The Media and Modern Times; ethics; the History of Psychology Centre; and more
The media and modern times KEVIN Durkin's level-headed and wide-ranging review of ‘media and modern times’ (January 2007) does well to calm assessments which are sometimes too alarmist. Nevertheless, it is worth distinguishing between what he seeks to dismiss – ‘the oft-repeated opinion that, with respect to the effects of media on aggression, ‘the debate is over’ and a more cautious but concerned assessment that there is enough evidence to suggest that for some people, watching vicious violence can lead, via desensitisation and/or disinhibition, to aggressive behaviour; and since there is little or no evidence that such viewing prompts good behaviour, it seems wise to opt for reluctant forms of regulation.

The media and modern times

KEVIN Durkin's level-headed and wide-ranging review of ‘media and modern times’ (January 2007) does well to calm assessments which are sometimes too alarmist. Nevertheless, it is worth distinguishing between what he seeks to dismiss – ‘the oft-repeated opinion that, with respect to the effects of media on aggression, ‘the debate is over’ and a more cautious but concerned assessment that there is enough evidence to suggest that for some people, watching vicious violence can lead, via desensitisation and/or disinhibition, to aggressive behaviour; and since there is little or no evidence that such viewing prompts good behaviour, it seems wise to opt for reluctant forms of regulation.
I suspect that Myers himself may have eschewed such a global term as ‘media’, signalling the strong possibility that different message systems which prioritise decoding by sight, sound or combinations of senses, and which entail greater or lesser amounts of selectivity, may have different implications for users.
Durkin's own study with Bonnie Barber, on electronic games players revealed that ‘low players had higher grade point averages than…other groups’; since players had more positive self-concepts in respect of intelligence and computer skills (than did non-players) and players reported less ‘substance use’ (this presumably means drugs misuse), this suggests that games playing may be a positive alternative to the ‘street culture’ or low academic achievers. How then can a potentially delinquent sector of young society be provided with stimulating (and not destructive) screen games?
Finally, Durkin deals with the possible dangers of violence, psychologists' attention should now turn more diligently to what may be a more pervasive and corrosive element of screen and speaker content: this is the contemporary music culture which seems, at the very least, to be aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually both dominating and constricting.
J. Mallory Wober
Flat C
17 Lancaster Grove
London NW3

Media and false reality

KEVIN Durkin's article on children and the media (‘Myers, media and modern times’, January 2007) was full of useful and interesting information, but I was sorry at the conclusion which suggested that playing electronic games and interaction with the media generally should be perceived in a way which emphasises children are: ‘active, inquisitive and resilient beings developing in constant interaction with their ecology’.
The problem with this perspective is that not only are artificial media productions not in any way part of the ecology of the child, but rather a substitute for it and, secondly, it is overall problematic that virtual activities which depend almost exclusively on intellectual and/or cognitive activity should have become a substitute for physical and whole/body activities which enable 'real interactions' to take place in the real lived world. While the population is engaging in mass virtual reality of any kind, the real ecology upon which our physical and mental health depends and which requires our immediate attention, is neglected. Because we do not interact sufficiently with real life, we are creating a more and more subtracted culture which cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
Humans live among other humans in a physical environment, we are not the cast of a fantasy game or TV show and we need to develop in relation to what is actually happening around us. So, whilst there is no reason to suppose that intellectual capacity might not be affected (for better or worse) from media activity and engagement, child development as well as adult physical and mental health depend upon engagement in a physical sense with our natural ecology, not with a man-made intellectual alternative which draws the participants away from the necessary activities of real life.
While children play electronic games and watch TV, the world in which they all live and with which we all must interact becomes more and more remote. It also becomes overly intellectualised so that practical function breaks down, as can be seen in the current crumbling of our social infrastructures and detached from reality government. Mentality takes over from sensory intelligence. The distance of the human race from an optimum ecological relationship for our survival both as individuals and as a species can be seen in the 'oblivion' behaviour shown in bad weather conditions, for example, on a daily basis where, regardless of the ludicrous nature of it, millions of people continue to do what they have done every day regardless of the sanity of their activity given the conditions around them.
Children's absorption into the false realities of the media is a highly worrying trend which ultimately removes them from being developed sufficiently to predict and respond to the practical realities of life lived in the physical, natural, world and replaces these with intellectual distance, remote viewing and cognitive detachment from the necessary skills of life. Another word for this state of being is delusional.
Jennifer Poole
Nemeton Foundation

History of Psychology Centre

FOLLOWING the President’s brief remarks (President’s column, December 2006) justifying the effective collapse of the History of Psychology Centre (HOPC) project, my views, as ex-Director, should be put on record. He refers to ‘a major national institution that has the resources and expertise a to develop and maintain it [the archive] as it deserves’. This observation is extremely ironic since two major acquisitions that I secured actually prevented their being skipped by the same major national institution that the Board of Trustees now see as HOPC’s salvation. 
The Board of Trustees current policy is in truth only a desperate attempt at saving face following their botched decision to acquire the Tabernacle Street premises only to discover it was a kind of Tardis in reverse located in the wrong part of London, and that they had got their financial sums wrong. In the summer of 2005, when other premises were under consideration, I was requested (not for the first time) to specify our accommodation requirements and was led to believe HOPC would be at the very centre of the Society’s London operations as providing the basis for a broader resource centre for members. This does not suggest its performance was at fault. A detailed business plan, formulated at the end of 2005 in cooperation with the chief executive, was beginning successfully to be implemented even as BoT brows started to furrow.
Almost from the outset however the Society failed to deliver on several fronts: competent management (under the previous chief executive), IT back-up, and any clarity or consistency of policy direction. This was reinforced by a pervasive lack of genuine interest from around 2004. Although placed administratively under the Research Board’s aegis, their representative never attended a single HOPC committee meeting. Nor was there any evidence that BoT members ever read or assimilated the reports they requested us to produce, while rapidity of turnover in that body meant a high proportion were essentially ignorant of the nature of HOPC and its multi-faceted operations. Yet I cannot recall a single trustee ever descending to the John Street basement after a BoT meeting to rectify this, even when it had figured on the day’s agenda.
The future is now bleak. No other institution is interested in housing much of the Society’s internal organisational archive, nor will they be able to provide an expert member of staff to deal with enquiries as I could do almost immediately, the Oral History Project of interviewing elderly psychologists appears to have disappeared without trace, and internal queries from the Leicester office will be in vain while the internal archive remains in storage. To say, as the President does, that ‘major parts’ of the archive are ‘available at our Tabernacle Street office’ is also misleading – there is one desk and a very small fraction indeed of the collection (mainly the Spearman, Kenna and Charlotte Wolff collections), stacked in piles doing them no good at all.
I joined the Society as an undergraduate in 1965 and have fully participated in it over the last 20 years, however the handling of the HOPC situation has left me, as its ex-Director, no honourable alternative but to resign my membership. I do not claim that my performance as Director was faultless, but in taking this course of action (on which I was never consulted) the BoT has betrayed the vision it purported to share at its founding and is simply trying to spin its way out having to admit that it has made an almighty mistake.
Graham Richards

Society President Ray Miller replies: I am concerned at Graham’s distress over what he calls the ‘collapse’ of HOPC. The Trustees were always very appreciative of the work he undertook as Director in maintaining and developing the archive and have sought to ensure its future as a key repository of the history of psychology and of our Society.
A number of his concerns may be based on incomplete information. I can reveal that as part of a wider plan the major national institution in question has agreed a draft contract to house and curate the Society’s internal archive, and other major parts of the collection, and to accept new material as it is generated. This will ensure the HOPC collections will benefit from being held for the first time according to the relevant British Standards. HOPC staff will still be available to provide expertise in dealing with enquiries.
In the meantime, the accommodation in the HOPC office at Tabernacle Street has proved more than adequate for access to the most frequently requested material temporarily housed there. The material is stored in acid-proof archive boxes in an air-conditioned room (not available at John Street), monitored by hydrograph. All researchers’ requests for access to materials, there or in storage, have been fulfilled, and all internal enquiries from Leicester have been dealt with promptly. Further, the Oral History Project is set to continue and is expected to provide extremely valuable records.
Demand for access has always been on a very small scale, but, nonetheless, Trustees have fully recognised the archive’s long-term importance. The arrangements we hope soon to have in place should ensure that the future of HOPC and the archive is anything but bleak. We will announce the new arrangements as soon as they have been finalised.

If you read an article in The Psychologist that you fundamentally disagree with, then the letters page is your first port of call: summarise your argument in under 500 words. But if you feel you have a substantial amount of conflicting evidence to cite and numerous points to make that simply cannot be contained within a letter, you can write a ‘Counterpoint’ article of up to 1500 words, within a month of the publication of the original article. However, it is best to contact the editor about your plans, on [email protected]. We hope this format will build on the role of The Psychologist as a forum for discussion and debate.

Reckless behaviour?

GAVIN Newby makes some pertinent observations on the way that Richard Hammond's accident was reported in the press (Letters, January 2007). However I feel that there are a number of remaining issues of concern. In the first place, Hammond’s head decelerated from around 300 mph to zero in just a few seconds, producing what was medically described as a 'significant brain injury’. Second, I am unaware that there exists any neuropsychological test or battery of tests that can predict driving ability after a brain injury other than the Stroke Driver’s Screening Test, which as its name suggests is only that. Third, a brain-injured person has an obligation to disclose this fact to DVLA and they must undertake a driving test before resuming driving. Fourth, failing to do this would invalidate insurance cover.
However, my greatest concern is that the media, for whom Hammond works, have deliberately downplayed behaviour that Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear himself declared as Hammond's addictive love of speed, just as much as it has downplayed the effects of the injury itself. I would have thought that the BBC had a greater duty of care towards one of their employees than to permit him to engage in such a reckless stunt. After the accident there has been no admission from anyone involved that the stunt was anything other than ‘extreme’, and Hammond's physical survival is being used to justify risk-taking behaviour as well as offering a role model to all young men to emulate it.
Allan Dodds
16 Russley Road

The BPS – value for money in the public service?

THE BPS regularly refers to its duty to the public when defending itself against accusations of failure to support its members, ostentatious advertising of members under a cloud and being over-expensive. I no longer subscribe to such a defence. Three times, spread over some years, I have sought either support or guidance on ethical matters. On none of these occasions was I offered any. In the last instance, when I told officials that I was being repeatedly and overtly pressurised to falsify research findings for a public project, I was told that 'we don't give legal advice' and that I should consult the Code of Ethics. Apart from the fact that there is little in the Code of Ethics about corruption, other than an urging of the practitioner to behave professionally, I don't see why some guidance was not forthcoming. I was in touch with members of the BPS with responsibility for regulations and ethics; if all that is necessary is already on the website, then I think there is a certain amount of redundancy in the organisation. In short, I don’t think members’ subscriptions are benefiting the public and I think reorganisation, rethinking and refunds are in order.
Cole Davis
154 Cheviot Gardens
London NW2

Society President Ray Miller replies: The Society offers a service giving guidance on ethical issues and the application of the Code of Ethics and Conduct. This is primarily provided by members of staff in the Regulatory Affairs team and the Scientific Officer, with support from members of the Ethics Committee.
Many members use this service and tell us that they find it helpful.
However there is a clear difference between giving ethical advice in principle and specific legal advice. Legal advice may be highly specialist and require knowledge and experience that exceed the competence of a professional society. We are not lawyers. It would be to the disadvantage of members for the Society to appear to offer such advice where it might be erroneous or misleading. Instead we recommend an indemnity insurance package that has been negotiated to include legal advice cover for just such eventualities. Many members also obtain such advice from a trade union, where conditions of employment and contracts are involved.

Looking to core principles

There has been recent correspondence in The Psychologist regarding ethics, where some colleagues are unhappy that the BPS Ethics Committee has not produced specific guidance on particular issues. To risk perhaps oversimplifying a complex and sometimes traumatic predicament fellow psychologists may find themselves in, in looking at the new Code, if you feel that any of the core principles of Respect (for people, including rights), Competence (including undertaking action in an ethical manner), Responsibility (especially to clients), and Integrity (including fairness) are being transgressed, then as a psychologist you shouldn’t perform that action. Looking at the Value Statements or other parts of the Code for elaboration might help; best practice guidelines issued by Divisions may be of assistance; or you might wish to talk over the matter with the Office or with a member of the Ethics Committee. But in the end the decision can only be yours.
Ethical dilemmas are often complex and context-dependent, though the Code is deontological in stance, and asks you to perform right actions. It is sometimes very hard to know what to do, and then, having decided, it is sometimes difficult to do the right thing; dilemmas are often difficult personally as well as professionally; acting ethically can have real, and significant, costs. These difficulties and potential costs should not be, and are not, minimised; we are well aware of the difficult situations psychologists can encounter.
The Code of Ethics and Conduct exists primarily to protect the public and to help guide the thinking and action of psychologists. Research comparing the US and UK Codes suggests that we have got it broadly ‘right’ in trying to avoid anticipating every circumstance: we prefer to rely on colleagues professional judgement, backed up by the Code. Stated generally, the US experience is that a rule-laden mindset with reference made (often in legal contexts) to a plethora of sometimes slightly differing statutes, statements, local licensing arrangements and so forth, has sometimes had the unintended consequence of actually becoming counterproductive, and frequently does not in reality help the client get the service they deserve or assist the individual psychologist in thinking through (sometimes novel or unique) difficult ethical issues and acting appropriately.
Every Society member has been sent a copy of the Code and it is available on the BPS website. The Ethics Committee welcomes correspondence from colleagues regarding this or other (ethical) issues raised by their work.
Richard Kwiatkowski
Chair, BPS Ethics Committee

Are you sitting on your materials?

I WAS happy to read the Extras article by Dr Christian Jarrett (Psychologist, 19, part 12), “Are you sitting on your results” since it summed up some problems I was having at the beginning of my PhD. In doing my literature review, I discovered that the effect I was researching was unreliable. Apparently only two out of the six research labs that were investigating the effect found it. My first thought was to try and figure out why this might be the case and believed that small differences with methodology and materials might be the cause.
To investigate this, I e-mailed every researcher who had studied the effect in the last 10 years asking if I could have a copy of their materials. I was even willing to pay for them. In total I sent over 20 e-mails of which half were replied to. Out of those, two researchers were on sabbatical. One had ‘lost’ all the stimuli. The remaining people gave different reasons why they would not let me have their stimuli. One said their stimuli were copied from somewhere else and were already ‘grainy’ (the Researcher’s words). One said that he couldn’t understand why I wanted his stimuli. One said he would send the stimuli, then forgot and ignored all further e-mails I sent. Two actually sent me their stimuli. Unfortunately, these were not the stimuli from the unreliable effect.
After spending a year without the stimuli, my supervisor and I decided to create our own stimuli. We replicated some of the findings, but failed in other aspects. We submitted the work to a journal and one review we got back complained about our use of new ‘untested’ stimuli. The Reviewer who said this was, in fact, one of the researchers who refused to send us his stimuli. This same researcher has also refused to send us his data.
I write this letter not to complain about individuals, but to point out some of the difficulties that are faced by novice researchers. Since there is supposed to be ‘openness’ in the scientific community, there is substantial evidence that this does not happen. Perhaps journals ought to ask authors to make their stimuli available for use, as long as all the correct citation is given. Clearly some stimuli are expensive to create and it is necessary for them to charge for other researchers to use them. Nevertheless, I feel that stimuli used in published research ought to be made available by other researchers.
Peter Hills
School of Psychology
Cardiff University
Park Place

Disabling barriers to employment

THE article ‘Helping people back to work’ (News, December 2006) indicates a welcome ‘change in direction’ to the way DWP has traditionally ‘assessed’ unemployed disabled people. This focused too much on the disability ‘label’ attached to the individual and less on their needs in gaining, sustaining and retaining work. It missed the importance of what the individual actually wanted to do and failed to address issues relating to: low self-esteem, perceived lack of ability (self efficacy) and loss of workplace social skills, the major barriers to employment.
Geoff Shepherd makes reference to motivation. This may be an unfortunate term in relation to someone who is long-term unemployed (and has a disability). For the layperson, low self-esteem, low confidence and perceived low ability to return to work can be (and is) often mistaken for lack of motivation.
I have long held the view that progress to a successful return to work and the ability to sustain work, needs to begin with the individual being able to make a meaningful career decision based on the best available evidence to them, taking into account their skills, abilities, prior work experience and their perceived obstacles to (re) entering employment.
A major obstacle to disabled people sustaining and retaining work can be the employing organisation itself. Although the organisation may have policies around the employment of disabled people (mainly due to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995), my own experience is that front-line managers/
supervisors are not equipped in the practicalities of applying these policies. This often leads to the disabled employee feeling isolated, which increases feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. This can result in the person leaving the job, either voluntarily or through dismissal. We can all remember changing jobs and moving into new workplaces, it takes time
to integrate. This is far harder for people who have been outside of the work situation for a long time.
It is not only important to help the individual but to help the employer understand and deal with the issues surrounding disabled people returning to the workplace. One of the problems with the service provided through DWP for disabled people was that it assumed (wrongly), that the employer was capable of dealing with workplace disability issues (however willing to try).
The model of employment assessment proposed by Meehan et al. (1998) has
been little understood and subsequently not taken up in its entirety by those within DWP working with disabled people. This model provides a framework for understanding individual potential and needs within the job. It also provides employers with information to help individuals perform optimally in the workplace.
 By its nature this model is focused on workplace needs and not on disability ‘labels’.
Geoff Shepherd points out individual concerns as to benefits, in my opinion after nearly 20 years working with unemployed disabled people, the greatest ‘disabler’ and barrier to employment is Incapacity Benefit itself, which is long overdue for reform.
Richard Snodgrass
Health and Safety Laboratory

Meehan, M., Birkin, R. & Snodgrass, R. (1998). Employment assessment (EA): Issues surrounding the use of psychological materials with disabled people. Selection and Development Review, 14(3), 3–9.

New Ways of Working and occupational psychology

WHERE was the consideration of occupational psychology in the New Ways of Working report (Society, January 2007)? What possible justification can there be for including a ‘strong case’ for educational and forensic psychology but excluding occupational psychology at the very time when vocational health is being considered a priority within the NHS and the need for leadership, organisational change and team development is acknowledged at every level of management.
Occupational psychologists currently deliver a number of client-health related services including rehabilitation and vocational rehabilitation, disability and employment as well as supporting mental health clients into employment. Key recommendations of the New Ways of Working group include leadership development, the need for mentoring and the development of support systems all falling within the remit of occupational psychology. I also highlight NHS initiatives such as Improving Working Lives, NHS Plus and NHS framework for long-term chronic conditions and at a time when the Department of Health is developing ever stronger links with the Department of Work & Pensions.
Many occupational psychologists provide services in counselling, health or clinical psychology but have chosen not to join those particular divisions for varying reasons. Where do they fit in within the new suggested model? Furthermore it overlooks the role of neuropsychology. While the majority of neuropsychologists may well be clinical psychologists and included anyway, there are occupational psychologists who are practitioner clinical neuropsychologists and many more providing neuropsychological services. It is difficult to see how the NHS can benefit from the service provision of occupational psychologists under the suggested model.
Psychologists do not need to belong to a division to provide services in that area as practice in psychology has always been by competence and not by divisional boundary. Consequently the NHS should adopt a model of provision where they simply advertise for appropriately qualified psychologists rather than limiting job applications by specifying a divisional title such as clinical, counselling or occupational for that matter. This would enable all suitably qualified psychologists to apply for positions and provide the NHS with the full spectrum of applied psychology provision. Chartered psychologists are bound by the code of conduct not to practise outside their area of competence and expertise consequently ensuring that psychologists have the appropriate competences and clinical experience to meet the needs of NHS patients. In terms of a training model, there seems little value to me in the NHS deciding a model until the direction and scope of statutory regulation has been determined.
It would be disastrous for occupational psychologists to allow themselves to be excluded from the largest single market in health, vocational health, human resources and business in Western Europe and we would should take whatever action necessary to resist any model of NHS provision (or training for that matter) that attempts to exclude us.
James Japp
37 Menteith View

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