Book award 2006
THE Society’s 2006 Book Award has been posthumously awarded to Professor Jeffrey Gray, formerly at the Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, in London.Professor Jeffrey Gray, who died in April 2004 aged 69, was one of the leading, and most highly cited, experimental psychologists in the UK, having previously being awarded the Society’s Presidents’ Award in 1983 and being made a Fellow of the Society in 1993.
His award-winning book, Consciousness: Creeping Up on the Hard Problem, has been called by one reviewer the ‘culmination of Gray’s long-standing quest for understanding the essential properties of consciousness’. Published in June 2004, it therefore stands as a fitting epitaph to him.
Professor Gray’s book analyses three questions that together constitute what is commonly known as the ‘Hard Problem of Consciousness’ – How does conscious experience arise out of the functioning of the human brain? How is it related to the behaviour that it accompanies? How does the perceived world relate to the real world?
Whilst there is a growing body of knowledge about the relationship between brain and behaviour and more is discovered about the link between brain behaviour and conscious experience, there is still an aura of mystery surrounding this ‘Hard Problem of Consciousness’.
By examining the core issues and reviewing the evidence from both introspection and experiment in an accessible way, Professor Gray has been able to shed light on consciousness that many may find surprising. Underlying the book is the idea that the entire perceived world is constructed by the brain. The relationship between the world we perceive and the underlying physical reality is not as close as we might think.
Gray advocates the position that much of our behaviour is accomplished with little or no participation from conscious experience. Our conscious experience of our behaviour lags behind the behaviour itself by around a fifth of a second – we become aware of what we do only after we have done it. The reason for consciousness is to act as a comparator, which evaluates the outcome of the stimulus–response mechanisms with predicted outcomes to detect any late errors. In other words, it compares our expectations with the realities of the situation.
Consciousness also smoothes out the abundance of jerky visual raw data into
a form that is easier to process. The roles of consciousness as a comparator and ‘smoother’ of incoming information and stimulus–response mechanisms, argues Gray, are biologically valuable.
Gray also takes a practical view of the implications of the idea that conscious experience lags behind behavioural reactions. He recognises that
if conscious processes are initiated preconsciously then we may be forced to reconsider how much of our actions are not controllable but a function of the unconscious self. This has implications for how we perceive the ability to exercise free will and whether we can take legal responsibility for all our actions.
Gray dismisses the functionalist theory of how brain function relates to consciousness by citing experiments about ‘synaesthesia’. Synaesthesia, for example, can be when a person hears a sound and experiences it as a colour.
As Gray states, there is no functional reason for this to occur. By considering and critiquing various models of consciousness, including Dennett’s multiple drafts model and Harnad’s model for categorical representation, in a sophisticated manner Gray demonstrates why he is held up as a leading authority in neuroscience and psychology.
Professor Richard Hastings
RICHARD Hastings, who is professor of psychology at the University of Wales Bangor, has been awarded a Fellowship for his innovative and creative research in the field of learning disabilities. The breadth of this work has been considerable and has spanned early interventions with children on the autistic spectrum; severe and challenging behaviour in people with learning difficulties; the effect of such behaviour on staff and staff support systems, and the emotional and social adjustment of families who have offspring with developmental delay.
Such has been his achievements in this field of learning difficulties over the past decade, that independent assessors appointed by the Fellowships Committee commented on his invigorating influence on an ‘unfashionable’ (in research terms) area of study. One commented that Richard Hastings had helped raise the profile of research ‘against a background of dwindling interest and support’.
Professor Hastings has developed a research portfolio of high quality with a plethora of publications in high-impact journals with a readership of both academic and applied psychologists (a good example of his ability to span the interests of both academia and practice can be found in his article ‘Staff in special education settings and behaviour problems: Towards a framework for research and practice’ published in Educational Psychology in 2005). He is also held in high esteem by those at the ‘hard edge’ of learning disabilities, namely the staff and parents who have valued his work to alleviate problems and to promote the development of this client group.
As a result of his outstanding research and applied contributions, together with his dissemination of this work in the UK and abroad, the Fellowships Committee judged Professor Hastings to be a worthy recipient of Fellowship status within the Society.
News from the boards
Publications and Communications Board
(7 July 2006)
l Engaging the public. A thorough review of the Society’s public engagement work is to be carried out to ensure that the available budget is used in the most effective way, and that events are reaching appropriate audiences.
l Articles. It was agreed that the sale of individual articles from subsystem publications should be channelled via the website’s online shop for a fee of £2 for members and £4 for non-members. Money raised is to be split equally between the subsystem and central funds, as is revenue from selling subsystem publications on Amazon. The pace of making information available should be regularly assessed in view of the success or otherwise of the online shop.
l Website. It was agreed to carry out a review of the Society’s website to ensure that it is reaching the most appropriate audience in the most effective way.
l Research repository. It was agreed that the feasibility of setting up an institutional repository for research papers will be considered.
l Chair appointment. Dr Fiona Jones was appointed as Chair of Press Committee to serve from March 2007 to March 2010.
l Sustainability Seminar. The seminar on ‘sustainability’ was a great success (see News section).
Reports of Board of Trustees and Representative Council meetings are available to members on the BPS website – www.bps.org.uk/members/members_home.cfm
Division of Sport & Exercise Psychology – new route
If you have a postgraduate qualification in sport and exercise psychology, you may be able to take advantage of the following special arrangement for the approval of your training.
Candidates with the Graduate Basis for Registration who successfully complete a postgraduate qualification in sport and exercise psychology between 1 September 2004 and 30 September 2008 may apply on an individual basis to have this training course approved by the Admissions Committee. Where the Admissions Committee agrees to approve this course, and the candidate has also undertaken a period of supervised experience in sport and exercise psychology developing the key competencies expected of a full member of the Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology to an appropriate level, the candidate will be eligible for full membership of the DSEP and for registration as a Chartered Psychologist. The total period of training for the qualification and experience shall be a minimum of three years.
This special arrangement, whereby a training course may be approved on an individual basis, has been approved by the Membership and Professional Training Board on behalf of the Board of Trustees as a short-term measure in order to allow time for postgraduate training courses in sport and exercise psychology to undergo the Society’s accreditation procedures.
To be approved, a postgraduate training course must contain the core syllabus requirements stipulated for Society-accredited postgraduate professional training programmes. These are available from the Society’s Leicester office, by e-mailing [email protected] or telephoning 0116 252 9560.
Candidates who complete their postgraduate training course after 30 September 2008 will not be able to take advantage of this arrangement. After this date, applicants will be expected to hold an accredited qualification in sport and exercise psychology. Those who have not completed a Society-accredited training course may still be considered for full membership of the Division and chartered status but will have to demonstrate training and experience in the required key competencies at an appropriate level over a period of at least five years.
Ethics Column No.6
Obtaining freely-given informed consent from participants should be a fundamental component of any research activity that involves humans. Article 17 of the Protocol to the Convention on Human Rights in Biomedicine or Biomedical Research states: ‘No research may be carried out without the informed, free, express, specific and documented consent of the person.’
Accordingly, the Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct (Section 1.3) requires that ample opportunity must be given for participants to understand the nature, purpose and anticipated consequences of their participation, to ensure informed consent is given, and that a record of how that consent was obtained must be kept. However, ‘the extent of detail and the complexity of the process of gaining informed consent will depend on the nature of the research’ (Oates, 2006). For example, an online questionnaire on a non-sensitive topic that does not collect any personal information may be considered not to need explicit informed consent, and implicit consent can
be assumed from the act of participation; whereas participation in a drugs trial would clearly require extensive information about the procedures and risks to be given prior to seeking participants’ uncoerced consent.
There are other areas of research where decisions regarding informed consent are less clear. Consider a researcher wishing to obtain anonymised children’s drawings from a local school to investigate the relation of drawn figure size to paper size. Permission to be granted access to the drawings would be required from the head teacher, but would informed consent also be required from the parents and children concerned? In considering whether consent is required, it is useful to consider the principles of 'intervention' or invasiveness' and how these relate to the degree of consent required. As there is no direct intervention into the lives of the children (if a random sample of drawings, with no identifying features, is being collected and the research question is impact neutral) no additional parental consent may be required. In contrast, if the research is exploring the relationship of children's drawings to some kind of traumatic event that had affected the school, this is more likely to require the consent of the child and their parents.
Specific consideration should also be given to the ability of the potential participant to understand the nature and purpose of the research, and to give informed consent. This is particularly important in relation to people with learning (or other) disabilities.Numerous guidelines emphasise that when informed consent can not be obtained from the individual, it must be obtained from a proxy (i.e. a person acting in loco parentis, such as a parent/guardian, head teacher, etc.). Nevertheless,dialogue should be encouraged with the person concerned, to discuss their participation in the study. Researchers should also be sensitive to the ways in which participants might signal through non-verbal means their assent or dissent regarding procedures.
A further additional concern when conducting research with vulnerable persons relates to the potential perception of a power imbalance between the participant and the researcher. ‘There are risks that children may agree to requests, suggestions or even their perceptions of such directives, even if they may not actually be happy with these. Researchers can seem like authority figures to children and children may feel they have to comply’ (Oates, 2006). This can result in not only a stressful experience for the child but also in unreliable data for the research.
Ultimately, referring back to Article 17 outlined above, researchers have a responsibility to ensure that participants are fully aware and understand what they have agreed to do, and that they have freely and willingly agreed to do it.
Oates, J. (2006). Ethical frameworks for research with human participants. In S. Potter (Ed.) Doing postgraduate research. London: Sage.
THE Society’s Policy Response Unit has continued to coordinate input into various government consultations.
Responding to the White paper Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances, the Society’s Psychology Education Board and the Standing Committee on Pre-Tertiary Education urged ‘that subject specialist CPD is vital and must be made widely available and accessible. The current situation faced by many teaching psychology is that due to lack of Training and Development Agency (TDA) funding for psychology strands in PGCE, psychology graduates find it very difficult to gain qualified teacher status (QTS). The Society would urge that, in order to “boost the recruitment of talented graduates”, the TDA is encouraged to ease the pathway to QTS for psychology graduates. Given the year on year growth of psychology at FE level, it is important that students receive the best possible training and that training is fit for purpose for the dual needs of employers and higher education.’
This problem arises again in the Society’s response to the Training and Development Agency concerning initial teacher training requirements. The response notes that the launch of GCSE psychology as a science in September may alleviate the problems currently being faced by psychology graduates in gaining QTS, as it will now
be taught across two key stages (a key requirement in training). However, psychology students may have problems in finding mentors with their subject specialism.
Other responses were to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, to identify
the research needed to allow services to become more service user and carer centred; to the Scottish Executive Health Department on children and young people’s health; and on the draft Early Years Foundation Stage, covering care, learning and development for children 0–5.
- To view Society responses, visit www.bps.org.uk/consult.
Expanding Branch coverage
THE establishment of the Society’s latest regional Branch, covering London and the Home Counties, was celebrated at a launch event in London on 11 July. This brings the total number of Society branches to nine.
Society members are automatically members of their regional Branch. Over 40,000 are members of an active Branch, and only Eastern England remains unrepresented. It has been proposed to adjust some of the Branch boundaries to make the current Branches geographically more convenient for members and to form an Eastern England Branch.
There is no charge for Branch membership and it offers the opportunity of a voice within the Society. Events offer networking among colleagues, and an important link to continuing professional development. There is an opportunity to become involved with your local Branch by attending the AGM: information is sent by post to members of the Branch and is also advertised through ‘subsystem notices’.
The first Chair of the new London & Home Counties Branch is Ilona Boniwell. Commenting after the launch event she said: ‘The interest in the launch far exceeded our expectations. At the end, we had over 200 Branch members on a waiting list. This shows how much the London & Home Counties Branch was needed. As psychologists, we so often focus on our own narrow area of expertise and have little opportunity to communicate with others within the same profession.’
NEW BACP PRESIDENT
Society Fellow Professor Cary Cooper, CBE, has been elected as President of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy as of 1 October.
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