News

House of Lords debate on statutory regulation; gambling report; conspiracy theories; a selection from the Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference; and more
Statutory regulation debated in House of Lords The debate over the future of our profession reached the House of Lords in February, with Lord Alderdice asking the government what progress they have made in the statutory regulation of the professions of psychology, psychotherapy and counselling.It is six years since Lord Alderdice introduced a Private Member’s Bill calling for the statutory registration of psychotherapists. Now he has returned to the issue, prompted by meetings with the Society and developments in the regulation of healthcare professionals. Alderdice opened the debate by arguing that ‘it is simply no longer acceptable that there is so little protection for those who seek psychological treatments, and who are if anything even more vulnerable than the physically ill because of their emotional and mental disturbances’.

Statutory regulation debated in House of Lords

The debate over the future of our profession reached the House of Lords in February, with Lord Alderdice asking the government what progress they have made in the statutory regulation of the professions of psychology, psychotherapy and counselling.It is six years since Lord Alderdice introduced a Private Member’s Bill calling for the statutory registration of psychotherapists. Now he has returned to the issue, prompted by meetings with the Society and developments in the regulation of healthcare professionals. Alderdice opened the debate by arguing that ‘it is simply no longer acceptable that there is so little protection for those who seek psychological treatments, and who are if anything even more vulnerable than the physically ill because of their emotional and mental disturbances’.  He continued: ‘The absence of statutory registration suggests to trusts and employing authorities that, whatever the National Institute of Clinical Excellence says, the government regard [psychological] treatments as being of marginal importance. This impression is strengthened when one compares the amount of money spent on pharmaceutical products and research with that available for research on psychological treatments and the employment of psychological therapists.’
Alderdice said that in this field, professionals, their work and relationships with clients are not susceptible to such definitions and protocols proposed under the Health Professions Council. So he wanted to know how the government intended to address those concerns and whether they would give consideration to a new regulatory council for psychological professions within the framework of the 1999 Health Act.
Baroness Pitkeathley applauded the government’s intention to regulate, hoping that ‘taking the mystery out and putting the regulation in will benefit not just those who avail themselves of the services but the whole of our society. It will help us to understand better our mental and emotional health and needs, as we have begun in recent years to understand our physical needs.’
Baroness Bottomley referred to her time as Health Minister, saying: ‘…we have moved on to the Health Professions Council. But I am very much with those who believe that the talking therapies need a different structure… I believe that we have a real opportunity but we must not allow simplicity to cloud the complexity of introducing statutory backing that is sensitive to these therapies…  There is no doubt that it would be a tragedy to miss this opportunity, given that there has been such a convergence among the relevant bodies, and to go down a blinkered route.’
Others also agreed with the Society’s call for a more tailored regulatory body. Baroness Barker called the degree of consensus among the professions ‘no mean achievement’, and said that it ‘simply does not make sense either to patients, users or the professionals themselves to be lumped in with those treating physical illnesses because they simply do not have a sufficient commonality of approach’. She also pointed to ‘an urgency about this issue’, based on the increased role for psychologists and associated mental health professionals envisaged in the Mental Health Bill. She concluded that if she were in the Health Minister’s shoes and had Lord Alderdice’s offer to assist in moving to what she thought would be a final resolution of this matter, she would ‘bite his hand off’.
Next up, Earl Howe went through the Society’s objections to the HPC in detail, and urged the government, ‘even at this late stage, to leave open the possibility of an independent statutory regulator for psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors’ when the  White Paper is published. ‘That’, he said, ‘is the formula most likely to produce a sense of ownership among the professions. We may have waited many years to reach a resolution of these very difficult issues, but whatever resolution is reached has to work.’
Responding, the Minister of State, Department of Health – Lord Hunt of Kings Heath – reiterated the importance of statutory regulation of psychotherapists and psychologists. ‘This is the best form of regulation where ownership by the profession goes hand-in-hand with the public interest.’ He pointed to ‘very legitimate reasons why these should be difficult and perhaps frustrating discussions… it is very difficult to get any acceptance of leadership from within the field, on the grounds either of lack of knowledge or appreciation of each other’s approach.’
Lord Hunt referred to negotiations with the Society, including the Society’s wish to protect the generic title psychologist. He argued: ‘…if we legally restrict the title psychologist to those who can demonstrate practical and theoretical competence, we would unfairly criminalise many with a legitimate claim to use the title. There is an analogy here with the legal profession. Many eminent academic lawyers have every right to call themselves lawyers but because they have not had vocational training they cannot call themselves solicitors or barristers.
The Minister said that he could not comment on the questions raised in relation to the Health Professions Council, because ‘to do so would anticipate the White Paper’. At the time of writing, the White Paper was due for publication towards the end of February (see www.bps.org.uk/statreg for the latest news).

Reacting to the debate, Society President Ray Miller said: ‘We are grateful for the continuing interest of Lord Alderdice and his colleagues in the issues of statutory regulation. Our efforts to alert parliamentarians at both Westminster and Holyrood have clearly been successful. Points raised in the debate drew directly from our information campaign and the many personal meetings at the end of last year. They positively reflect our concerns and our determination to achieve better regulation and better public protection.
‘It was disappointing to see that Lord Hunt has apparently misinterpreted some aspects of our concerns. In particular, our view has been that all psychologists should be regulated who need to be regulated and this may include some people working primarily in academic settings. The issue of the protected title is still subject to ongoing discussion: I have written to him providing clarification. We are pleased that the White Paper will provide further opportunities for informed debate. Our wish is to work closely and constructively with government to achieve the best outcome for the public and the profession.’    JS
- For the full Hansard transcript of the debate, see www.bps.org.uk/hansard.

New horizons

Community groups, schools and families across the UK are being invited to get together in village halls, classrooms, living rooms and pubs as part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s sciencehorizons project. It is the first ever mass public engagement programme designed to get the nation talking about the science and technology of the future, in four areas: mind and body, home and community, work and leisure, and people and planet. The results of all of these activities will be used to inform policy setting the direction of research and regulation of science and technology.    JS
- See www.sciencehorizons.org.uk to find out more or comment on the blog.
 

Nature abandons open peer review

THE journal Nature has decided not to implement an open peer review system following a trial conducted between June and September last year.
Articles currently submitted to Nature are forwarded by the journal’s editors for anonymous and confidential review by other experts in the field, as happens at most academic journals. But during last year’s trial, 71 articles submitted for publication were also hosted on an open-access server where other experts could post their comments publicly.
Ninety-two comments were subsequently posted to just over half the articles, with most judged to be only of editorial rather than technical relevance. Of the article authors who responded to a post-trial survey, fewer than half expressed a preference for open peer review. ‘Despite enthusiasm for the concept, open peer review was not widely popular, either among authors or by scientists invited to comment,’ Nature said.         CJ

In brief

Jon Sutton reports from the Division of Occupational Psychology Annual Conference in Bristol
Tom Smith, an occupational psychologist at HSBC, issued a rallying ‘call to arms’ to open the conference. The demands from clients are there, but occupational psychology is not alone in being able to deliver – time is of the essence. Occupational psychologists need to go into organisations with pride in their profession, tenacity, business acumen and an appetite for risk. Amongst the bold suggestions was a call to do away with anonymity in questionnaires, allowing more insight into issues like employee engagement and turnover.
Diversity and inclusion are high on the government agenda, with age legislation introduced last October. According to Emma Kirk (Pearn Kandola), occupational psychologists have a role in challenging apathy and assumptions of incompetence, auditing and advising on job descriptions, and detecting bias. There is a need to look at how motivation changes at different life stages, in order to avoid ‘career cruising’ and capitalise on the fact that people in their 60s are more likely to say they want to work into their 70s than any other group.
Is it really possible to ‘completely eliminate unconscious racial bias’? That was the claim made by Jonathan Cowie and Binna Kandola (Pearn Kandola), who found that simple instructions to ‘be fair’ during an Implicit Association Test (see www.implicit.harvard.edu) reduced (to virtually zero) the tendency to be faster to match ‘hire’-related words to light-skinned faces.
If you want to reward your employees, experiential rewards (e.g. a balloon ride, a massage) are more likely than cash to be discussed at work, and tend to be perceived as worth more than their true value (Lauren Krause, Macquarie University).
Two thirds of American CEOs only last three years in the post. Why do so many leaders ‘fail and derail’? According to Adrian Furnham (University College London), the answer lies in the no-man’s land between personality and intelligence. Firms hiring a new head honcho need to look for the optimal, not maximal, amount of certain traits: for example, does ‘team player’ often actually mean ‘indecisive, lacks independent judgement’? It’s also vital that recruiters are not blinded by strengths – weaknesses are more important in the long run.

In brief

Jon Sutton with more from the occupationals’ conference in Bristol.

The ‘Gen Y’ of 80s children have ‘self-esteem on steroids and confidence that exceeds their competence’, according to accounts in this talk from Jo Silvester (Work Psychology Partnership/City University London) and colleagues. They are open to change, techno-literate, impatient to get ahead, but easily bored. The challenge for occupational psychologists is engaging them, and ensuring that managers are ready to give them instant feedback. Gen Y also tend to be loyal to people but not organisations: does this spell the end for the ‘milkround’ graduate recruitment, with large organisations instead biding their time, allowing others to pay training costs before poaching the best further down the line?
According to Guion, more than 40 years ago selection procedures were ‘stuck on a low plateau’: the correlation between personnel test and work performance remained small. According to Mark Cook (Swansea University), little has changed: required work behaviours and personality are assessed largely by inherently limited self-report methods. Other sources of information can be time-consuming, expensive, impractical or coercive.
Higher education institutions are increasingly aware of the need to engage in ‘knowledge transfer’, whether it be from the application of research, the dissemination of expertise through consultancy or the transfer of best practice through CPD programmes. Now a study by Jan Francis-Smythe and colleagues at the University of Worcester has found that the main barrier to such activities that academics report is not lack of time per se, but lack of suitable blocks of time. Academics struggle with the polychronicity (multi-tasking).
‘Emotional labour’ – faking or suppressing emotion in customer service interactions – has negative psychological impacts which extend beyond the workplace into the home environment, according to Gail Kinman (University of Bedfordshire).
If you want to keep staff absence rates down, provide them with intellectual challenge and positive feedback (Nadine Mellor, Health and Safety Laboratory, Buxton).
Worksite stress-management programmes, involving cognitive-behavioural therapy techniques such as cognitive restructuring and relaxation training, are a highly effective method for improving employees’ psychological health – particularly for those most under strain (Paul Flaxman, City University, and Frank Bond, Goldsmiths College).
Our research suggests that readers would like to see more occupational psychology in The Psychologist. If you would be interested in contributing, e-mail [email protected].

More than a piece of research

PSYCHOLOGISTS returning from the vast Kumbh Mela Hindu festival in Northern India, which attracts up to 30 million pilgrims on a single day, have been astonished by the calmness and orderliness of the immense crowds.
‘Before leaving, I was filled with trepidation’‚ Professor Steve Reicher of St Andrews University told us. ‘The scene was like a biblical epic. I was worried about the safety, of crushing and pontoon bridges collapsing. And yet, despite the numbers equivalent to half the population of the UK in one place at the same time, it was quite remarkable, there was no feeling of tension, no crushing, pushing or jostling. Instead, it felt calm and safe, people were respectful to each other.’
Working with his colleagues Dr Clare Cassidy, also at St Andrews, Dr Nick Hopkins of the University of Dundee, Dr Mark Levine from Lancaster University, and Professor Janak Pandey, of the University of Allahabad, Reicher has interviewed several Culpwasis (pilgrims), and conducted surveys and ethnographic work. Preliminary analysis of the interviews has revealed a striking contrast between the way one would normally expect people to respond to the conditions at the month-long Mela festival, and the way they actually reported feeling.
Everything that the traditional psychological literature associates with stress – crowding, noise, poor sanitary conditions – was present at the Mela, and yet people there said they felt serene, exhilarated and peaceful, Reicher explained.
Analysis of the data has only just begun, but the researchers believe it is the sense of common identity engendered by the Mela that transforms people’s usual psychological reaction to noise and crowds from a negative to a positive, with people saying they felt recharged, and both mentally and physically well.
The work could uncover useful lessons for a more peaceful society. It is only by understanding why people love the group so much that we can understand why people do such terrible things when they believe their group is under threat, Reicher said.
However, the psychologists’ trip was more than a piece of research. As well as training Indian postgraduates, Reicher said he and his British colleagues had learned a huge amount from their Indian associates, especially at the University of Allahabad, regarding how to transform their methods and theories in a context like India.    CJ

Gambling on the nation’s health

PSYCHOLOGISTS and other mental health professionals should prepare themselves for an increase in the number of people with a gambling problem, according to a report by the British Medical Association (BMA) – Gambling Addiction and Its Treatment Within the NHS: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals.
The report came as the government prepared to implement the Gambling Act 2005, which includes licences for 17 new casinos, among them the UK’s first super-casino – since announced to be in Manchester – as well as a relaxation of rules concerning gambling advertising.
Chartered psychologist Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University is the principal author of the BMA report. He told us the launch of the UK National Lottery in 1994 was a crucial turning point.
‘People are focusing on the Gambling Act when what I’ve said is this is about what’s happened over the last 10 years, particularly since the National Lottery began. Overnight, gambling became demasculinised and destigmatised and that changed people’s attitudes to gambling, whether they realised it or not.
‘It’s a drip, drip, drip effect,’ Griffiths continued. ‘The Act really just puts into a regulatory framework a lot of things that were happening anyway. The Act increases the opportunity and access to gamble, and where this happens you not only get an increase in the number of regular gamblers, but also an increase in the number of problem gamblers as well.’
According to the most recent nationwide prevalence survey conducted in 2000, there are between 275,000 and 370,000 problem gamblers in the UK, but Griffiths said this is probably a conservative estimate considering the impact internet gambling, mobile phone gambling and interactive TV are likely to have had since. Professor Griffiths and colleagues are currently conducting a new prevalence survey, the results of which are due to be published later this year.
‘What the government should be doing is putting an infrastructure in place to help the inevitable casualties of problem gambling…advisory campaigns, helplines and player information. In other countries where gambling has been liberalised but such an infrastructure has also been put in place, the rise in problem gamblers has been kept to a minimum,’ Griffiths said. The situation in the UK is that it’s up to those operators who are granted the gambling licences to put these kind of measures in place. ‘A lot of it is put on trust.’ Griffiths added.
Publication of the BMA report has provoked a cool reception among certain sectors of the media, with a Daily Telegraph editorial arguing it’s wrong for the NHS to be expected to help problem gamblers. But Griffiths told us the BMA report calls for gambling addiction treatments to be paid for out of money raised by the gambling industry, and he added: ‘There are many addiction services and specialists in the NHS, there’s an infrastructure there already, so if people are already being treated for various chemical-based addictions, why can’t gambling be part of that?’
The good news story for psychology is that publication of the BMA report provides the latest example of the kind of constructive impact psychologists are having on national debate. ‘This is one of the proudest achievements of my academic career,’ Professor Griffiths said. ‘It’s a chance to have a document that lands on the desk of the head honcho of virtually every government department – health, culture media and sport, the DTI. I’m delighted for psychology, for myself and for my university that we’ve been linked with this report. It’s a chance to make a real difference.’    CJ

RESEARCH FUNDING NEWS
The Wellcome Trust is offering Science Career Re-Entry Fellowships to support postdoctoral scientists to re-enter scientific research following a career break of at least two years. Funding is primarily to provide for basic salary costs. The closing date for applications is 2 April 2007.
Further details: www.wellcome.ac.uk/node2128.html.
Cancer Research UK is offering Small Grants within its Population and Behavioural Science funding stream, to support junior investigators and/or for feasibility/pilot studies. Research areas considered include education, behaviour, supportive and palliative care and psychosocial research. Funding of up to £40,000 is available. The closing date for applications is 17 August 2007.
Further details: science.cancerresearchuk.org.
The Breast Cancer Campaign are providing funding for Scientific Fellowships (non-clinical) to assist postdoctoral scientists to become independent researchers specialising in the breast cancer field. Fellowships last for three years.
Further details: tinyurl.com/3xwa7k.
European Commission Framework 7 funding is available under the seven programmes. Calls that may be of particular interest to psychology include:
Cooperation programme
Transport, Health, Information and Communications Technologies, Security, Socioeconomics and Humanities (which includes growth, employment and competitiveness in a knowledge society – the European case).


Capacities programme
Developing the potential in the EU’s convergence regions and outermost regions.
Science in Society, including research ethics in science and technology, strengthening the role of women in scientific research and reinforcing links between science education and science careers.

People (Marie Curie) programme
Initial training networks for early-stage researchers.
Reintegration grants to support training and career development of researchers.
Further details: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/home_en.html
For a list of current funding opportunities go to www.bps.org.uk/funds
Funding bodies should e-mail news to Elizabeth Beech on [email protected] for possible inclusion.

In brief from BPS journals

Jon Sutton on the latest batch of Society journals.
In a longitudinal study, Terezinha Nunes (University of Oxford) and colleagues showed that six-year-old children’s logical abilities and their working memory predict mathematical achievement 16 months later. Logical scores continued to predict mathematical levels after controls for working memory, whereas working memory scores failed to predict the same measure after controls for differences in logical ability. The researchers also trained a group of children in logical reasoning and found that they made more progress in mathematics than a control group who were not given this training. (BJDP, March)
Die-hard fans remember stereotype-inconsistent information about their team better than the less committed followers do. In other words, supporters of successful teams really feel the defeats, and supporters of the minnows savour every win (Bertjan Doosje, University of Amsterdam, and colleagues). (BJSP, March)
Trait aggression can predict adolescent academic performance, according to a study by James Loveland (Louisiana Tech University, USA) and colleagues. Physical aggression accounted for 16 per cent of variance in Grade Point Averages (GPA); the ‘Big Five’ personality traits added only 1.5 per cent to the prediction of GPA after controlling for physical aggression. Interestingly, a significantly larger amount of variance in GPA was predicted by physical aggression for females than for males. (BJEP, March)
A grounded theory analysis of 10 individuals with experience of persecutory paranoia (Boyd and Gumley) identified core processes of fear and vulnerability. This was fed by confusion and uncertainty, and a sense of the self under attack. In this way, paranoia could be seen as a safety system. The researchers suggest that the experiential accounts they gathered could be used therapeutically to support people experiencing paranoia. (PAPTRAP, March)
Writing about a favourite celebrity can prevent the aggression usually seen in response to social rejection, according to a study by Jean Twenge (San Diego State University) and colleagues. (BJSP, March)
A longitudinal study led by Jo Silvester (City University) found that in 106 Conservative Party candidates selected to fight the May 2005 UK general election, critical thinking skills and performance in a structured interview were significantly associated with the ‘percentage swing’ achieved by a candidate. Inference, recognition of assumptions, deduction, interpretation and evaluation of arguments may be particularly important in political success. (JOOP, March)
A ‘typical’ female rape is (wrongly) seen as a stranger rape, despite increasing coverage in recent years of acquaintance rape. As for conceptualisations of male rape, Irina Anderson (University of East London) found a sexualising and a homophobic dimension, as male participants perhaps tried to distance themselves – and their masculinity – from such events. (BJSP, March)
‘New employees’ are the 30 per cent of the organisation with the lowest tenure. That’s according to a study by Keith Rollag (Babson College, USA), who says that organisational growth and turnover therefore have a major effect on how long arriving recruits are considered new employees, which in turn has implications for new employee research in areas like socialisation, mentoring, training and career development. (JOOP, March)
In what they describe as the first cross-sectional study to compare women with bulimia nervosa with their sisters in terms of perceived non-shared environmental factors and personality traits, the authors (Lehoux and Howe) found that insecure paternal attachment predicted the risk for bulimia nervosa. (BJCP, March)

Society members can subscribe to journals for just £20 per year (£15 for students). See www.bpsjournals.co.uk for more.
 

New lab

ASTON University in Birmingham has launched a new Nutrition and Behaviour Laboratory, led by psychologist Dr Michael Green. The new facility will be the only one of its type with easy onsite access to brain imaging facilities, optometry and audiology facilities, as well as access to a wide range of behavioural and nutritional assessment tools, both quantitative and qualitative.
Research at the lab will be wide-ranging, including: investigations into all aspects of food and consumer choice; the psychological underpinnings of successful and unsuccessful dietary change – for example, weight management and cholesterol lowering; the effects of specific food ingredients or nutrients on behaviour and mood – for example, the effects of iron deficiency anaemia on attentional functioning and brain activation patterns; and studies on the way in which we come to acquire preferences or aversions for certain flavours or foods.
Staff at the lab are currently organising collaborative projects with psychologists at Loughborough and Staffordshire universities, and lab manager Nicola Eilliman told us they would welcome ‘any approaches for collaborations from psychologists in this area of research’.    CJ

Still popular with students

FIGURES released in January by UCAS, the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service, reveal that the number of applicants accepted for full-time undergraduate psychology courses starting in autumn 2006 was down on the previous year. Last year saw 13,083 students accepted onto psychology courses, compared with 13,703 in 2005. This 4.5 per cent reduction reflects the average fall of 3.6 per cent across all subjects.
There was a surge of university applicants in 2005 as students aimed to avoid the pending introduction of variable tuition fees, so it’s possible the long-term trend is still for university applications to rise. Psychology remains the third most popular undergraduate subject behind law and design studies.    CJ

Falling for it?

ACCORDING to research by psychologists at the University of Kent, conspiracy theories do indeed have the power to alter our beliefs, but while we’re aware of their influence on others, we wrongly consider ourselves immune.
Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton presented university students with information used by conspiracy theorists to argue that Princess Diana’s death was not an accident – for example, the allegation that witnesses heard a bomb prior to the crash. Afterwards the students rated their agreement with five popular conspiracy theories, such as ‘There was an official campaign by MI6 to assassinate Diana’, and said how much they would have agreed with these statements before having read the conspiracy propaganda; finally, they also made these same current and retrospective judgements about their fellow students’ beliefs.
Although the students estimated that their peers’ agreement with the conspiracy theories had been increased by reading the propaganda, they reported that their own attitudes had hardly changed.
So, had their beliefs been influenced or not? Douglas and Sutton asked a control group of students to state their agreement with the conspiracy theories. Crucially, these students hadn’t read the conspiracy propaganda. Using their beliefs as a baseline suggested the conspiracy propaganda had indeed changed the beliefs of the initial group of students – a change that they’d correctly estimated in their peers, but hadn’t recognised in themselves.
The finding is consistent with research showing that we underestimate the effect of advertising and political propaganda on ourselves, while recognising its effect on others. The phenomenon could be a form of self-serving bias that protects our self-esteem from feelings of gullibility. ‘It may be normatively unacceptable to admit being influenced by elaborate and illogical conspiracy theories, and this could potentially explain why people do not admit the full extent of their personal influence,’ the researchers concluded. The findings will be published in the Journal of Social Psychology.    CJ

Here’s looking at you

RESEARCHERS have shown women rate a man as more attractive after seeing another woman smiling at him; while the effect on male observers is to rate him as less attractive.
Benedict Jones and colleagues at Aberdeen University’s Face Research Laboratory first asked 28 women and 28 men to rate the attractiveness of several pairs of male faces. Next they were shown the same pairs again, except this time one face in each pair was shown with a woman’s face staring at it from the side, either with a smiling or neutral expression. When the participants then rated the male faces for a second time, their ratings had changed for those male faces that had been stared at by a woman.
Female participants rated a male face as more attractive after it had been stared at by a smiling woman, but less attractive if a woman with a neutral expression had stared at it. By

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