underperformance, glib excess and psychopathy in the President’s column; new journals partnership and online news service; forensic news; and more

President’s column
Gerry Mulhern
Contact Gerry Mulhern via the Society’s Leicester office,
or e-mail: [email protected]


First an apology to those who tried to e-mail me following last month’s column. The President’s e-mail address was undergoing development at the time. Please do not be put off – I am delighted to hear from any member who wishes to contact me personally – see the new address above.

Recently, I have been trying unsuccessfully to identify an antonym for ‘alchemy’. It would appear that there is no term for the practice of turning gold into brittle pig iron. The search was prompted by pictures of a subdued, though probably still unchastened, England team slinking through an indifferent Heathrow terminal. Fans have been at a loss to explainthe abject failure of their glittering idols, as the former cry all the way to the bank while the latter can afford to laugh all the way.

It is clear that psychology has much to contribute to this perplexing problem of underperformance (see also p.621). Indeed, since their loss to Germany, I have been struck by the almost exclusively psychological focus of commentators (notwithstanding the twin technical concerns of 4-4-2 and playing Gerrard on the left). Why the absence of ‘team spirit’? Why the lack of pride when players pull on an England shirt? Were the players badly managed? Is the FA as an organisation fit for purpose? Why was morale so low in the training camp? Is there too much of an ‘alpha male’ culture? Should the WAGs have had more of a presence? And, to top it all, BBC Radio 5’s Nicky Campbell asking whether low emotional intelligence might explain players’ lack of empathy with fans who had spent small fortunes travelling to South Africa.

Step forward, sports psychologists, social identity theorists, organisational psychologists, psychometricians, coaching psychologists, counselling psychologists and psychotherapists. Your country needs you (if you are English, that is)!

Of course, the malign influence of greed and excess is not confined to the gilded base metal of English football. As we are all too painfully aware, the dark art of alchemy has been alive and well in the financial services sector, turning toxic base material and into highly sought-after stock. Finance and banking is undoubtedly another area to which psychology is well placed to contribute. How often do we hear terms like ‘nervousness’, or ‘optimism’, or ‘bullishness’ to explain the ‘mood’ in the stock market?

Recently, along with several Society colleagues, I attended a symposium in the Palace of Westminster on behavioural economics, sponsored by Vince Cable no less.

It is clear that, following the collapse of banks and the ensuing global recession, there has been a growth in interest in behavioural aspects of financial matters, ranging from personal finance and debt to investment banking. Perhaps wisely, the speakers focused on the first two. However it did start me thinking about the behaviour and attitudes of bankers and financiers in the wake of recent public anger at their apparent lack of remorse and at their continuing bonus culture.
How did such a glib, excessive and reckless culture develop? Apart from the obvious profit motive, what else drove these people to use their undoubted talents to behave so irresponsibly and dishonestly? Poor behavioural control? Need for stimulation? Impulsivity? Grandiosity? Perhaps more perplexing was the reaction of bankers when the balloon finally did go up. In spite of the blame having been placed squarely at their door, one is struck by their callous refusal to accept responsibility and by their continuing sense of entitlement.
Incidentally, I recently happened to be browsing through a copy of ‘Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist’, which lists, among others, the following characteristics: grandiosity; need for stimulation; lying, conning and manipulating; lack of remorse; callousness; poor behavioural controls; impulsivity; irresponsibility; and failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.

‘Lacking conscience and empathy,’ writes Hare, ‘[psychopaths] take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse’. Elsewhere, he refers to ‘snakes in suits’ who can blend in, undetected, in a variety of surroundings, including corporate environments. Psychopaths are considered by many to be untreatable and have been found to use traditional talking therapies to hone their skills, becoming even more adept. Step forward, psychologists, your economy needs you!

But I digress. Back to my search for an alchemy antonym…


society enters journals partnership

Dr Gerry Mulhern, our President, and Dr Graham Powell, Chair of our Publications and Communications Board, are pleased to announce a partnership with Wiley-Blackwell in the publication of our 11 journals. This follows careful evaluation of the options for developing our journals with external specialist advice and a very rigorous competitive tendering process.

The Trustees have been impressed with the package that Wiley-Blackwell has offered and the enthusiasm of their publishing team for new developments to enhance the standing of our journals. The new partnership will commence on 1 January 2011 and offers the Society all the benefits that support from a global publisher can bring in its aspirations to increase the global impact of our journals and the benefits for members that accrue from this. Dr Graham Powell commented ‘This is excellent news both for our journals portfolio and for our members; our journals have the global platform they deserve.’

The Society remains the owner of the journals and their copyrights and retains the responsibility for their scientific and editorial policy and content. The Society will continue to select and supervise the Editors and Editorial Boards. Wiley-Blackwell will produce, publish, distribute, promote and sell the journals, and there will be close liaison with the Society on these operational issues.

There are many advantages of such a partnership including immediate enhanced availability in institutional libraries worldwide, support from a substantial global sales and marketing team, and comprehensive information and expertise to support the strategic development of our journals and their impact. In addition there will be significant benefits for all our members including:
I    free online access to our 11 journals;
I     free online access to a further 32 Wiley-Blackwell journals;
I     free access to a digital archive of each journal;
I     an online book club with discounts on Wiley and Wiley-Blackwell books and some leisure titles;
I     implementation of the ‘BPS Gateway’ – a web portal to allow easy access to the above but to also allow development of additional resources for students and those teaching them and a raft of other exciting online resources which can be developed in tandem with our own Web development project.

Philip Carpenter, Managing Director, Social Sciences and Humanities at Wiley-Blackwell, commented: ‘Having worked closely with the BPS for a number of years in successfully developing the BPS Blackwell book project, we are delighted to extend our partnership to the Society’s outstanding journals programme. Our aim in this collaboration will be to help the Society fulfil its ambitions for the journals, while at the same time developing the range of benefits available to members.


Assessing mental capacity

The British Psychological Society has published a new audit tool for Mental Capacity Act assessments of capacity.

The Mental Capacity Act came into force in 2007 and applies to England and Wales. It provides a statutory framework to empower and protect vulnerable people who are not able to make their own decisions. It covers people with dementia, learning disabilities, acquired brain injury and some mental health problems. The Act sets out clear principles and steps for assessing whether a person lacks capacity to take a particular decision at a particular time. No one can be labelled ‘incapable’ as a result of a particular medical condition
or diagnosis.

Guidance on the Act has been provided in a statutory Code of Practice (2007) ( and the BPS has produced Guidance for Psychologists on the Assessment of Capacity.

In 2009 the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) requested bids for the development of tools for monitoring the implementation of the Act; the British Psychological Society, through the Professional Practice Board’s Mental Capacity Working Group, was successful in gaining funding. This tool has now been published and is available to download via the Society’s website ( Other commissioned measures can be found at
Dr Catherine Dooley, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and project manager, said: ‘The Society’s audit tool is designed primarily for evaluating formal assessments of capacity likely to be carried out by applied psychologists, and other professional groups. It is explicit that this might represent the ‘gold standard’ to guide developing expertise, linking the standards to core references within the Act and Code of Conduct, providing some examples of good practice and ways of utilising the audit approach to enhance services generally.’

The audit tool has been endorsed by the Royal College of Psychiatry and College of Occupational Therapy. In her introduction to the document, Susan Elsmore, SCIE Mental Capacity Act Co-ordinator, wrote: ‘In use, the tool will assess compliance against the Act, but also provide benchmarks to test future provision. It builds on the earlier guidance published by the Society to promote awareness and good practicein the assessment of capacity in adults.’


online news service

The British Psychological Society is pleased to announce the launch of an online news service, working with Adfero-Newsreach to promote psychology to a wider audience.

Adfero journalists will be writing brief news stories, where possible with comments from our experts. This service will make it possible for the Society to provide good, evidence-based psychology comment on the day’s news. The usual rules apply in terms of ethics and client confidentiality, and experts speaking as individuals. It will be made clear if a comment is on behalf of the Society.

The Adfero provision will be part of a wider news stream, including content from The Psychologist, the Research Digest and the Society’s Journals.

We welcome members’ comments on the service, and ideas for stories to cover. Please e-mail [email protected].



Boom times for the
Division of Forensic Psychology

Ian Gargan reports from the annual conference of the Division of Forensic Psychology

If information and intellectual progress were currencies, there would have been no concerns for recession at the University of Kent, Canterbury when the Division of Forensic Psychology (DFP) arrived to begin their annual conference from 23 to 25 June.

The DFP has made significant efforts over the past years to promote its strategy for growth, education, training and leadership within the British Psychological Society. The symbiosis between the Society and its Division is being rewarded by the growth in membership and avid interest in the multifaceted dynamic of the forensic specialty. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the evolution of the DFP annual conference and the enthusiasm of its contributors, from keynote speakers to symposium narrators and poster designers. The multitude and diversity of the discipline is clear, with every reason to be even more optimistic about next year’s event at the University of Portsmouth.

Proceedings began on Wednesday evening with Supervisory Special Agent Andrew Bringuel (FBI Academy), who has studied, published and spoken about terrorism, domestic and foreign, for over 20 years. Of interest was the disconcerting insight he delivered about the collectivism of human nature and our inclination to be cohesive with any given group. We love to follow and feel passionate about what we believe in. Moreover, the fundamental difference between the terrorist and the passionate society member is the boundary laid down by the law, governed by the State’s judiciary and promoted by a strict sense of morality as well as a principality of life.

It is this principality and moral code, says Special Agent Bringuel, that governs the fundamentalist approach that all terrorists have in abundance. This leads to indoctrination, a murkiness where upbringing and developmental psychology cross-pollinate with a fundamental belief system manifesting to become an exclusively violent approach. While fantastically illuminating in his cross-cultural knowledge, it was the sensational belief systems and their media promotion that caught the audience’s attention.

The very direct approach to understanding terrorism was equalled in its captivation by Professor Amy Holtzworth-Munroe’s lecture about ‘Typologies and intimate partner violence with a focus on male perpetrators’. Holtzworth-Munroe (Indiana University) documented the evolutionary steps she has experienced since beginning to study interpersonal relationships many years ago. What began with a fascination with how individuals create a relationship with another, moved to the analyses of what makes a successful relationship, causes of harm between partners and their children, to this lecture, the next chapter. This next step evaluates the intricacies of communication and cognitive processing skills between intimate partners and explores how what men hear is not always what is being said. This cognitive distortion facilitates stimuli that may perpetuate violence and result in a forensic career for these males. Many salient points about evaluating and treating these subjects were discussed during this jam-packed talk. Of particular interest was the description of illustrations and pictorial instrumentation to help the forensic psychologist understand what the children of these relationships understand about their parents’ relationship. This alone may help to prevent the propagation of such behaviour in their own future relationships. In addition Holtzworth-Munroe’s research emphasises that social desirability is rarely a factor in these violent perpetrators. Screening tools for detecting ‘intimate partner violence’ before it occurs are in their infancy according to the speaker but something in her enthusiastic tone and excellent delivery indicates that this aspect of her work will complete the next chapter of what is a fascinating research quest.

Professor Tony Ward (Victoria University of Wellington) presented the keynote entitled, ‘Extending the mind into the world: A theory of cognitive dissonance’. Ward's thesis was that an ‘internalist’ view of cognition, where cognition is considered to reside completely in individuals’ heads, is not particularly helpful for thinking about offenders and their behaviour. Rather, by adopting a view that allows for artefacts in the environment to be seen as extensions of cognition we are able to develop a more situated view of offenders. Situated cognition may be more familiar to those with a foot in the camps of anthropology, human­–computer interaction, or cognitive approaches to problem solving as it has been used to understand navigation, the design of interfaces, and how different representations of the same task can be more or less difficult.

Ward's view is that such an approach provides us with a more detailed account of how cognitive distortions may develop and be maintained in sexual offenders and crucially, may provide insights in how best to work to alter these distortions, considering not simply the cognition in the head, but the environments in which it occurs. Yet again Ward has laid down a challenge to researchers and clinicians alike, pushing us to reflect on the complexity of sexual offending.

The final keynote address was from Professor Jennifer Temkin, barrister and Professor of Law at the University of Sussex. Professor Temkin explored the attitudinal issues in the processing of rape cases, and looked at the current solution of dissipating malign rape stereotypes and myths. Since the 1970s there has been a revolution in the law of rape, culminating in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which highlights the importance of spelling out and defining the notion of consent as primary. However, this isn’t all that has happened – a number of sexual assault referral centres have opened nationwide and there have been improvements in police practice regarding rape cases. Professor Temkin notes that this is a ‘credit to the nation’. Despite this, the new coalition government is possibly going to reintroduce anonymity to defendants in rape cases, a cause which Temkin fears will ‘turn the clock back on achievements made in the last three decades’. 

The fundamental problem is, despite these achievements, they have not been translated well into higher conviction rates, and attrition rates remain extremely high in cases of rape.  One way to tackle the issue, Temkin argued, is for the need to look at false beliefs regarding rape and address these in order to increase conviction rates. There is a growing recognition that decision making by jurors, police officers, forensic medical examiners, etc. is not evidence-based, but based
on erroneous assumptions. In policing, ‘myths remain incredibly significant, particularly the view that stranger rapes are serious, (and) others are not’ (John Yates, Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police). One way of doing this is through the judicial directions given by the judge at the end of the trial.

Temkin eloquently discussed the issues and difficulties that jurors face when presented with such directions, with comprehensibility being highlighted as a major aspect. In essence, the main theme from her address was that judicial directions do not always have the effect of what was originally intended, and often achieve the direct opposite of this. Temkin provided a thought-provoking and stimulating address, and left her audience with challenges that continue to be faced by psychologists, investigators and researchers working in the arena of sex-offending. 

While the keynote speakers grabbed everyone’s attention, the symposium catered for the diverse backgrounds and interests of the whole contingent. The ‘Mentally Disordered Offenders and Treatment’ symposium chaired by Professor Jane Ireland and involving Sophie Cammidge, Jen Gallagher and Neil Gredecki was of immense interest. It had a particularly innovative focus reflecting the creativity that is going to steer the DFP’s expertise and ability during the forthcoming years.

Economists state that many opportunities are created by those who do not fear recession but only see it as a time of potential for new and bold innovation in science, healthcare, finance and other arenas. There was evidence at the DFP’s annual conference that nobody even realised recession existed within this backdrop of learning, discussion and science among very social peers.


Tests used in multiple contexts

The Society, through the Psychological Testing Centre (PTC) is currently reviewing tests that are used in multiple contexts (such as the Wechsler tests). The review system uses EFPA Guidelines and for each test two independent reviewers, a consultant editor and a senior editor contribute towards the review, which when complete is published on the website The reviews provide users with an independent professional review based on criteria that meet European standards.

In reviewing tests that are used in more than one professional setting the test review team propose to use one reviewer from each of the main settings and to seek additional comments from those who are using the tests in other settings. For example with the WAIS-IV, currently under review, we looked for reviews from practitioners and academics from a clinical or neuropsychology setting and from an educational setting and we are also seeking additional comment from those who use the test in other settings.

Each review is given an ISSN number so that reviewers can claim a joint author publication and in addition there is an honorarium when the review is published. From experience and feedback this is very good CPD for anyone who is using tests. We have appointed a team to review the WAIS-IV but we need to recruit more clinical psychologists and clinical neuropsychologists who are Chartered Members or Registered Psychologists to review other tests used in a clinical and clinical neuro setting.

 If you would like to know more or if you would like to apply to be a reviewer please contact Rachel Middleton ([email protected]) in the first instance.
Pat Lindley
Senior Editor for Test Reviews



The lead-up to the General Election, followed by the post-election lull meant that very few consultations were issued with June deadlines. In fact, the Society responded to just one – which if nothing else, gave our hard-working pool of contributors a bit of a breather before the anticipated autumn onslaught.

Learning for Young People in Youth Custody in England. Statutory guidance for local authorities (Department for Children, Schools and Families) The DCSF sought views on the statutory guidance for local authorities to underpin their responsibilities towards education and training for young people detained in youth custody. The guidance included:
I    guidance for all local authorities across England in respect of their duties towards young people from their area who spend time detained in youth custody;
I    guidance for local authorities with youth custodial establishments in their area to support them in exercising their additional responsibilities for securing education and training for children and young people in youth custody; and
I    guidance for all local authorities in relation to responsibilities
for young people with special educational needs who spend time detained in youth custody and in relation to information transfer for young people who are detained in youth custody.

The Society endorsed the recommendations and intent of the guidance, in that educational provision that takes into consideration the special educational needs of the individual being detained is of paramount importance as a means of securing the best outcomes
for the individual, and for reducing the risks they represent to others.
The key issues highlighted by the Society were:
I    the lack of reference to overlapping initiatives, such as Every Child Matters, which covers many of the same issues;
I    the method of data transfer and the need for this to be done sufficiently early, there being a lack of reference to specific timescales in much of the guidance;
I    a need for recognition of a hierarchy of need in the educational provision being provided; and
I    the concern that some sections of the guidance could create direction that could be untenable, or simply create duties on those providing for the young person without improving their situation or reducing their risk.
Full details of all consultations, including downloadable copies of consultation papers and the Society’s responses, are available at:

The preparation and submission of the Society’s responses to consultations on public policy is coordinated by the Policy Support Unit (PSU). All those holding at least graduate membership are eligible to contribute to responses, and all interest is warmly welcomed. Please contact the PSU for further information ([email protected]; 0116 252 9926/9577). 


Human bioethics

The British Psychological Society has responded to a consultation from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics on Human Bodies in Medicine and Research, considering how society should respond to the current demand for organs, sperm, eggs and other human material for use in medical treatment and research.

The response tackled issues such as whether more people should be expected to donate organs, eggs and sperm, and how far we should go in encouraging, or even incentivising, people to provide material. Key contributor Professor Ronan O’Carroll (University of Stirling: read his 2006 article in The Psychologist at told us: ‘In particular I think the evaluation of risk in living donor organ transplantation is really interesting and important, especially when there may be significant risk for the donor. For example, in adult–adult living organ donation, the donor is usually a partner or family member whose prime motivation is to save the life of their loved one. In a recent study of patients at the Scottish Liver Transplant Unit who were possible candidates for living donor liver transplantation [see], interviews with potential donors revealed that for many donors their motivation to donate was driven by a desire to save their loved one’s life and thus maintain their own quality of life via continuing their relationship. More worryingly, several potential donors described their decision making as ‘an automatic response’ driven by the need to save a life. Illustrative quotes include “I told her I would be willing to donate without looking into any of the pros and cons, simply because it would have saved her life”; “I mean you don’t think about these things, its just a case of, you know, if you can do something then obviously you’re going to”.’

According to O’Carroll, it is crucial that potential donors fully understand and appreciate the risks involved. ‘That is why many units employ a Donor Advocate Team – a group of health professionals whose responsibility lies fully with the donor and who are independent from the care of the potential recipient.

We urgently need more psychological research into all aspects of donor behaviour. Ninety per cent of the UK general population agree that posthumous organ donation ‘is a good thing’ – yet only 28 per cent have signed on the UK organ donor register.

We need to devote more research into identifying and overcoming the barriers to registering. This is an example of psychological research that has the potential to result in many lives being saved.’

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber