental health professionals indicated that helplines:
l    provide a valuable listening space and emotional support system;
l    play an active role in the prevention of suicide and self-harm; and
l    are a central component in the package of care available to service users.

Comments of service users backed this up, suggesting that the lines provided support at times of risk and helped users deal with anxiety, self-harm, suicide and depression. There was a sense of relief at being able to talk things through with helpline staff, particularly out of hours. Users felt that helplines were instrumental in lessening anxiety, isolation and restoring a feeling of control.
While generally positive, the report makes various recommendations for improvements. These include promoting helplines within statutory and primary care agencies; advertising and configuring services to black and minority ethnic communities; and increasing resources.
Carolyn Steele, Department of Health lead for voluntary and independent sector partnership, acknowledging the benefits of helplines, said: ‘We want to see an increase in the capacity of helpline support that can be accessed seven days a week and which offers local knowledge and strong connections with other sources of help.’                             PDH
- The full report is available at

Health psychology findings may improve HIV care

HIV patients are more willing to consider self-injectable therapy than many doctors thought, according to the results of a study revealed at the 10th European AIDS Conference in Dublin in November. This and other findings are expected to help implement improved care to HIV patients and pave the way for better acceptance of innovative drug therapies being developed for the management of HIV and other diseases.
The OpenMind study, which took place across six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK and USA), is the largest behavioural study to look at perceptions of HIV care. It was specifically designed to identify the drivers and barriers to the use of injectable antiretrovirals from the perspective of both patients and physicians.
The study found that three quarters of patients would consider using a self-injectable HIV therapy if their doctor recommended it, though only 28 per cent of those potentially eligible for the treatment had actually discussed the injectable option with their physicians.
Some of the reasons why many doctors are seemingly reluctant to prescribe a treatment of proven efficacy and safety were identified. These included a perception that patients would be reluctant to use a self-injectable therapy or would not be able to incorporate it into their lifestyle. Rob Horne, Professor of Psychology at the University of Brighton and OpenMind study author, commented: ‘These new insights from the OpenMind study will enable us to develop tools to facilitate more informed decisions by both patient and physician.’
The researchers hope that the study will inform the design of evidence-based interventions to optimise HIV care through greater concordance between physician and patient perspectives. Dr Mike Youle, Director of HIV Clinical Research at the Royal Free Hospital and co-author of the OpenMind study said: ‘With the increasing choice of injectable biotech drugs, these findings potentially have far reaching implications across
a whole range of therapeutic areas. We look forward to presenting the final results and exploring possible interventions at major congresses next year.’

Engaging with the environment

A NEW study launched in December aims to move ‘beyond NIMBYism’ to investigate public engagement with renewable energy technologies.
The study, funded to the tune of £500,000 by the joint-research councils Energy Research Programme, is led by Dr Patrick Devine-Wright, Senior Research Fellow in Environmental Psychology at De Montfort University. He said: ‘We aim to increase understanding of public responses to renewable energy technologies, the local experience of resistance and consent and ways in which public engagement is constructed and practised in the UK. Using a multi-method, empirical approach, the project will create an integrated framework for understanding public engagement and perceptions that encompasses technical and social science, and then use this framework to suggest how a constructive dialogue can be better facilitated amongst the public and other stakeholders.’    JS

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The World Health Organization’s Strategic Social, Economic and Behavioural Research Steering Committee requests full research proposals on the following topics: (1) Understanding and remedying access barriers to established measures of prevention, therapy and information; (2) Understanding fundamental social issues related to stigma and adherence to treatment and prevention and improving adherence, with a focus on mass-drug administration and other prevention schemes; (3) Elucidating the dynamics of human resources in infectious disease control programs; (4) Elucidating transaction costs in infectious disease control programmes; and (5) Understanding and addressing child vulnerability and resilience, with a focus on infectious diseases among children in conflict situations. They are particularly interested in supporting projects that involve South–North partnerships between institutions and individuals that will contribute to research capacity building for social science research in disease endemic countries. The closing date for applications is 17 February 2006.
o For further details see

The European Research Advisory Board has research grants available to support any aspect of biomedical or psychosocial research into beer or alcohol. Researchers must be from established European research institutions or universities. Single project grants will not exceed €120,000. The closing date for applications is 27 March 2006.
o For further details see

The Joint MRC/MoD Grant Scheme enables the academic community to have access to the specialised technology and expertise that is available through the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). It is possible to obtain joint MRC/MoD funding for proposals that are submitted under any of the MRC’s normal funding schemes and that are of relevance both to the MoD and MRC. Applications to the scheme can be made at any time. Applicants are asked to discuss their plans with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory representative Dr Jim Wilson ([email protected]).
o For further details see the MRC website

The Academy of Social Sciences and NZ-UK Link Foundation Travel Scholarships are to support visits to New Zealand to conduct social science research. A sum of £10,000 is available for travel in 2006/7. The closing date for applications is 31 January 2006.
o For further details contact Francis King, Executive Officer, Link Foundation, e-mail: [email protected].

The Research Sabbatical Training Awards are offered by the Health and Personal Social Services Research and Development Office of NHS Northern Ireland. They support senior researchers to undertake visits to leading research centres for up to one year. The proposed research/visit must be relevant to the Health and Personal Social Services and must benefit the applicant in terms of research and potential career advancement. Applications can be made at any time.
o Enquiries should be sent to [email protected] or see the website

For a list of current funding opportunities go to
Funding bodies should e-mail news to Elizabeth Beech on [email protected] for possible inclusion.

Female domestic violence under scrutiny

AS well as providing the tabloid press with the perfect headline story, the alleged assaults of actors Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden by their female partners also thrust the issue of female domestic violence into the spotlight. Together with recent media reports of violence by girls in schools (see opposite),
the alleged attacks raise the question of whether female violence is on the increase.
Society Fellow and Professor of Psychology John Archer at the University of Central Lancashire said it was difficult to establish whether female domestic violence towards men had risen, because the methods used by the British Crime Survey had changed over time – for example, the 1996 survey was the first to use an anonymous self-completion method rather than face-to-face interviews. Archer said a more interesting observation came from his new cross-cultural study of domestic violence comparing countries with varying levels of gender equality and individualism. This showed that ‘male victimisation increases according to women’s empowerment and a country’s increased individualism’, thus supporting a social explanation for the differential rates of violence by men and women. The findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.
Rates of violence by women may not have risen but they have certainly been underestimated. That’s according to a recent review in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour by Donald Dutton of the University of British Columbia. Dutton says that independent research studies using a measure called the Conflict Tactics Scale – which asks respondents to rate how often they have engaged in, or been on the receiving end of, various violent acts – show ‘roughly equal rates’ of violence by the sexes. Dutton argues that government studies on rates of domestic violence are biased because they tend to emphasise victimhood and to work from crime statistics, yet men may be reluctant to see themselves as a victim or to report their partner’s violence against them as a crime. Dutton cautions against the ‘in-group, out-group form of siege mentality’ shown by feminist activists that he says is based ‘on a perceived threat that somehow, services for women will disappear if male victimisation is recognised
or that those who raise issues about female violence or intervention are somehow against progressive goals for women’s equality’.
In September 2005 the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly published a special issue on female violence. A contributor to the issue, Irene Frieze, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Hurting the One You Love, appeared to agree with Dutton’s conclusions. She told The Psychologist: ‘I am not sure that there is an increasing trend for women to be violent, but rather a reinterpretation of data collected over 30 years shows that if we look at acts of physical aggression, such as hitting, slapping, pushing, and the like, women are as likely to commit such acts of aggression against romantic partners as men are. Such acts can’t be labelled as battering, but they are how “violence” in relationships is measured in scientific studies.’
Anne Harris, a representative of the charity SNAP, which provides a helpline for male victims of domestic abuse, welcomed Dutton’s conclusions. She said: ‘It is my and many other people’s opinion that men have always been victims of domestic abuse, although we still need to encourage them to report it for their own sake and for their children caught up in the abuse.’ Pointing to the example of a recent BBC report that claimed ‘Every minute in Britain a woman reports domestic violence’, Harris said this is simply not true, and that what is actually taking place is the ‘increased hype in female abuse victims’ in order to secure government and charitable funding. She said her small organisation received between 22 and 25 calls a week from male victims of female violence, a number that was rising following a leafleting campaign. ‘We have to get across that in abuse, men and their children are victims too,’ she told us, adding that of the £23 million the government spends on tackling domestic violence each year, none of it goes to male victims.
However, Sylvia Walby, Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, said
a report she’d conducted for the Home Office in 2004, using a confidential, self-report methodology, showed that ‘the more severe the violence, the more frequently it is repeated, the more serious the acts, the more injurious, the more likely it is that women rather than men are the victims’. She told us: ‘If the focus is on incidents – the number of events in a year – the events are overwhelmingly from male to female. If the focus is prevalence – the proportion of the population affected – it is predominantly male to female, but much less so than if the focus is on incidents. This is because women who experience domestic violence experience many more incidents than men who experience domestic violence.’ Her report is available at    CJ

Bullying - epidemic or panic?

BULLYING in schools was in the news in November following a spate of violent incidents. The new Children’s Commissioner for England, Al Aynsley-Green, called for more to be done, saying: ‘I have had hundreds of in-depth conversations with children since accepting this post and I can tell you that the one thing every child I have met has been affected by, with virtually no exceptions, is bullying.’
A survey for November’s Anti-bullying Week from the Anti-Bullying Alliance  found that 52 per cent of children and young people say that bullying is a big problem in their school – and the same number think that schools are not doing enough to tackle the issue. ‘We know that many schools are doing their best to address the scourge of bullying, but as recent incidents of violence show, this is still not good enough,’ commented Vanessa Cooper, coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance. ‘Today’s findings indicate that more needs to be done, especially to support and protect older children.’
But is bullying getting worse? We spoke to Professor Peter Smith, Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He said ‘There is a moral panic element in some headlines and in part of Aynsley-Green’s statement that bullying is getting much worse. I don’t believe this. We lack good evidence, but what there is suggests a small downward trend over the last five years or so – since the Don’t Suffer in Silence pack, and the legal requirement for anti-bullying policies. Evidence from Rob Osborn with large samples in Leicestershire show an initial rise in the first year of intensive anti-bullying work there, and then a small but rather steady fall over the subsequent three or four years.
‘I think the publicity is good if it re-invigorates anti-bullying work. Aynsley-Green is calling for termly surveys on bullying, which is positive in my view.
It’s also good that the MP John Penrose is calling for basic teacher training on anti-bullying strategies. We should see this as building on work already done and consolidating positive inroads into reducing school bullying.’
However, experts warn that some forms of bullying are on the increase, notably cyber-bullying. Dr Mike Elsea (University of Central Lancashire) was concerned that media concentration on physical violence undermines calls for greater awareness of indirect, social forms of bullying. ‘These are just as distressing and damaging as physical bullying, but schools already find it easier to tackle overt bullying successfully, particularly among boys, rather than covert bullying and bullying among girls. Emotive photographs of scarred faces might lead some teachers (and maybe the victims themselves) to disregard or play down the seriousness of less obvious suffering.
‘A second consideration arises from the interplay between theory and practice. Bullying is usually thought of as a group process involving many more than just the immediate protagonists. Bystanders and the wider peer group, teachers, parents and the whole school community all play a role. In this view, explanations (and interventions) are sought in the sociocultural realm: peer pressure, school ethos, friendships, popularity and status. Extreme violence, by contrast, tends to be viewed as an individual behaviour, and explained in terms of individual experience and psychopathology. Lessons drawn from the latter cannot necessarily be applied to the former.’    JS

Q: How does indefinite detention affect the state of mind?

WHEN a team of 11 consultant psychiatrists and one consultant clinical psychologist assessed eight men who were being detained indefinitely at Belmarsh high security prison under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act, they found them all to be suffering from severe depression and anxiety, and some to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The six Algerians, a Tunisian and a man from Gaza, all devout Muslims, had also contemplated suicide, and some had cut themselves or tried to hang themselves. One detainee who was subsequently released under conditions of house arrest developed psychotic symptoms. The wives of three detainees were also assessed and showed signs of depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Although four of the men had suffered psychiatric problems before their incarceration, and three had a family history of mental health problems, the assessing team concluded that the detainees’ mental health problems were either the ‘direct result of’ or were ‘seriously exacerbated by the indefinite nature of detention’. In the report on their findings published recently in Psychiatric Bulletin, psychologist Ian Robbins (Professor of Mental Health Practice at the University of Surrey) and his colleagues, stated that the ‘prison healthcare system was unable to meet [the detainees’] needs adequately’, although they added ‘this is not a criticism of the healthcare system but is rather an acknowledgement of the causative role of the indefinite nature of the detention in the generation of mental illness’. The report also draws a parallel between the experiences of the Belmarsh detainees and the situation facing asylum seekers held in detention centres.
The eight detainees, including one described by judges as a ‘seriously dangerous individual’, were released under special bail conditions in March 2005 following a House of Lords judgment that indefinite detention without trial was illegal.      CJ
o An earlier version of the report can be downloaded here:

Mind how you drive

ANEW report from the Transport Research Laboratory suggests that using ‘psychological’ measures to lower traffic speed – for example, reducing the perceived width of the road – may be preferable to physical strategies like road humps and signs.
The research team, which included Society member Mark Elliott, held focus groups with drivers to identify potentially effective psychological measures. They then conducted trials with a driving simulator, before testing the efficacy of a real-life scheme in the village of Latton, in Wiltshire.
At a cost of £40,000, the village scheme involved adding stone gateways to the entrance and exit of the village, removing the road’s central white line (increasing perceived risk), adding small ‘build-outs’ with shrubbery on alternate sides of the road (reducing forward visibility and giving a gentle winding effect), adding sections of buff anti-skid surfacing and dropping the speed limit from 40 miles per hour to 30. The proportion of drivers exceeding 30 miles per hour fell from 50 per cent before the scheme, to 10 per cent afterwards. The authors said only a small proportion of this effect could be explained by the change in speed limit. Their report concludes: ‘…psychological schemes can be effective, their effect can be long-lasting…and they are highly acceptable to local people.’ Overall, psychological traffic calming was said to work best when several measures were combined and used in conjunction with physical strategies.
Society member Tom Stewart, managing director of ergonomics consultancy firm System Concepts, said the idea of psychological calming measures sounds good as long as it doesn’t go too far. ‘One worry’, he told us, ‘is that all the publicity about the use of “psychological tricks” to confuse drivers may reduce its effectiveness. If it goes too far, we may feel cheated when we

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