Bowled over by psychology’s success
IN the last five years, since joining the Press Committee and thereby contributing to the Media page, I have witnessed an exponential growth in the media available for watching. A quick Google search today (see also the President’s column, p.67), using ‘psychologist’, provides over a million hits on UK sites alone; gratifyingly, this publication appears at the top of the list, and not far from the top in a global search yielding 20 million items! At the click of a mouse, there are now thousands of stories involving psychology to choose from that might be illuminating, disturbing or surprising, even entertaining. It is difficult to do more than make random forays into such sites, prompted by personal interests or this month’s Media page!
Over the same period, the emphasis on people’s psychological well-being, whether it is victims of disasters or cricketers on the losing team, has expanded too, not least in the media. There is not space here for a debate on whether the privileging of the individual over the collective is a sign of the end of society as we know it, or whether the shift of attention to emotional and psychological health reflects a changing value system; we could certainly argue that we are fortunate to be in a position to contribute our skills in this domain. It is perhaps dispiriting for some that psychology more often appears to be aligned with professional rather than academic psychology, or presented by non-psychologists.
Nevertheless, we should be encouraged by our visibility, and psychology’s increasing worth to the media and vice versa, as January’s issue of The Psychologist highlighted with respect to Child in Our Time, and as the BBC Memory series last summer demonstrated. For myself, it is important that psychology is made available to a wider public. We may complain that what gets out in the media is ‘pop’ psychology, but research undertaken by the Press Committee suggests that psychology is highly regarded by that public and we should celebrate our success rather than decry it.
Given how much psychology there is in the media, this page can only be a reflection of an individual contributor’s recent experience. What follows is a very small sample of my recent listening, reading and viewing. Firstly, a heavily trailed programme on BBC Radio 4 presented by Professor John Marsden (The E Generation at 40), looking at the consequences of Ecstasy use – always a popular topic. I forget exactly what the programme’s conclusions were – probably a bad sign – but I know that psychologists contributed, including Michael Morgan of Sussex University; and that there were quite significant memory effects in those who took Ecstasy in large amounts over a time period, but that it is proving a useful drug in other contexts. In common with many science programmes, this one was both considered and informative and conveyed psychological research in an interesting and non-alarmist way. Although perhaps it’s alarming if you were a frequent user of Ecstasy and are now in your 40s and having problems with your memory: it’s not just cognitive overload! (Although see an archive article from The Psychologist (www.bps.org.uk/g3qr) for another side to the debate.)
If such information make you anxious or lose sleep, local colleagues who have been contributing their expertise in The Guardian may be able to help. In ‘How did you sleep last night?’ Professors Kevin Morgan and Jim Horne commented on the value of creating good routines to aid adequate sleep; and in similar vein Professor Amanda Griffiths (‘Sit back, relax and do nothing’, The Guardian) advised readers that feeling tired and sleeping poorly can be about needing to take time to relax on a regular basis, though presumably not by over indulging in (il)legal substances.
My own relaxing included light reading, which provided an unexpected offering from Professor Jonathan Potter – now ‘an expert on the written word’, not a psychologist – commenting on the complexities of an e-mail sent by Britney Spears (‘Britney apologises’, Heat). Must broaden my reading horizons more often.
Finally, I confess to being a bit of a fan of Derren Brown. His Something Wicked This Way Comes screened on Channel 4 over the Christmas period was simply great fun. Maybe it isn’t psychology in the strictest sense, but try explaining that to your relatives! Harriet Gross
BE A MEDIA CONTACT
Much of the background work in involving psychologists with the media is managed through the Society’s Public Relations Unit (formerly the Press Office). The Unit maintains the Media Contact List, which provides a fantastic resource to ensure that a great deal of what finally appears in the media on psychological topics is the outcome of a conversation with a real psychologist!
If you are not already on this list and want to be, or would like to take up the media training, contact the Public Relations Unit directly ([email protected]).
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We welcome constructive contributions from members about psychology they have seen in the media, or forthcoming programmes they have been involved in. We hope to include some of these as part of a more regular feature of the page. We reserve the right to edit material. Please contact the Media page editor, who from April will be Dr Fiona Jones (e-mail: [email protected]).
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