News

New Ways of Working; Cannabis and Ecstasy; Financial decision making; and much more
Anthropology Award The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland is to award the 2007 Rivers Medal to Andrew Whiten, Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St Andrews, and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society.The Rivers Medal is awarded annually ‘for a recent body of work which makes, as a whole, a significant contribution to social, physical or cultural anthropology or archaeology’. Professor Whiten’s interdisciplinary contributions to anthropology are particularly recognised by this award. The Medal was first awarded in 1924. Among the distinguished early recipients are Bronislaw Malinowski, Edward Evans-Pritchard, Raymond Firth, Meyer Fortes, Louis Leakey, Edmund Leach and Colin Renfrew. The Medal is due to be presented at the Institute’s AGM on 26 September.

Anthropology Award

The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland is to award the 2007 Rivers Medal to Andrew Whiten, Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St Andrews, and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society.The Rivers Medal is awarded annually ‘for a recent body of work which makes, as a whole, a significant contribution to social, physical or cultural anthropology or archaeology’.

Professor Whiten’s interdisciplinary contributions to anthropology are particularly recognised by this award.
The Medal was first awarded in 1924. Among the distinguished early recipients are Bronislaw Malinowski, Edward Evans-Pritchard, Raymond Firth, Meyer Fortes, Louis Leakey, Edmund Leach and Colin Renfrew. The Medal is due to be presented at the Institute’s AGM
on 26 September.

 

The Even More Open University

THE Open University has launched a website at www.open.ac.uk/openlearn to give free access to
its course materials, as part of its mission to open up education.
The resource includes a 10-hour study unit on Exploring Psychology (see tinyurl.com/2zys45), containing a timeline of biographies, methods, perspectives, topics and contexts. Other free courses include ‘Psychology in the 21st century’ (tinyurl.com/yrruhk).

British Academy

Professor Steven Tipper (University of Wales, Bangor) has been elected to Fellowship of the British Academy. Professor Tipper has been recognised for the quality of his research into attention (see tinyurl.com/2y5x2g, and also www.bps.org.uk/tipper for an article from the Psychologist archive).
Professor Miles Hewstone will serve as Vice President for 2007/8. Professor Susan Carey (Harvard University) was elected as a Corresponding Fellow.

New ways ahead

Psychologists working within health and social care have been told it is up to them to help carry through an ‘ambitious agenda’ which would see the way they work radically overhauled. The 150 attendees at the New Ways of Working for Applied Psychology: Looking to the Future conference at Leicester’s Walkers Stadium in July also heard that ‘flexibility’ was a key factor in ensuring the project succeeds.
The project’s summary report ‘The End of the Beginning’ was launched at the event, and outlines in detail the work done by the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE) and the British Psychological Society in the past two years.
The report is intended for those organisations involved
in the commissioning, delivery and quality assurance of psychological services and the associated professional training. It aims to provide information about the nature of applied psychologists’ work, and guidance about how this might incorporate new ways of working in the future. Its clear purpose is ‘to improve the psychological wellbeing of the population through working with individuals, families, teams, organisations and communities’.

Professor Tony Lavender, who chaired the project with Roslyn Hope of NIMHE, said: ‘The title of the report is intended to indicate that whilst much has been achieved, there is still much to do in taking forward the matters raised. Now the work of the profession is to follow and advance these ideas.’

The report details the work of six of the seven project groups who have focused on how to revamp key areas of applied psychology including training and leadership. The only one of the seven groups not yet to report is the one concerned with mental health legislation, due to delays in agreeing its final form.

One of the more radical suggestions in the summary document is an overhaul of the career framework, to increase the delivery of psychological services via suggested new roles for the growing number of psychology graduates. The aim of this is to attract those who do not wish to embark on a minimum 11-year path to consultant clinical psychologist grade in the NHS, but who are interested in delivering psychology services and therapies directly to clients.
The education level required to correspond with these new roles would be postgraduate certificate for Trainee Psychology Assistant level, postgraduate diploma for Senior Psychology Assistant, and a master’s-level qualification for the Psychology Associate role. This suggestion has already generated conflicting views, with the Society’s Board of Trustees adjusting the original suggested titles because they wanted to ensure a clear distinction was made between fully qualified applied psychologists and the new roles.

In discussions during workshop sessions at the Leicester event, the gathered psychologists welcomed the suggestions but also stressed there was work to be done to untangle certain assumptions. Would these roles suggest to people that there is a career progression when there may not necessarily be so?

Would they pigeon-hole certain workers, including women and ethnic minorities?
To fit in with this new framework there are also suggestions that training across the Society’s Divisions would have to be integrated and the Society’s Membership and Professional Training Board has been tasked with looking at the current position. The Psychology Education Board will also be asked to initiate a working group to review the objectives of the graduate basis for registration to make sure it is good preparation for applied psychology training and practice.

The other project groups outline how applied psychologists can contribute to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Service, the role psychologists can play in establishing effective team working and identifying the best ways to organise, manage and lead psychological services.
Professor Lavender concluded the conference by asking all attendees to take ownership of the project. He said it was up to them to ‘take away the things that will be useful in your service’.   
    Sharon Rose

Full details can be found via the Society’s website www.bps.org.uk/nwow.

A conference (jointly sponsored by the Society), ‘Psychological Therapies in the NHS – Science, Practice and Policy’, will take place in London on
30 November and 1 December. For details see tinyurl.com/2qmtym.

 

…do psychologists have an advantage?

Research by psychologists into the way people make decisions, begs the question: Are psychologists any more successful than the average person when it comes to monetary decisions and risk taking? Recent evidence suggests the answer may be Yes. Last year, research found psychologists outperformed economists and physicists in an internet share-dealing game (see News, March 2006). And last month, health psychologist Jerry Yang took home $8.25 million as winner of the World Series of Poker. He told the Associated Press: ‘I study my opponents very carefully, and when I sensed something, when I sensed some weakness, I took a chance. Even if I had nothing, I decided to raise, reraise, push all-in or make a call...’

 

Financial decision making

The financial decisions we make are not as rational as economists used to believe, but instead are buffeted by an array of biases and errors. Now two new studies have shed further light on some of these influences, one showing that men with more testosterone are more likely to punish others at their own financial expense, and the other revealing how people with superior cognitive ability are less risk averse and more likely to sacrifice immediate financial gratification for greater reward later. The testosterone study involved the Ultimatum Game, which features a ‘proposer’ offering to share a portion of a budget with a ‘responder’, who must decide whether or not to accept. Crucially, if the responder rejects the offer, neither party receives anything. Human financial irrationality is betrayed by the game because so many people choose to reject a low offer from the proposer, even though this means losing out themselves.

Twenty-six male students played the Ultimatum Game with real money after having their testosterone levels measured by saliva swab over three days. Terence Burnham at Harvard University found the students with higher testosterone levels were more likely to reject a poor offer from the proposer: 45 per cent of the men with above-average testosterone chose to reject a low $5 offer from a budget of $40 compared with 7 per cent of men with below-average testosterone.

One possible reason for rejecting low offers in the Ultimatum Game is to build a reputation for oneself as
a punisher, thereby reducing the likelihood of receiving low offers in the future. In this sense, a low offer can be seen as a challenge to the responder, with high-testosterone, typically more aggressive, responders reacting to this challenge with a rejection. Writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Terence Burnham said: ‘If our understanding of Ultimatum Game rejections and other related phenomena can be improved through studies of hormones, morphology, and neurological activity the ramifications for economics might be quite broad and positive.’

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Bonn and the Institute for the Study of Labour in Germany have demonstrated how cognitive ability is related to patience and risk aversion. Previous research has shown that higher IQ is associated with greater prosperity, and that risk propensity and financial patience are associated with financial success, but this is one of the first attempts to look at how these factors might be linked.

Thomas Dohmen and colleagues tested the verbal
and non-verbal ability of 1012 German adults, using subscales from the WAIS. Half the participants were then tested for their financial risk aversion, making a series of choices between a guaranteed lower amount ranging from 10 euros to 190 euros or a 50 per cent chance of winning 300 euros. The remaining participants were tested for their financial patience, choosing between 100 euros today or a series of larger amounts in 12 months time. To give the experiment
a sense of realism, there was a one in seven chance they would receive the outcome of one of their choices.

The results were clear:
‘The more intelligent the test subjects were, the more patient and tolerant of risk they were,’ said co-author Armin Falk at the University of Bonn. The association held even after taking into account personal characteristics, such as educational attainment. The researchers also checked that the more risk averse, impatient participants didn’t take the IQ tests in a way – for example, by rushing – that might have led to them achieving a distorted cognitive ability score.

In a discussion paper published online (http://ftp.iza.org/dp2735.pdf), the researchers said that with cognitive ability known to be at least partly inherited, their new findings could help explain the intergenerational transmission of poverty and socio-economic status. However, co-author David Huffman told The Psychologist it was premature to make policy recommendations, such as calling for the training of people of lower cognitive ability to be more financially patient, and less risk averse.

In fact, such an intervention could even be harmful if people of lower cognitive ability began taking bad risks or making inappropriate sacrifices for future rewards.     CJ

 

Out now in BPS journals

Jon Sutton trawls through this month’s offerings.
Physicians should assume that patients do not understand their options when discussing treatment benefits and potential side-effects, according to Erika Waters (Rutgers University) and colleagues. Their large, internet-based study assessed responses to
a hypothetical cancer prevention treatment. Even with the net benefit of a preventive treatment held constant, the presence of a side-effect substantially decreased participants’ willingness to undergo treatment. This aversion to side-effects was found in all subgroups but was particularly strong among less educated, older and female participants. (BJHP)

Job insecurity may have adverse effects on creativity, yet moderately beneficial effects on productivity. That’s according to lab and field studies by Tahira Probst (Washington State University Vancouver, USA) and colleagues. (JOOP)

In a large community sample, around 7 per cent of people without a chronic illness were classified as having significant psychiatric morbidity. Among those with one of the 11 physical illnesses studied, this proportion rose to over 19 per cent, and rose again to around 35 per cent among participants with two or more additional physical illnesses. The authors (Debbie Cooke, University College London, and colleagues) say that this is the most specific support for the hypothesis that there may be a cumulative impact of physical illness on mental health. (BJHP)

The key to treating women with depression may
be for clinicians to attend to the degree to which patients believe they have control over the depression and what they feel the impact of the depression may be. That’s according to a study by Morgen Kelly (University at Buffalo) and others, who found that cultivation of a sense of efficacy to control depression or mastery over depression may improve illness coping for women. (BJCP)

In an ‘ethnomethodologically informed discursive approach’ at a Dutch multinational, Anneke Sools (University for Humanistics, Netherlands) and colleagues highlighted the paradox of ‘doing ambition’. Whereas men distanced themselves
from ambition, the women carefully but decisively positioned themselves as ambitious. The authors argue that the men are anticipating being perceived as hierarchically ambitious, but do not need to make their ambition explicit. The women, on the other hand, have to counter both the assumption that they lack ambition, and the risk of being perceived to ‘do ambition’ in the ‘wrong’ hierarchical way. (JOOP)

Ecstasy and memory loss

Ecstasy users ‘show significantly impaired short-term and long-term (verbal) memory when compared with non-Ecstasy users’, according to the authors of the largest meta-analysis of the recreational drug and memory to date.
Professor Keith Laws and Joy Kokkalis (University of Hertfordshire) looked at 26 studies comparing memory in over 600 Ecstasy users and 600 non-Ecstasy users. In their paper, which appears in Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, they report that in over three quarters of Ecstasy users, long- and short-term verbal memory was below the average of non-Ecstasy using controls. Perhaps more critically, Laws and Kokkalis also found that the total lifetime number of Ecstasy tablets consumed (between 16 and 902 tablets, with an average of 300+) did not significantly account for short-term or long-term memory performance.
Professor Laws told Reuters: ‘It’s almost as if there is a one hit problem… Essentially it’s the same if you take only a few, or an extremely large amount of tablets.’

However, talking to The Psychologist, he said:?‘The phrase “one hit” was meant to indicate that the effect is stepwise rather than linearly related to the number of tablets – not that one tablet can cause the memory impairment. I also understand that some Ecstasy users are interpreting the results to suggest that it matters little that they continue taking the tablets – that the damage has been done! Our findings do not endorse this view, and speak neither about the permanence of the memory impairments nor whether memory may recover with abstinence.’

Commenting on the website www.maps.org, Dr Ilsa Jerome points to several methodological problems and confounding variables common in studies examining the recreational use of Ecstasy (see The Psychologist, September 2002: www.bps.org.uk/ecstasy), including polydrug use, problems associated with uncertain dosage, drug purity and the chemical composition of illegally purchased drugs.
However, Laws said:?‘The main polydrug use refers to cannabis and this is dealt with in our paper, where we we compare those using only Ecstasy and those concurrently using cannabis – those using Ecstasy alone show verbal memory problems only, and those concurrently using cannabis also show a long-term visual memory deficit. So the drugs impact different memory systems. Purity and dosage are undeniably a problem if one is interested in the effects of MDMA, but not necessarily if you are investigating the effects of street Ecstasy on memory. I?still think we have demonstrated a significant and specific memory impairment, that cannot be attributed to the other most widely taken recreational drug, cannabis.’
    Tejinder Kondel

 
Cannabis and psychosis

A new meta-analysis has found that the risk of developing psychosis is increased by 40 per cent among people who have used cannabis in their lifetimes. If a causal link is assumed, then given estimates of cannabis use in the UK, and extrapolating from incidence rates of psychosis found in a Danish study, this increased risk equates to 800 extra yearly cases of schizophrenia in the UK among 15- to 34-year-olds.

The new meta-analysis by Theresa Moore and colleagues – reportedly the most extensive ever – was published in The Lancet in July (see tinyurl.com/2ordy3), and included 11 longitudinal studies relevant to psychosis, as well as several studies looking at affective disorders. Among heavy users, the increased risk for psychosis was between 50 and 200 per cent. The authors concluded: ‘We believe that there is now enough evidence to inform people that using cannabis could increase their risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life.’

However, there are serious problems with interpreting observational data of the kind included in the meta-analysis. For instance, it is possible that people start taking cannabis to alleviate psychotic symptoms, and also that any psychotic symptoms observed among users are the temporary consequence of intoxication.
Although many of the analysed studies took measures to overcome these difficulties, for example by excluding participants who had psychotic symptoms at baseline, and discounting psychotic symptoms that were clearly a result of intoxication, Moore and colleagues cautioned: ‘The possibility that this association [between cannabis use and psychosis] results from confounding factors or bias cannot be ruled out, and these uncertainties are unlikely to be resolved in the near future.’

Responding to the new analysis, Dr Jon Cole (University of Liverpool) said: ‘The most sensible explanation for these results is that individuals who are predisposed to develop schizophrenia are more likely to develop the disorder if they use a large amount of cannabis.’
Cole added that a crucial question that remains to be addressed is why young people at risk of psychosis are using so much cannabis in the first place. ‘A credible explanation’, Cole said, ‘is that as they start to develop the symptoms of schizophrenia they are drawn to the daily use of cannabis – i.e. self-medication. As with all self-medication, the use of controlled drugs will probably worsen rather than improve symptoms, and this will set up a vicious cycle of cannabis use and symptom aggravation. Whether these people would have developed schizophrenia if they had not used cannabis is an unanswerable question, but as people who don’t smoke cannabis develop schizophrenia it is safe to assume that some probably would.’

The government said the results of the new meta-analysis would be taken into account during the current review of the classification of cannabis. The drug was downgraded from Class B to C in 2004.    CJ

Conference Report

Michael Apter reports from the 13th International Reversal Theory Conference, 1–5 July 2007, Gregynog, Powys, Wales

The fun thing about reversal theory is that it provides a distinct perspective on almost any psychological topic. The fun thing about reversal theory conferences is that all these different topics jostle together and play off each other, and this one was no exception.

Topics included the motivation to become an orchestra conductor, the psychology of the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the emotions of cancer researchers, the reasons people vote against gay marriage, the experience of soccer in three different countries, social capital in organisations, the uses of humour, the difference between what men and women want from each other, exercise motivation, the experience of horror films, and the psychology of England rugby players during the last world cup. Papers included descriptions of laboratory experiments, qualitative studies, psychometric research and case histories. There were also descriptions of different areas of application of the theory, including management consultancy, health counselling, teacher training
and sports coaching.

What held everything together was the theory itself. For those who still do not know, reversal theory posits the existence of a set of (eight) basic ways of seeing the world, each associated with a particular value/motive (e.g. freedom, love) and a range of possible emotions. These eight states are structured as four pairs of opposites (e.g. achievement versus fun). In the course of everyday life, people move (reverse) between these different states, and indeed need to be able to do so if they are to remain healthy, happy and productive. Pathologies arise when people get ‘stuck’. In these terms, concepts such as ‘trait’ and ‘homeostasis’ are seen as being oversimple and unhelpful. Instead, we need to understand patterns of change.

For example, one study at the conference described the changes that people report when they are asked to verbally reconstruct their day, using the ‘Day Reconstruction Method’. Another paper described the development of a psychometric scale that measures the frequency with which people move between states during the course of their daily activities – something that no trait measure has ever attempted. Yet another paper studied, through interview and questionnaires, the motivation of an Arctic explorer, Pen Hadow, over the couple of months of his celebrated solo trek to the North Pole; this showed how he needed to call on all eight reversal theory states at different times and for different purposes in order to accomplish his dangerous and arduous task.

Although the basic structure of the theory is not complex, complexity arises from such things as the manner in which states combine and conflict and the ways that people interact with each other over time. The idea, however, that the basic structure is universal (despite post-modernist views) was supported at the conference by data from many contrasting cultures, including Japan, Kenya, Hong Kong and the Ukraine. For example, a factor analysis of a questionnaire showed the same basic structure of eight values in children in Hong Kong, England and France. Universality was also supported in a different way by another paper that included a review of the research that has been carried out on the biological, and therefore presumably innate, characteristics of some reversal theory states.
For reversal theorists, the conference was a special one because it celebrated a quarter of a century of reversal theory research, and was held in the same venue as the very first international conference, which took place in 1983.

All these conferences have been held under the aegis of the Reversal Theory Society, and thanks go to Joanne Thatcher and her colleagues from the University of Aberystwyth for organising this one.

For more information about this conference and reversal theory, see www.reversaltheory.org, and an article from the archive at www.bps.org.uk/apter.

Dr Michael Apter is Non-Executive Development Director of Apter International.

 

Weight-based prejudice

Obesity serves as a cue for disease, triggering a ‘pathogen-avoidance mechanism’ that is one basis for weight-based prejudice. That’s according to a new study by psychologists, which finds that people who are particularly prone to worry about infection have more negative attitudes toward obese people.

Scores on a ‘Perceived Vulnerability to Disease’ scale (e.g. ‘It really bothers me when people sneeze without covering their mouths’) were significantly correlated with ‘Anti-Fat Attitudes’ (e.g. ‘If I were an employer looking to hire, I might avoid hiring a fat person’). The effect was stronger after exposure to photos of obese individuals. A second study, using the Implicit Association Test, found that obese people were implicitly associated with disease-relevant concepts, and this association was especially strong after the participants had viewed images of germs and infection.
Speaking to The Psychologist, one of the authors, Mark Schaller from the University of British Columbia in Canada, urged caution in the interpretation of the results. ‘Even though we are suggesting an evolutionary basis for this form of weight-based prejudice, our research certainly doesn’t suggest that we evolved to be prejudiced against obese people, per se. Rather, we suspect that there evolved psychological mechanisms
that incline people to respond aversively to individuals who have a physical appearance that is substantially different from the norm. And people who appear grossly obese (or, for that matter, skeletally thin) trigger that psychological system.

‘Nor does the evolutionary angle imply any sort of immutable biological programming. Quite the contrary. Our research clearly shows that the tendency to stigmatise obese individuals is malleable, and may vary depending upon the immediate circumstances. This particular system is also just one of several psychological causes of weight-based prejudice. By identifying for the first time this particular contributor, we are in a better position to develop interventions that may help reduce this pernicious prejudice.’
The study is reported in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour (see www.ehbonline.org/inpress).     JS

 

Business psychology and mobile workers

Organisations should give special consideration to the mental health of their mobile workers – those employees working away from home and their main place of work for more than 10 hours a week – who are set to make up more than a quarter of the global work force within the next two years. That’s according to a report Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce, delivered by business psychologists Pearn Kandola for Cisco (see tinyurl.com/364q9m).
A blurring of work/life boundaries, loneliness and isolation put mobile workers at risk of stress and burnout, the report says. Managers of mobile workers should counter these threats with regular, open communication.

Recognition of success is important and the good work of mobile employees should be shared with senior figures. However, micro-management should be avoided: managers should intervene in a way that is motivating, not interfering. Team building should also be encouraged via team meals and social activities when possible, so aiding subsequent contact via phone and e-mail. Intranet sites and online forums can also help prevent a sense of isolation.

According to the report, the kind of person likely to cope with the demands of being a mobile worker is extravert, disciplined, open to new experiences, self confident and resilient. Key competencies include communication, customer focus, planning and organising, flexibility and building relationships.
The findings are based on a literature review and in-depth interviews with 35 mobile workers and managers from around the world. Chartered psychologist Stuart Duff, who wrote the report, told The Psychologist: ‘Given the increasing blurring of boundaries in the utilisation of mobile working, as business psychologists we can be providing better and more practical advice not only to the mobile worker, but also to their manager, their organisation and the wider sphere of family and friends. Continuing the research to examine technological and cross-cultural influences on mobile working will
be essential.’    CJ

Psychosocial approaches to addiction

New National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for treating substance misuse have highlighted the importance of psychosocial approaches, including a controversial reward-based system.
The guidance, published in July, stresses the importance of brief, motivating interventions; the routine provision of information on self-help groups; and support for the families and carers of addicts. The guidelines also advise drug services to introduce ‘contingency management programmes’, in which patients who test negative for drug use are rewarded with vouchers, which they can exchange for small cash amounts or privileges, such as take-home methadone doses. The programmes have a strong evidence base in the USA, but are largely untested in the UK.

Steve Pilling, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Joint Director, National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, said: ‘Some of the treatment options we are recommending in this guideline, such as offering incentives to drug users…
will be seen as controversial. However, we’ve studied the results from trials involving over 5000 participants from all over the world, which show clearly that substance misusers are much more likely to succeed in treatment if they are given encouragement for the effort they are making towards coming off their drug habit.’

The guidance recommends CBT and psychodynamic therapies for comorbid depression and anxiety, but says such approaches should not be used routinely to treat drug addiction itself.     CJ

For the full guidance, see www.nice.org.uk/CG51.

 
Cognitive processing in Tourette’s syndrome

Children with Tourette’s syndrome, the motor disorder characterised by involuntary tics, are more skilled than heal

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