News

Suspension of the Society's membership of the Mental Health Alliance; recycling; young children and TV; emergencies; and more
Satisfied? Across the pond, 67 per cent of our American colleagues reported finding their work ‘very satisfying’ when asked, making psychology the eighth most satisfying career. The top three satisfying careers were: clergy, physical therapists and fire-fighters, with roofers being the least satisfied. Physicians topped the ranking for occupational prestige but didn’t make the top 10 for satisfaction.

Satisfied?

Across the pond, 67 per cent of our American colleagues reported finding their work ‘very satisfying’ when asked, making psychology the eighth most satisfying career. The top three satisfying careers were: clergy, physical therapists and fire-fighters, with roofers being the least satisfied. Physicians topped the ranking for occupational prestige but didn’t make the top 10 for satisfaction.
The findings come from the latest wave of the General Social Survey (GSS), which is based on interviews with over 27,000 people. Tom Smith of the University of Chicago and Director of the GSS, said ‘The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching and protecting others, and creative pursuits.’  

London Scientist?

The Nature Publishing Group has launched http://network.nature.com/london. This is the second city hub of its global social networking site for scientists, Nature Network (http://network.nature.com), launched in February. Nature Network London is a free online meeting point for scientists in the London area. It offers various tools, daily commissioned, contributed and curated content,London bloggers, events and science jobs.    

Educational Psychology Crisis

The Society’s campaign to persuade the government to sort out the funding crisis in the training of educational psychologists (see President’s column and News, May 2007) has been given a boost by the tabling in Parliament of an Early Day Motion calling on the government to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the appropriate supply of essential professional support. Diane Abbott MP tabled the motion on 3 May, and within a week it had attracted more than a dozen signatures.

 
Society suspends Mental Health Alliance membership

Five organisations, including the British Psychological Society and representing some 85 per cent of NHS mental health staff, have suspended their membership of the Mental Health Alliance.Over the past eight years the independent Mental Health Alliance (MHA) has been successful in providing organisations with an effective vehicle to influence legislation, including the Mental Health Bill now going through Parliament. But the five bodies – the Society, Amicus-Mental Health Nurses Association, Unison, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Association of Occupational Therapists – have now taken the decision to suspend membership. The aim is to prevent potential confusion over different views within the Alliance, and to show support for modern ways of working, exemplified by the Responsible and Approved Clinician’s role.Following the passage of the Mental Health Bill through the House of Lords in early 2007, it became clear that several issues of high importance for the psychological profession (and colleagues) were not adequately represented through the Society’s membership of the MHA. An amendment to the Bill was tabled by Lord Carlile, promoted by the MHA, requiring an examination by a registered medical practitioner if the responsible clinician is not one, before the extension or revocation of certain compulsory powers. The amendment caused conflict within the Alliance, leading to an agreement not to campaign on this particular clause. However, the need for the Society to retain a distinctive voice became apparent.Professor Peter Kinderman, Chair of the Society’s Mental Health Legislation Working Party, said: ‘The best quality mental health care is provided by multidisciplinary teams working together to provide the care people want and need. Today a wide range of experts from a range of professional backgrounds – nurses, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists, as well as psychiatrists – plan care and lead clinical teams. The law should reflect this important clinical reality.’
Bill Davidson, User involvement lead on the National Institute for Mental Health in England Workforce Programme, said: ‘As a member of the working party on Responsible Clinicians, I reacted with dismay at the Lords amendment reversing the widening of professional roles. In my opinion, and that of most users, the most appropriate, properly qualified professional – who knows the patient best – is the one to be the Responsible Clinician. This quite properly could be a psychologist, or appropriate other, who possesses the relevant experience and competencies. Surely this is what New Ways of Working is all about; the right people, in the right place, doing the right job, at the right time, with the right knowledge and skills meeting the needs of service users and carers more effectively.’
In a letter to MPs the new coalition of five organisations said that they ‘were deeply concerned at the tone of some of the opposition comments in this debate,’ in which they had been ‘portrayed as acting only in the self-interest of our members.’ Pointing to years of commitment to a modernised health service, the coalition say they ‘are working hard to ensure that our members’ unique skills are utilised for the maximum benefit of service users – if others disparagingly describe this as being self-interested parties, then we are proud to be so.’
The coalition will continue to campaign with the MHA on other aspects of the Mental Health Bill (for updates see www.bps.org.uk/polpar). ‘But,’ the letter states, ‘in respect to the issue of professional roles, we must now take responsibility for ensuring that the views of our organisations are clearly known to Parliamentarians.’    JS 

 
Changing rubbish behaviour

With the Daily Mail up in arms about the prospect of more local councils opting for alternate weekly collections of waste and recycling, what can psychologists contribute to the debate?Environment Secretary David Miliband has proposed new powers in the Local Government Bill, to set up ‘joint waste authorities’. Some believe this move will lead to more councils opting for collection of non-recyclable and recyclable waste in alternate weeks (an ‘AWC’ scheme). As residents are not allowed to overfill their wheelie-bin, the encouragement is to reduce and recycle. Around 150 local authorities have introduced such schemes, the first back in 2002.Professor David Uzzell (University of Surrey) has been involved in local recycling schemes (for example see www.bps.org.uk/7wrr). ‘If one can embed recycling behaviour into community culture, by creating social pressure to recycle and then creating visible evidence, such as a kerbside collection scheme, that others do – then those less supportive will eventually come on board,’ he says. ‘In some cases, however, change may be too slow in respect of the urgency of the problem, in which case a more direct approach may be necessary.’ Professor Uzzell points to Waverley Borough Council’s AWC scheme. Introduced in three phases, it has been estimated that within the first phase (involving around 16,000 households) recycling rates in terms of tonnage have increased from about 25 per cent to approximately 40 per cent.
‘The key to making a success of AWCs is to emphasise commitment as well as the incentives. In essence, commitment strategies require members of the public to commit publicly to adopting a new behaviour, partly because it can be a powerful first step in the process of making recycling a social norm, and partly because it encourages them to see themselves in a different way. It can be as simple as asking people to put a sticker in their window saying ‘I am a recycler’.
‘Commitment can also lead to generalisation effects – people who commit to one sustainable action are more likely to commit to others as they now see themselves as waste/energy/water conservers. By engaging in the activity this serves to affirm the behaviour and provide a reward, such as feelings of self-esteem and a sense of satisfaction.’
But how should councils encourage commitment in the face of outright hostility, in ‘Save our weekly collection’ campaigns? ‘Perhaps local authorities need to get better at telling people the benefits of their actions,’ Uzzell said. ‘For example, the money saved by not paying for disposing waste into expensive landfill sites can go towards new community facilities like a swimming pool. And you have to give people encouragement and feedback to show them how well they are doing – again, this doesn’t happen often enough.’    JS

 
Punishing tardy reviewers

To alleviate the sluggishness of the peer-review process, journals editors should consider punishing tardy reviewers. That’s according to morality experts Marc Hauser and Ernst Fehr in a letter to PLoS Biology. Inspired by findings from cooperation games, their tit-for-tat proposal is that ‘for every day since receipt of the manuscript for review plus the number of days past the deadline, the reviewer’s next personal submission to the journal will be held in editorial limbo for twice as long before it is sent for review’. By contrast they say prompt reviewers should have their own research sent for review straightaway and pushed up the publication queue where possible. ‘As humans, we are highly sensitive to rewards and punishments,’ their letter continues, ‘perhaps not as exquisitely as rats in the proverbial Skinner box, but close enough. Clearly, the review process is broken. It is time to consider a fix. We have proposed a solution based on the logic of economic incentives and the evolutionary origins of human nature.’     CJ

 
In brief from BPS journals
Jon Sutton on the latest batch.

Employees who comply with the requirements for change primarily because of the perceived costs of failing to do so will do little more than what is required of them. Employers need to build trust and communication in order to foster a belief in the change and the desire to contribute to its success (strong ‘affective commitment’). That’s the message from a study by John Meyer (University of Western Ontario) and colleagues. (JOOP)

Primaries, supplementers, moonlighters, students… James Martin and Robert Sinclair (Wayne State and Portland State Universities, USA) have proposed a typology of the part-time workforce, and they suggest that employers need to be aware of their differing characteristics: particularly when it comes to setting expectations of turnover. (JOOP)

The Brief Symptom Inventory is a popular measure of psychopathology frequently used as an outcome measure, but clinicians and researchers have had to rely on normative data based on US samples. Now a study by Christian Ryan (COPE Foundation, Ireland) has found that a sample of UK outpatients scored, on average, 26 per cent higher than their US counterparts, on whom the measure’s norms are based. (PAPTRAP)

Cognitive behaviour therapy might be flavour of the month, but perhaps more so with the general public than with patient groups. Josefin Frovenholt (Linkoping University, Sweden) found that when respondents ranked three forms of psychotherapy, there was an overrepresentation of preferences for CBT (and ‘don’t know’ responses) among the general public, whereas two patient samples were less indecisive and more often preferred psychodynamic and, in particular, cognitive therapy. (PAPTRAP)

 

Children with autism read emotions in the eyes

A NEW study has concluded children with autism are able to read emotional signals from other people’s eyes, apparently contradicting prior research in the field.
Elisa Black and colleagues at the University of Nottingham created eight five-second videos of an actress pulling various facial expressions, and presented these to participants diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, and to control participants, all aged between 10 and 14. Using sophisticated digital imaging techniques, either the whole face was shown pulling an expression, or the eye or mouth region was ‘frozen’ in a neutral position while the rest of the face was seen expressing an emotion (see tinyurl.com/32x45u). The facial expressions used were: deciding, don’t trust, disapproving, not interested, not sure, relieved, surprised, and worried, all of which were pre-tested for recognisability and distinctiveness with non-autistic children.
Overall, the children with autism were poorer at recognising the facial expressions than the control children. This confirms previous research suggesting that people on the autistic spectrum have difficulties recognising emotions, especially complex emotions – part of a broader difficulty they have understanding mental states and empathy. Crucially, however, the autistic children’s performance was poorer when the eye region of the actress’s face was static. Black’s team said this suggests the autistic children had been extracting useful emotional information from the actress’s eyes. The finding appears to contradict earlier research, for example by Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues, which concluded children with autism have a specific deficit processing emotional information conveyed by people’s eyes.
However, Professor Baron-Cohen noted that this was not the only interpretation of their results. ‘All one can conclude from this observation is that people with autism spectrum conditions – who are known to have excellent attention to detail – notice an artificial change to a face, such as the eyes freezing, and that this interferes with their performance on this task.’
This criticism notwithstanding, Black and colleagues’ second experiment appeared to support their initial findings. This showed autistic children were just as capable as controls of recognising the actress’s facial expressions when only her eyes were visible, whether these were presented in motion, or frozen at the ‘peak’ of her facial expression. Writing in the journal Child Development (http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01005.x), Elisa Black and colleagues concluded: ‘If individuals with autistic spectrum disorder are not specifically impaired in reading information from the eyes, we must seek another explanation for the aspects of their autistic features associated with social impairment.’
The new findings seem compelling but Professor Baron-Cohen, discussing the experiments, also pointed out that in striving for control over relevant variables, the stimuli may have lacked ecological validity. It might also be important that the number of emotions tested was just eight. ‘Differences between people with and without autism can be very subtle and may only be revealed with a broad enough scale,’ he said. However, he welcomed the new study and acknowledged the need for more research into social cognition and the autistic spectrum.    CJ

 
You’re only aggressive when you’re winning

Although you might associate frustration and aggression with losing, apparently it is seeing their team win that increases aggression among rugby fans. That’s according to Simon Moore and colleagues of the Violence Research Group at Cardiff University, who say their finding has implications for the management of crowd aggression.
Across five match days, the researchers interviewed 111 rugby supporters arriving at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, about their aggression, happiness and their intention to drink alcohol after the game. These fans served as a baseline against which the researchers compared the responses of 86 different fans interviewed post-match, of whom 17 had seen their team win, 23 had seen their team lose, and 46 had seen their team draw.
Self-reported aggression levels among fans whose side had won or drawn were higher than among the fans interviewed pre-match. By contrast, fans whose team lost didn’t report feeling any more aggressive than the pre-match fans. Lead author Simon Moore told us this finding was consistent with real-life cases, most famously when Denver Broncos fans rioted in the streets of Denver after their team won the Super Bowl XXXII in 1998.
Intention to drink alcohol was not linked directly to match outcome. However, across all the fans, those who reported feeling more aggressive (itself linked to match outcome, as we’ve seen) also tended to say they planned to drink more alcohol. Losing or drawing fans were less happy than pre-match fans, but somewhat surprisingly, the winning fans’ happiness levels did not differ from baseline. ‘It appears that aggression, not celebration, determined how much spectators planned to drink after the match,’ Moore said.
Writing in the journal Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, the researchers surmised that a disregard for the future, induced by witnessing a win or draw, could be the cognitive process underlying both increased aggression and a desire to drink more alcohol. If true, they said this meant ‘ameliorating these behaviours through the threat of later punishment or future poor health will have little effect’. Police resources should be particularly targeted towards the fans of winning teams, they advised.     CJ

 
Royal Society Prize Book

The winner of this year’s prestigious Royal Society Prize for Science Books is Stumbling on Happiness, by psychologist Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University. The book draws on psychology and cognitive science to explain why we make the decisions we do. Professor Gilbert told The Psychologist: ‘While most of us spend our days doing nice things for the people we are about to become – working, saving and flossing so that our future selves will be happy and grateful’, a combination of bad wisdom and weak imagination usually leads us to mispredict what will make our future selves happy. This causes ‘us to build futures that our future selves don’t much like, which leads our future selves to look backwards, shake their heads, and wonder what the hell we were thinking. Stumbling on Happiness is an attempt to answer their question’.
Does he have any idea why the book struck such a chord with judges and readers alike? ‘Although the book is a carefully footnoted discussion of serious experimental research, it is conversational, easy to read, and unrepentantly cheeky. That style doesn’t work everywhere: Americans think a book can’t be smart unless it is taciturn, Italians think a book can’t be smart unless it is confusing, and the French think a book can’t be smart unless it is French. The Brits, on the other hand, invented intelligent humour. They know that snickering is not the enemy of understanding and that the two can make a lovely couple. So I’m delighted that the judges liked my book as much as they did, and God bless the Empire.’
Two other psychology-related books had been in the running for this year’s prize, including Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of its Own, which made the long-list, and Eric Kandels In Search of Memory, which was short-listed.
Dr Fine told us her book takes an irreverent look at the less salubrious side of human psychology – our tendency to distort information about ourselves, other people, and the world around us so as to suit our own prejudices and bolster our self-esteem. (see June 2006 book review in The Psychologist).    CJ

 
Human factors in IT security

Increasingly, hackers are using sophisticated social engineering techniques to dupe computer users into giving away confidential information on the internet, and to trick them into downloading viruses. Now the Cyber Security Knowledge Transfer Network, which is funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, has turned to a consortium of psychologists, criminologists and human factors researchers to help encourage internet users to browse and conduct business more securely online. Their recommendations are set to form a publicly available White Paper (see www.ktn.qinetiq-tim.net/ ). Professor Fred Piper, an international expert in cyber security and a member of the multidisciplinary consortium, said: ‘You may hear clichés such as ‘computers don’t commit crimes, people do’, and the problem is – they’re true. That’s why it’s so important that we get involved in human factors.’Among the psychologists taking part is Dr Marco Cinnirella of Royal Holloway, University of London. He told us: ‘One of the major challenges for a psychologist is that many of the established social-psychological phenomena of relevance have not been fully explored in computer-mediated environments, and we cannot just assume that established phenomena operate in the same way both on – and offline.’For example, using an Asch-style line judgement task, Cinnirella recently extended prior research showing that people from more collectivist cultures are more conformist. Whereas this observation was replicated for face-to-face situations, it did not hold true in a computer-mediated context. The findings are published online in the journal Computers and Human Behaviour (tinyurl.com/yoqqhe).    CJ

 Research Funding News

The Australian Department of Education, Science and Training is offering two schemes to allow scholars from Europe to undertake study and research in Australia. The Endeavour Europe Awards provide assistance for postgraduate students to undertake either an Australian Masters degree or PhD; or research in Australia towards a Masters degree or PhD in their home country. The Endeavour Research Fellowships provide support for postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows to undertake short-term research (4–6 months). Both schemes are open to any field of study. The closing date for applications is 31 July 2007.

Further details: tinyurl.com/2jftn4

The MAPI Research Institute is offering the Catherine Pouget Research Award to support research into the impact of quality of care and the improvement of the quality of life of the terminally ill. Research projects could include the impact of interventions, studies of measures and determinants of quality of life, patient and/or family perspectives about the quality of care and/or life experiences. $10,000 worth of funding is available. The deadline for applications is 30 September 2007.

Further details: www.mapi-research.fr/c_01_cath.htm

The Kings Fund has a limited number of bursaries (up to half the fees) available for people from black and minority ethnic groups to attend the Fund’s management training programmes. Bursaries are primarily offered to those working within health in London.  Applications can be made at any time. 

Further details: www.kingsfund.org.uk/leadership/bursaries.html

The EPSRC Bridging the Gaps scheme provides funding for research organisations to design a programme of activities that will stimulate creative thinking between disciplines and develop a multidisciplinary working environment. Proposals must cross at least two core programme areas of mathematical sciences, ICT and engineering. The closing date for applications is 24 July 2007.

Further details: www.epsrc.ac.uk/CallsForProposals/BridgingTheGaps.htm

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.

 

Learning and Teaching

Annie Trapp with the latest from the Higher Education Academy Psychology Network’s journal.

Although systematic observation is a recognised, valued and much used psychological research technique, 31 per cent of respondents in a survey conducted by Vicky Lewis (Open University) and colleagues reported that observational research methods were not taught at all. Of those not teaching such skills, 92 per cent said that they would be interested in doing so if given suitable resources.

Developing student skills in self-reflection at an early stage can encourage them to think about what they are studying. That’s according to a study led by Mark Coulson (Middlesex University) that found that the use of a Learning Achievement Self-Evaluation Record may have an effect on the grades students achieve on certain forms of assessment.

In addition to finding that students who are less extroverted than their peers rate group work as less enjoyable, Ann Walker (Sheffield Hallam University) has revealed that trusting others and feeling valued affects student ratings of group work.

Providing voluntary student support groups early on can help students as they embed themselves in the HE culture, according to an interview study by Alison Barton and colleagues (University of Winchester). Negative aspects of this approach include the emergence of dysfunctional groups and the potential for collusion.

Taking the same multiple-choice question assessment in online or offline mode does not impact the performance of psychology students, according to a study conducted jointly at University of Bolton and the University of Bath.

To subscribe (free to UK Higher education lecturers in psychology and related areas), see tinyurl.com/yuz2av

 

Does TV harm young children?

Psychologist and BPS member Dr Aric Sigman provoked media outrage in April after delivering a presentation to MPs about the harm TV viewing purportedly causes young children. Sigman, who is broadly in favour of the American Academy of Paediatrics’ recommendation that children under three shouldn’t watch any TV, told us: ‘Children in the UK have more TV sets in their bedrooms and watch more screen time at earlier ages than ever before. This trend is increasing dramatically – that’s why I believe it’s a health issue today.’
Even as news of Sigman’s Westminster presentation was hitting the airwaves, the nation’s columnists were clamouring for their keyboards. ‘I’d rather trust that he’s very naive than leap immediately to the conclusion that by calling for such an insanely impractical and ludicrous piece of legislation he’s clearly hoping for attention rather than to effect change,’ wrote The Guardian’s Janine Gibson. In The Times, Caitlin Moran got even more personal: ‘He either (a) has no children, or (b) has an idyllic set-up involving a stay-at-home wife, three nannies and an attentive granny living next door.’
In fact, Dr Sigman has four children, and for a time raised one of them on his own. ‘The media wants to portray this as a personal choice, but I was meticulous in saying that this is not based on some whim. I simply put together what is known from biology. And I believe it’s right that the government allows parents to know that there are dangers of early and intense exposure – that there is a growing area of evidence showing the adverse effects to very young children of watching TV’.
Sigman’s presentation was based on a paper he published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal Biologist (www.iob.org/downloads/1260.pdf). There he outlines research across the lifespan, showing associations between time spent watching TV and a range of physical and psychological ills, including poor concentration, sleep problems and increased body fat.
However, Sigman’s review only cites two published studies from the toddler age group that show direct associations between TV viewing and negative consequences. The first, a 2004 longitudinal study of 1200 children, found that for every extra hour of average daily TV viewing between birth and three years, the children were 10 per cent more likely to have attentional problems at age seven. The second, a cross-sectional study, found that among 2068 infants aged between four months and three years, those who watched more television also tended to have less regular afternoon and nighttime sleeping schedules.
Sigman continued: ‘My reason for concern over babies and very young children is that they are undergoing more rapid brain development and are also more vulnerable to a wide variety of other things. But they simply haven’t been studied enough – researchers haven’t caught up with the viewing and TV ownership levels of the pre-3s.’ Indeed, a new American study found that nearly half of three-month-olds surveyed already watched TV regularly (tinyurl.com/3c4kf6). 
The research base becomes more substantial when the focus is broadened to include TV viewing in older childhood and adolescence. For example, two studies by Robert Hancox and colleagues reported detrimental associations between TV viewing between the ages of five and 15, and educational attainment and several health measures at 26 years. Sigman’s review concludes research in the area is ‘set to re-cast the role of the television screen as the greatest unacknowledged public health issue of our time’.
However, not all experts are sympathetic to Sigman’s view. Dr Brian Young (University of Exeter) told us children are active in the way they use TV – they don’t just sit on the receiving end of a stream of audiovisual input. ‘There certainly are benefits for children interacting with TV,’ he said. ‘They learn stuff – it’s as simple as that. But the best learning environment is where the mother or the family collectively consume television and discuss it. In that sense it’s a ‘window on the world’. However, he added: ‘Any medium has a downside and unsupervised viewing by very young children – the TV as a babysitter – is not helpful.’    CJ

 

Preparing for emergencies

The debacle that followed Hurricane Katrina shows that psychologists have a profound yet, so far, unexploited contribution to make to disaster response and management. So argue Anahita Gheytanchi and colleagues in American Psychologist, where they identify ways that psychologists could help address failures like those that occurred after Katrina struck.
Many of the failures related to problems in planning and command, communication and coordination during the initial response. Gheytanchi and colleagues say personality and clinical psychologists could help identify the aptitude of individual disaster managers; the psychoanalytic perspective could offer insights into defensive and narcissistic behaviour employed by some managers – for example, leading them to escalate their commitment to prior flawed decisions; and game-theory-based political psychology could help prevent the interests of individual agencies clashing with the overall optimal disaster response.
Three further failures concerned training standards, not learning lessons from prior disasters, and difficulties with assessing the performance of disaster responses. For example, in 2004 the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) organ

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