IQ – The meek approach is best
In the August issue ‘Letters’, Richard Lynn challenges Jim Flynn’s comment that the ‘Flynn effect’ – substantial increases in scores on intelligence tests observed in many countries during the 20th century – is plausibly explained by ‘better education and smaller families’. Lynn prefers improvements in nutrition. Associations between nutrition and ability are incontrovertible. Since malnutrition severely impairs ability, better nutrition can obviously improve it. However, above starvation level causal relationships become more complicated because nutrition is a marker for many other aspects of lifestyle. For example, there is excellent evidence for a robust relationship between maternal nutrition, infant birth weight and infant lifespan ability.
However, better maternal and infant nutrition are also strongly linked to lower lifetime risk of pathology, greater longevity and also, unsurprisingly, with socio-economic advantage and so with longer education. Similarly, throughout the lifespan nutrition is also a marker for other factors such as socio-economic advantage, level of education, general health and family size, each of which is significantly associated with intelligence.
Since these factors are quite strong proxies for each other, attempts to use multivariate analyses to rank-order their effects give misleading results. Jim Flynn has spent much of a working lifetime showing that no single one of the (intensely interrelated) demographic indices available in the data sets available to him accounts for all of the observed gains in population mean intelligence test scores. Unless Richard Lynn really does adopt the unsustainable position that only improvements in nutrition have any effect, his comments simply reflect an opinion that nutrition has a greater effect than do Flynn’s preferred candidates of education or reduction in family size. This is uninteresting without statistical comparisons supported by reliable data, which, as far as I know, are not yet available.
Lynn defends his opinion with the argument that changes in education and family size cannot account for substantial improvements in IQ test scores of two-year-olds during the 20th century. This works only on the view that ‘improvements in education’ are ‘improvements in what children are taught in schools’ rather than what they can gain from interaction with better educated parents. Yet there is excellent evidence for strong associations between the abilities of children and parental educational achievement. The ‘intelligence tests’ on which two-year-olds are assessed require solution of simple problems or successful completion of activities that they may or may not have previously encountered in their daily lives. It is not sensible to argue that the likelihood of such encounters is independent of the richness of infant experience of domestic environment and vocabulary and that the latter are unaffected by increasing understanding of the chronologies and markers by which infant progress is formally assessed, of the importance of shared activities such as reading or telling stories and of engagement in explanations of the world.
My own, tame, view is that there are multiple causes for individual differences in ability and that their relative contributions are complexly interrelated, strongly interactive and very hard to measure, and that their rank order of effects must certainly differ between societies. For example, improvements in nutrition are likely to markedly improve intelligence in societies where starvation is rife, but their effects will be much smaller in societies in which most people have been adequately fed for many decades. Consequently I do not see the point of Lynn’s disagreement with Flynn, and should not comment if his hobby horse had not also sarcastically neighed at a remark of mine in The Psychologist (November 2006: see www.bps.org.uk/c9f2) that ‘growing exposure to, and awareness of the kinds of problems found in intelligence tests is enough to account for the small increases observed’.
The context for this comment was a report of striking retention of problem solving by elderly people. Individuals who completed a 10-minute intelligence test performed significantly better when they were given it again eight years later, although they had no further experience of it, or of other similar tests, in the interim. Lynn remarks that ‘it may be wondered that this can be a plausible explanation for the increase in the IQs of two-year olds and whether an increase of approximately 27 IQ points over the period from 1917 to the present can be considered small’. With Jim Flynn, I find it not only plausible but probable that much of the improvement in the tests that two-year-olds are given
is associated with improved parental education, dedication to development of infant skills, and increasing recognition of the ‘milestone’ activities and behaviours for which they gain their ‘IQ test points’. On the issue of the ‘size’ of the ‘IQ score’ (rather than raw test score) increases, I need better evidence than I can currently find to assess the derivation of Richard Lynn’s estimate of ‘over 27 IQ points’.
Vivid claims that particular factors that are associated with intelligence test scores have unique practical importance or theoretical significance are dramatic and attract media attention. It is much less newsworthy to draw attention to the weaknesses of our indices of categorisation of social and demographic factors and to the uncertainties and complexities of interpretation that this entails. Nevertheless, I believe that this meeker approach will better help us to understand the complex aetiology of individual differences in mental abilities.
Department of Psychology
University of Oxford
Editor’s note: A full ‘counterpoint’ version of this letter, with added consideration of sex differences, is available as an ‘online-only’ article with this month’s issue at www.thepsychologist.org.uk.
Diagnostics in the dark ages
‘DSM or formulation’ is a discussion reflecting the political and economic battle between ‘doctors and the medical industry’ on one side, and ‘the psychosocial viewpoint’ on the other, and may the best one win! However, it is not a scientific discussion at all.
I suppose we can all agree that a professional must choose an observation point and from there gather knowledge systematically, using some
sort of categorisations that are generally agreed upon by his or her profession?
Today, we generally observe the client from six different observation points: body chemistry, genetics, neurology, psychology, group psychology, cultural psychology. You must think twice in order to realise that from these points we observe the same human being – that is, our most unfortunate client.
The basic problem in our approach is that these professional disciplines can be compared to six workers digging six separate holes, each trying to discover the ‘treasure’ of defining the problem and consequently invent ‘the cure’. The deeper they dig, the more unable they are to communicate with each other. We simply have no common grid or meta-theory allowing us to combine observations between disciplines. Lately, it has become the mode to invent combining terms such as ‘bio-neurological’ or ‘psycho-social’, but until the common grid problem is resolved, such terms blur the problem rather than offer credible solutions. Likewise, it is futile to dismiss general categories and individualise all client relations.
Instead of addressing the problem, we have avoided this discussion by inventing the demand for ‘evidence-based’ treatment, so that we can give the enemy the final blow by proving, for example, that talking to the client cures depression better than giving them pills. This distraught path will lead us into a situation where only the most wealthy professional groups can afford making studies that inevitably will confirm their own brilliant methods – Mirror, mirror on the wall…
DSM or not, we categorise observations in order to communicate and work professionally. Can we discuss how the six workers can exchange and unite their observations into a broader understanding of clients and their problems?
Niels Peter Rygaard
Talking to the media
I am glad that Professor Davey highlighted the issue of our duty as psychologists to bring psychology to the public and his ideas for how this can be done (‘Taking psychology to the people… and making them listen’, June 2007). I wanted to add that more psychologists could put themselves forward to the Society’s Media Centre, which receives, I believe, hundreds of calls from the media each week. I joined their list a couple
of years ago, and receive about four calls a week from television, newspapers and radio. There is little glamour in it, I’m afraid, and certainly no money (I sometimes receive £50 expenses for a morning’s work, and then only if I ask!).
I think we as psychologists have to be less sheepish about putting ourselves forward for this important role. It is not blowing one’s own trumpet and ‘publicity seeking’, which I am sure are common sentiments felt by others towards this role. It is merely something one can do quite easily (a quick chat with a newspaper or magazine, a quick quote and when one has time, a morning in a studio talking to the You and Yours team or whoever else). It is actually giving something back, and providing a larger audience with psychological input.
So come on, psychologists, put yourselves forward and help take some of the work off the shoulders of those of us already on the BPS media list! Emma Citron
Douglas Brown, the Society’s PR?Manager, comments: We are indeed keen to hear from members who have experience of working with the media or who have been trained. E-mail [email protected].
I wonder if other psychologists have the same growing worry as I do about the way in which some of our ‘psychologist’ colleagues represent both themselves and our profession in the popular media.
When approached by the media to give an opinion upon a news story, comment on new research findings or to appear as a ‘talking’ head or ‘expert’ surely we should ensure that we are commenting on things in which we are experienced?
Of late it seems that some ‘psychologists’ presented by the media are willing to comment on just about any issue, whether that issue is within their area of professional experience or not. The media is very good at producing ‘experts’ at very short notice for two-minute interviews, but my experience both inside and outside psychology is that such experts may simply be just 10 minutes ahead of everyone else with a Google search.
Some are also prepared to pass judgement on the work of colleagues and research organisations when it is clear that they have neither contacted their colleague to tell them that they intend to do this, nor taken the time to properly read the full extent of the evidence upon which the work is based before passing comment to the media. Right or wrong, the media are not good at retractions, and by that time the damage to a small research programme is often irreversible.
In my opinion, if the British Psychological Society wants to succeed in reserving the ‘psychologist’ title for those professionally qualified, our behaviour needs to be professional. This may mean declining the opportunity for media exposure or a TV appearance fee in favour of maintaining the dignity and integrity of the profession and ourselves.
I would urge colleagues to be confident in their professional position and knowledge before agreeing to give a ‘psychologist’ opinion to the popular media, and to challenge through the Society those who they feel are overextending their base of expertise and current knowledge.
Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists
Dr Avis Dry (1922–2007)
Dr Avis Dry died on 26 January 2007. She was one of the first generation of pioneer clinical psychologists working in the National Health Service in the 1950s and 1960s. Although she was born in the UK, she emigrated to New Zealand with her parents when she was five. She was educated in New Zealand, gaining a BA and MA at Victoria University College in Wellington. After two postgraduate years she returned to England where she studied at Leeds University completing a PhD in 1956. Following this, she worked as a junior psychologist at Denby Hospital, North Wales, but in 1960 moved briefly to Zurich to take up a research psychologist post at the C.G. Jung Institute. Her book The Psychology of Jung: A Critical Interpretation based on her PhD, was published by Methuen 1961 and is still a classic text. A signed photograph of Carl Jung in her office was a reminder of the period when she worked with Jung.
In 1961 she took up a single-handed post at High Royds Hospital in Menston, near Leeds. This was one of the old asylum hospitals with locked male and female wards and a patient population of nearly two thousand. During her time there she became a champion for the improved welfare of patients and
was instrumental in liberalising patient care. This included allowing ‘courting couples’ to spend time together in her sitting room in the hospital and arranging coach trips for long-stay patients to visit the Dales and the Yorkshire coast. Such actions were generally unheard of in those days. From 1976 to 1996 she was Honorary Secretary to Leeds MIND, combining this for some years with her full-time job as head of a lively psychology department.
After her retirement, her charity work continued for many years. She was part of a group that set up the Leeds Crisis Centre, and later she worked for Leeds Hospital Alert, a Leeds-based patient campaign group supporting the principles on which the NHS was founded. In recognition of her services in mental health she was awarded an MBE in 1995.
As many of her trainees and work colleagues will remember, she was a colourful character with an impish sense of humour. In her active days, she could often be seen riding her bicycle around the hospital grounds. In later years she had poor health although she maintained her strong positive approach to life.
Throughout her life, Avis worked relentlessly for the views of patients to be considered at the centre of mental health service development and planning. It is to her credit, and those like her, that a ‘user involvement’ philosophy forms a strong part of modern-day mental health service provision.
In defence of Zimbardo
I was pleased to find a review of Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect when I opened the August issue of The Psychologist – I had just finished reading it with a feeling of great satisfaction that psychological knowledge is being applied to areas which psychologists often do not discuss. Satisfaction was increased by the fact that the theme of that issue was critical psychology.However I do not think that Phil Banyard represents fairly what Zimbardo writes. Zimbardo makes it clear that he was shocked by how much he himself was drawn into his superintendent role in the Stanford Prison Experiment, and that it was the intervention of Christine Maslach, a visiting psychologist and friend of Zimbardo’s, which jolted him back to his senses to end the experiment.
Of course it is wrong that psychologists have been involved in developing interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay, but I think that what is important about this book is Zimbardo’s insistence that humans respond to situations and that this can mean inflicting cruelty unless there are constraints and clear codes of behaviour. I have just retired from NHS work as a clinical psychologist and am surprised to find that I am relieved not to have to work in a profession which has in the last few years increasingly used psychiatric diagnostic systems and begun to turn its back on the role of social circumstances – perhaps the July issue of
The Psychologist indicates that the tide is turning. I found that Zimbardo’s book helped clarify my thinking about this and showed how far we have moved to blaming individuals for evils of systems instead of looking at how systems and institutions need to be changed to improve people’s lives.
I have received my voting papers and also the letter from our President and Honorary Officers urging us to give the right answer this time to the request to change the statute and allow Trustees to set the subscriptions. I’m afraid it has made me cross. The fact that the membership voted against this in the recent past should have been enough to avoid this second ballot. The narrow margin is irrelevant; the whole point of
a vote is that you live with the consequences. If you don’t know how to do that, then by all means seek the help of someone with more imagination or expertise.
The comment about the ballot costing £17,000 seemed rather petulant and punitive to me. ‘See what you’ve made me do! Now there won’t be enough to buy an ice-cream.’ To have psychologists behaving in this way is disappointing to say the least, and is frankly unacceptable in officers of an organisation funded by its membership.
However, the purpose of my letter is to draw to the attention of our officers that, even in the event of the ballot going their way on this occasion, it will still be unacceptable in the future to hold a second ballot merely because the first one didn’t give you the answer you wanted. I believe the decision to re-run this ballot was misguided and the responsibility for the waste of money rests firmly with those who made that decision.Pauline Grant
I personally consider it a very good use of my money to ballot me directly each time the Trustees wish to increase my membership fees. And if psychologists wish to learn a salutary lesson about what happens to a profession whose governing body does not powerfully and vociferously stand up to a government agenda that is both against the interest of its membership and the public, then I would recommend the Royal Pharmaceutical Society as an urgent case study.
The fees for an ordinary graduate member of the RPS over the past six years have increased by 52 per cent. The proposed fee for 2008 is £425, an increase of over 50 per cent. One of the main reasons for this huge increase is the government’s plan to disband the long-standing Society and instead create a separate regulatory body and ‘a new professional body akin to a royal college’ to carry out all other functions. It appears that the government is not paying towards this.
Name and address supplied
Ken Brown, the Society’s Honorary Treasurer, replies:?The Trustees accept that some members may not be happy with this second vote to change the Statute. But my colleagues and I are personally liable and accountable for the Society's financial health, and our projections have suggested that this is an important and urgent enough issue for us to ask you to reconsider the arguments so soon. We needed to go to vote on the 2008 subs anyway, so this repeat vote is not costing extra. We are not seeking carte blanche: safeguards have been built into this proposal and it is in line with usual practice in this sector. If the vote is 'no' again, we will not be returning to the membership on this issue for some years. But income generation and cost control will become even more paramount if the Society is to remain financially viable in the medium- to long-term.
I?AM a counselling psychology trainee at the University of East London. My research thesis is a qualitative exploratory study of the experience of physical touch within individual therapy, from the client’s perspective. The study has been ethically approved by University of East London and NHS research ethics committees. If you would like to participate or find out more, or if you know of anyone who might be interested, please contact me.
Sarah Page0798 627 6684;
I have a complete set of the British Journal of Educational Psychology from Vol. 48 (1978)
to the present – plus some issues from Vols. 44 to 47 – which I am willing to give to anyone who is willing to collect them.
I also have copies of the DECP newsletter from No. 19 (August 1985) to No. 100 (December 2001), which I am, similarly, willing to give to anyone who will collect them.
East Boldon, Tyne & Wear
I have back issues of The Psychologist dating from May 2000 to July 2007 available free to anyone who wishes to collect them from my home in Southampton. Also available are some issues
of the Selection Development Review (Vol. 21 Nos. 3–6; Vol. 22 Nos. 1–5, Vol. 23 Nos. 1–3).
Anna Erika Springett
023 8068 5922; 0780 350 1373
The University of Surrey is looking for volunteers between the age of 18 and 70 with minimal movement in one hand, at least 12 months post-stroke/brain injury, for research on constraint-induced movement therapy. We are looking for people with relatively pure motor problems, with the ability to follow complex instructions, who have no severe balance problems. We are flexible to an extent about age, language problems and mobility. The trial involves two weeks of visiting the university for daily therapy, plus brain scanning.Please refer to our website (www.surrey.ac.uk/CNRT) or contact me for information leaflets.
E-mail:?[email protected]; tel: 01483 682877
For my final-year clinical doctorate thesis, I am undertaking research that asks directly for the views and opinions of clinical psychologists about the concept of intuition and how it may or may not fit within the profession. If you have any thoughts, ideas and opinions about this topic I would very much like to hear from you. The research is open to all clinical psychologists trained within the UK, currently working in clinical practice at least part-time, with experience of working in the NHS.
Please contact me if you are interested in participating or would like further information about the study.
Heather Tovey[email protected]
Psychologist wanted to act as consultant to a London-based think-tank, the Independent Transport Commission. You would add the psychological input to a multidisciplinary study exploring the universal need to travel underlying the current global travel explosion of epic proportions. Your first task would be to write a short paper to take the topic beyond their draft literature review. This is not a paid post, but expenses will be reimbursed.
Interested? Please contact me.
Whilst questioning the scientific credentials of my article, George Sik (‘The Oliver James paradox’, Letters, August 2007) displays a teenage credulity regarding his sole source, the internet. If Spiked is a left-wing website, as he claims, then The Economist is a weekly communist manifesto. His only other reference is that well-known fount of truth, Wikipedia.
Sik’s catty comments may or may not ring true for readers, but has he anything useful to say about my fundamental question? – If mental illness is twice as common among English-speaking nations compared with mainland Western European ones, what are the reasons?
We were very pleased to see (News, August 2007) the report of the Life Minus Violence work winning a Medical Futures Best Public–Private Partnership award. However, our press releases may have slightly misled, so I would just like to clarify that there are four senior authors on the programme: Professor Jane L. Ireland and Dr Carol A. Ireland from Mersey Care NHS Trust, and Emma Shillabeer and Katie Bailey from Partnerships in Care. It was very much a shared project with Mersey Care NHS Trust, and also an association with the University of Central Lancashire. All deserve recognition for their hard work.
Partnerships in Care
Research on the internet – guidelines
In response to the concerns raised by Darren Baker (Letters, August) regarding ethical considerations in conducting psychological research on the internet, and his call for the Society to publish its own specific ethical guidance – as Chair of the Research Board, I am delighted to announce that these guidelines have been published under our aegis.Two key dimensions (level of identifiability and level of observation) form the basis of the guidance offered in this document. Specifically, depending on the research design, participants in IMR can be identifiable or anonymous; they can explicitly consent to participate, or they can be invisibly observed without their knowledge.
Ten issues inherent when researching online are also covered within the guidance. These include – verifying identity; public/private space; informed consent; levels of control; withdrawal; debriefing; deception; monitoring; protection of participants and researchers; and data protection.
Nevertheless, the very nature of the speed of developments in information technology means that all eventualities cannot be anticipated and researchers must be constantly alert to new potentials and pitfalls. As is stated in the Code of Ethics and Conduct, ‘thinking is not optional’.
Hard copies of the Guidelines can be obtained from Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard on [email protected]. Alternatively, it can be downloaded from www.bps.org.uk/webethic.
Chair, Research Board
NLP – Occam’s razor or Aaron’s calf?
As a small business owner, I regularly find myself at business network meetings and these meeting are often awash with NLP practitioners. Whilst I am quite sure that many of these practitioners offer a good service to other businesses and individuals, there does seem to be an overwhelming number who vehemently ‘sell’ NLP as a panacea to all ills with all the zeal of a quasi-religious cult. I am often left feeling that many of the claims made by NLP practitioners are somewhat unsubstantiated.
Having seen courses in NLP advertised (including some in this very publication) it appears extraordinary that in the space of one week, without prior learning, individuals can become qualified. Indeed I have seen courses advertised that one can go from no knowledge to Master Practitioner in the space of two weeks!
I must confess that my knowledge of NLP techniques is somewhat rudimentary, but I am also aware that NLP shares many techniques found in applied psychology, such as visualisation, and some features of social learning and positive psychology. Further, NLP does not appear to be without some evidence base (Brewerton, 2004; Grimley, 2003). However, there appears to be much of NLP that does not have research grounding, such as the eye cues to determine how individuals process information. Further, there are other concepts that just appear to be popular myths, as NLP makes quite an argument for suggested differences in brain hemispheric processing. I imagine these are the ‘pop psychological theories’ alluded to in Monaghan (2006).
The public’s perception of what a psychologist and an NLP practitioner can provide in clinical, counselling and occupational settings can be largely the same. Yes psychologists perhaps have more kudos, but the marketing and claims made NLP practitioners tell the public that their solutions are faster and cheaper than those of psychologists. Perhaps the governing body of NLP does not have the same ethical standards as the BPS.
I would be interested to hear from any of my learned colleagues, whether they use or have used NLP to enhance their work or they have any experience in researching NLP’s claims. Is NLP the work of Occam’s razor on psychology, easily and quickly learnt and easily and quickly applied? Or is it more like the golden calf, falsely worshipped?
Jamie M. Miller
Performance Psychology Ltd
Brewerton, P. (2004). NLP and ‘metaprogrammes’… worthy of a closer look? Selection and Development Review, 30(3), 14–19.
Grimley, B. (2003). NLP and coaching: A focus on excellence. The Occupational Psychologist, 49, 25–29.
Monaghan, P. (2006). Left and right brain: Insights from neural networks. The Psychologist, 19, 274–277.
Chris Hackley’s article ‘Marketing psychology and the hidden persuaders’ (August 2007) has a special significance for me, as it was Hidden Persuaders produced by Vance Packard in 1957 which led me to become a Fellow of the Market Research Society, which I remained for some 40 years.
My answers to your ‘Discuss and debate’ questions are:
1. The book was a scare story, and its condemnations are no more valid now than they were then, but its paradoxical effects in leading to profitable employment for many psychologists are needed now with so many more graduate psychologists seeking employment. The employment of psychologists in marketing and advertising is in no way compromising to the integrity of the discipline of psychology and social and clinical psychologists in particular have much to learn through involvement in these fields.
2. Packard’s book could still gain a hearing in 2007, particularly with psychologists, for there is nothing the media enjoy more than magnifying small incidents into a national crisis which will make us anxious, suspicious and fearful. It is all part of ‘television with attitude’, which abandons any claim to rationality, with continuous appeals to the emotions.
3. Psychologists today play a much more active role in public policy than they did 50 years ago and gain much more respect from the media. Over that period they have fully demonstrated their capacity for self-regulation in whatever field they have been involved, and they should defend this capacity.
David C. Duncan
Editor’s note: With this letter David Duncan submitted a longer account of his personal experience of the situati
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