qualitative research and the REF; rape in India; intelligence; diagnosis; new environmental ‘Forum’ column; and more

REF and qualitative research

We at QMiP (the Society’s Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section) were shocked to read about the ‘alarming qualitative experience’ described in January’s edition of The Psychologist (Letters). In response, we would like to: offer our support to this individual and BPS members generally in their preparations for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and make clear our efforts to prevent such experiences from recurring; and take the opportunity to air our wider concerns about the perception of qualitative methods within psychology and the potentially limiting description of research accepted by the sub-panel for Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience.

Firstly, in support of this individual case and other BPS members who are experiencing problems in having their qualitative research recognised we would like to remind you of presentations from QMiP events on REF that are available on our website (tinyurl.com/c7vbt3u). These were held to help those using qualitative methods in psychology strategically plan their research writing and journal choice, but also to help qualitative researchers package their work effectively to their institutions so it may be considered fairly alongside outputs reporting work using other methods.

Secondly, I would like to echo the position of the Research Board – all effort was made in consultations with HEFCE from the outset to ensure the fair assessment of qualitative psychology research within the sub-panel for Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience. However, despite the statement on equity in the REF 2014 documentation referred to in the reply from Judi Ellis, Chair of the Research Board (‘All types of research and all forms of research output across all disciplines shall be assessed on a fair and equal basis’), the more detailed description of research to be accepted by this sub-panel remains problematic:

For psychology the sub-panel expects submissions in this UOA covering the full range of the discipline from all areas of psychology [emphasis added], plus all aspects of neuroscience from the molecular through to whole-system behavioural research, genetics and varieties of imaging, incorporating neurodevelopmental as well as adult work. It will include work on the understanding and treatment of all types of brain injury, stroke, neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as all aspects of psychiatry including biological, community, developmental, genetic, and neuropharmacological research.

The only guidance for those submitting psychological research is another nod to inclusivity, and psychiatry is mentioned only fleetingly. Whilst inclusivity is what we are lobbying for, some direction for institutions regarding the range of psychological research methods and applications would be preferable. We know that in RAE 2008, large numbers of psychologists using qualitative methods were submitted
to alternative panels, including Allied Health Professions, Social Work and Sociology. It is likely the same will happen in REF 2014 precisely because there is a perception that qualitative research will be judged as inferior within the Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience unit of assessment. We know it is too late to change this for REF 2014, but QMiP is committed to representing its members in this exercise and will endeavour to improve the situation in the future.

If you are struggling with your own proposed REF outputs and would like some additional support please contact the QMiP committee or comment on our Facebook or Twitter site. If you would like to contribute to the ongoing debate about REF please make your thoughts known via Facebook or Twitter or contact the committee (details are available on our website: http://qmip.bps.org.uk/index.cfm).
Rachel Shaw
Chair, BPS Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section 

Psychology and rape in India

The recent publicity of the Delhi bus gang rape and torture by six males, on 16 December 2012, and the subsequent death of the 23-year-old victim, has provoked intense reactions worldwide. Indian culture is shaped by superstitions, rituals and traditions. Fatalistic attitudes and deep-rooted beliefs may provide an explanation for why rape is rife, why perpetrators assume that rape is a right and why India ignores the victims and fails to protect its women and girls. Psychology can help to explain the reactions and processes that contribute to rape. Attribution theory (Heider, 1958; Jones & Davis, 1965; Kelly, 1967), amongst others, provides a valuable context in which to examine cognitive processes and assigned sources of causality and blame, when examining the discourse of influential people.

Ashok Singhal, a leader of the Hindu Council, claimed that Indian society was losing its values because of Western influence. Does this mean that rape did not occur in India before any Western influence took hold? Chhattisgarh State Women Commission chair Vibha Rao alluded to ‘provocative clothes’ and that a woman’s attire made her equally responsible for her rape. Such internalised beliefs, from a female’s perspective further highlight the strength of attitudes that serve a knowledge function (Katz, 1960), disguised as fact.

Even the Puducherry Education Minister, T. Thiagarajan, who advocates equality and the expansion of minds, proposed that schoolgirls should wear overcoats and trousers to school. This depicts the rapist as not being responsible for the acts he may inflict on the young, as there are more powerful forces at play. This attitude was supported by Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar, who claimed that rape occurs because ‘stars are not in position’. If the perceived locus of control lies with ‘chance/luck’ (Rotter, 1966), doesn’t this absolve rapists of responsibility and intention to deliberately target and cause harm to women? Likewise, the belief that external, fateful determinant of traumatic events occur, dismiss notions of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977) and choice.

Abu Asim Azmi, a politician, claimed that a woman has no right to ‘roam’ at night with any male that is not a relative. To do otherwise means that she has only herself to blame, if raped. This cognitive bias ensures that non-conformist behaviour by women attracts negative consequences that others avoid (Lerner, 1980). Within India’s cosmic society, balance is restored by ‘them’ and not ‘us’, according to the late Nationalist Party leader, Bal Thackeray, who had announced that all rape cases are perpetrated by ‘Bihari migrants’ and not indigenous males. Such views yield support to findings by Tajfel (1979) and Turner (1978) on ingroup favouritism.

When ‘educated’ and influential sectors of society express such attitudes and beliefs, India is a long way from combating rape. Even public outrage and criminal proceedings act as little deterrent, as evidenced by the recent abduction and gang rape of another woman, on Saturday 12 January, near Amritsar, again by six men, on a bus. Can lessons from psychology help to meet the challenge in changing attitudes to rape in India?
Dr Sindy Banga
School of Health
University of Northampton

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy. Psychological Review, 84, 191–215.
Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.
Jones, E.E. & Davis, K.E. (1965). From acts to dispositions: The attribution process in social psychology. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology: Volume 2 (pp.219–266). New York: Academic Press.
Kelley, H.H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In D. Levine (Ed.) Nebraska, Symposium on Motivation: Vol. 15 (pp.192–238). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Katz, D. (1960). The functional approach to the study of attitudes. Public Opinion Quarterly, 24, 163–204.
Lerner, M.J. (1980). The belief in a just world: A fundamental delusion. New York: Plenum Press.
Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized expectancies of internal versus external control of reinforcements. Psychological Monographs, 80, 1–28.
Tajfel, H. (1979). Individuals and groups in social psychology. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18, 183–190.
Turner, J.C. (1978). Social categorization and social discrimination in the minimal group paradigm: Differentiation between social groups. In H. Tajfel (Ed.) Studies in the social psychology of intergroup relations (pp.235–250). London: Academic Press.

What is intelligence?

To my mind at least, the dominant feel of most letters to The Psychologist seems largely a mixture of hubris and complacency about our discipline and profession. It was cheering then to read Paul Devonshire’s concern over the use of IQ tests and disclosure of the disgraceful ignorance of most clinical psychologists of any theoretical grounding for test validity (Letters, January 2013).

We have the depressing situation that intelligence tests were considered psychology’s only contribution to the top 20 discoveries of the 20th century (Science, Vol 5, November 1984), yet most practitioners don’t have a clue about the scientific basis of the measurement. We have spent a great deal of time defending the (all too real) charges that the use of intelligence tests has been a stain on psychology’s character (think genetics/race/11+), when an undiagnosed ethical abuse has lurked in our midst for many years – namely, that perpetrated by practitioners who know that they are the most useful tool in their armoury but eschew any intellectual commitment to the construct of intelligence (‘whatever that might be’, you can hear them say).

As someone who has devoted too much effort battling to convince others that theories of intelligence should be core business for
a scientific psychology, I don’t hold out much hope for the proposed solution – a panel of experts to parallel the intelligence task force in the US. Unfortunately most psychological researchers are equally ignorant. It is tragic that too many of my most intellectually brilliant colleagues (in cognitive psychology in particular) seem to have frittered their talents on largely trivial pursuits instead of focusing on the core question of ‘What is intelligence?’.
Professor Mike Anderson
School of Psychology
University of Western Australia

Forum column – Green shoots
A core concern in applied psychology is how to shift people’s behaviours to desirable patterns. Those trying to change behaviour have often relied on giving people information about the consequences of their actions and what they ought to be doing instead – an approach seen everywhere from warnings on cigarette packets to the recycling leaflets pushed through doors by local authorities. I suspect that government efforts are often driven by the belief that the only thing keeping people from a life of perfect virtue is their imperfect knowledge. But are psychologists’ campaigns that different?

As psychologists, our thinking is often informed by bounded rationality frameworks such as Ajzen’s theory of planned behaviour, which essentially see behaviour as the product of information evaluation. The limited success of such approaches (e.g. Conner & Armitage, 2001) implies that a lack of information might not be central in keeping people from the behaviours we desire.

We are, however, at an exciting time here. The growing realisation that decisions can be either rational and conscious or emotional and subconscious (Evans, 2008) gives us a way of saying that we must expect to see behaviours that information will not influence, because they are simply not the product of rational evaluation. The same can be said of work on how environmental behaviours have motives concerned with affect, aesthetics and the communication of status (e.g. Musselwhite & Haddad, 2010), even though rational motives are all people mention when you ask them.

For me, one of the most intriguing developments has been the emergence of habit as an explanation for some behaviours, and particularly the definition of habit in terms of automaticity: a behaviour, in this framework, is habitual specifically to the extent you do it without conscious thought (e.g. Verplanken et al., 2008). The corollary is that such unthinking behaviours cannot be changed by new information.

Ask yourself whether you have ever, without really thinking about it, peered into your fridge for a snack, turned on a television, or picked up your car keys without thinking to check the bus schedule. Such behaviours, triggered by environmental cues such as the time of day or an emotional state, can be powerful drivers of behaviour and will be largely unaffected by telling people they ought not do them.

But let’s put these drivers to work. As somebody who has unthinkingly walked past my available car on the way to the railway station, I like the notion of encouraging people to form desirable habits – rather than persuading them consciously of the rightness of an action. Is this not a promising goal for applied psychologists to aim for?

Conner, C.J. & Armitage, M. (2001). Efficacy of the theory of planned behaviour:
A meta-analytic review. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 471–499.
Evans, J. (2008). Dual-process accounts of reasoning, judgment and social cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 255–278.
Musselwhite, C. & Haddad, H. (2010). Exploring older drivers’ perceptions of driving. European Journal of Ageing, 7, 181–188.
Verplanken, B., Walker, I., Davis, A. & Jurasek, M. (2008). Context change and travel mode choice: Combining the habit discontinuity and self-activation hypotheses. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28, 121–127. 

Ian Walker is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath.
Share your view on this and other environmental issues by
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Misread and misrepresented?

I write in reply to Ellen Goudsmit’s review of my book Psychologisation in Times of Globalisation (‘An unbalanced critique’, February 2013).

Ellen Goudsmit does not like my book. She finds it hard to follow. She does not recommend it. I have no problem with this. She does, however, in her short review in The Psychologist seriously misread and misrepresent my book. I have a problem with that.

She writes: ‘Apparently, we also obstruct “genuine ways of living” and people would be better off guided by intuition, elders and traditional healers.’ I have by no means promoted intuition nor the guidance of elders and traditional healers. I actually have criticised psychologists (working in the field of humanitarian aid) who couple psychological aid to intuition, elders and traditional healers. My book is precisely an argument against such simplifying arguments, whether they come from critics of psychology or from psychologists themselves!

For the remaining, except for her being baffled, she does not offer much substantial argument in order to come to her verdict that my book is ‘an unbalanced critique’. When you don’t like a book, the chance is big that you don’t understand it (and probably vice versa). And then you read fast and you read wrong. Then you should not write a review.

If the reviewer would be a practitioner, then I should urge her to make the exercise: is it not so that when you don’t like a person, chances are big that you don’t understand him/her (and probably vice versa)? And then you listen badly and make mistakes. However, rather than score easy points here (and make the as such valid argument that I would not recommend a practitioner who is unaware of these dynamics), one might still need to go one step further. For might it not be that misreadings, misquotations, misunderstandings… are a structural risk inherent to the psychological discourses? This, I’d argue, is directly related to the phenomenon of psychologisation – the issue my book attempts to address.
Dr Jan De Vos
Ghent University Blandijnberg

Getting together for the environment
I was interested to read Dr Sindy Banga’s letter regarding a multidisciplinary perspective on climate change (January 2013.) Such an approach seems eminently sensible.

I would suggest that the time has come for the BPS to establish a working party, including psychologists and people from other relevant disciplines, to consider our profession’s response to this and other environmental issues.
John Steley
London E17

Diagnosis under uncertainty

Isn’t it time psychology was used systematically to inform the diagnostic process for neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD and ADHD? By this I mean using the psychology of problem solving and applying it to the practitioners making each diagnosis. We need to address the problem that professionals making potentially devastating diagnoses might be prone to cognitive errors and misreadings of situations.

There is much research available on cognitive errors in problem solving and, as Kahneman (2011) explains, there are certain types of problem that people just don’t approach in a logical way – regardless of whether or not they are experts. Testing theories is a classic example. We are very likely go about it in entirely the wrong way: looking for evidence consistent with our theories rather than trying to find counter-examples; drawing over-confident conclusions from limited evidence if it all fits; and being overly attached to our initial starting points.

Applying this to the diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders, there is clearly a risk that practitioners might make all of these errors because there are no straightforward tests for some of these disorders. It might be a case of not seeking enough information about times or situations when children don’t show difficulties and, therefore, not being in a position to judge whether the difficulties are actually pervasive enough to meet the criteria. Or too little might be found about the immediate context for the child’s behaviour difficulties or their past experiences to be able to explore alternative explanations. It could also be easy to be over-influenced by the ‘starting points’ provided by questionnaires. For example, NICE guidelines (NICE, 2011) warn that ASD questionnaires should only be used for information gathering and not for diagnosis because of the high false positive and false negative rates. The core definition should be used
for diagnosis. Given the seductiveness of the numbers generated from a questionnaire, I wonder if this advice is followed at all; but even if it were followed it would be difficult for anybody – including a practitioner – not to be over-influenced by the questionnaire.

It might be tempting to assume that we are immune to cognitive errors of this kind. But Kahneman cites ample evidence that a whole range of experts are very susceptible to cognitive errors (and he includes himself in this even after all his work on cognitive errors). He argues that these errors are the cognitive equivalent of the Müller-Lyer visual illusion: hard to recognise in the first place and persistent even though we know our eyes are deceiving us. I think practitioners need to be willing to engage with the possibility that their decision making around diagnosis is vulnerable to cognitive errors of which they are entirely unaware.

Kahneman is not that optimistic that we can overcome these errors but he does suggest that all decisions that might be vulnerable should be examined for named cognitive errors. I think we have more than enough reason to apply this kind of scrutiny to the diagnostic decision making process for a number of neurodevelopmental disorders.
Dr Rachel Ingram
Wray, Lancashire

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. London: Penguin.
NICE (2011). Autism: Recognition, referral and diagnosis of children and young people on the autism spectrum. London: RCOG Press.


Cynthia Jones (1950–2012)

Cynthia Jones, Principal Lecturer in Education Studies at Kingston University, died on 14 September 2012 following a short illness and very soon after taking early retirement.

Born in October 1950 near Aberystwyth, Cynthia grew up in Pembrokeshire and studied psychology at Cardiff University followed by a master’s degree in social psychology at Bedford College.
In 1974 she joined the School of Education at what was then Gypsy Hill and subsequently Kingston Polytechnic and began her career teaching courses in child development, counselling and social work, but over the years focused more on providing professional development to teachers. Many of her former students are now senior educationalists and remember how she was widely renowned for her ability to help teachers cope with pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. 

Cynthia pioneered one of Kingston’s first distance-learning programmes with the Hornsby International Dyslexia Foundation and worked with European universities on the Leonardo da Vinci project, looking at special needs education and school leadership.

A rigorous thinker with a natural authority, people took notice when she was speaking, but this was coupled with warmth and approachability and students felt that she was genuinely interested in their professional success and her celebration of this was always heartfelt.

Andy Hudson head of the School of Education said she had an appetite for the new and the challenging. ‘She was restless and often pushed the boundaries of convention. With a fine and articulate delivery and an instinct for class participation she had the capacity to warm, delight and educate groups of any size. She was always on top of her material, current and sharply critical, a fine educationalist and a great innovator.’
Rob Donnelly
Teddington, Middlesex


Christopher Williams (1943–2012)

Dr Christopher Williams died from myelodysplatic syndrome last August, at the age of 68.

His career spanned 43 years as a practising clinical and neuropsychologist, and at his funeral, many colleagues and past clients paid tribute to the positive difference he made.

Chris obtained his BSc (Hons) in Psychology in 1967 from the University of Manchester, his MSc in Clinical Psychology in 1969 and PhD in Abnormal Psychology in 1975 both from the University of Birmingham. This was a time when the clinical psychology profession was in its infancy.

At the start of his career, Chris worked at Lea Hospital for people with learning disabilities in Bromsgrove, where he became a leading light in the application of ‘behaviour modification’. He gained national recognition for his work around social role valorisation and the ‘Normalisation’ movement.

He was an early advocate of the closure of what were then called mental handicap hospitals. In 1977 Chris was contacted by Exeter Health Authority who wanted him to lead the way in closuring the Royal Western Counties Hospital in Starcross, enabling many people to live normal lives within the community. This coincided with an invitation to contribute to the new clinical training course in Exeter to lead on disability.Professionally in the late 1970s and ’80s Chris was well known nationally, and played a significant role in the development of the profession. He was a Fellow of the BPS and also an Honorary Fellow at the School of Psychology, University of Exeter.Chris semi-retired in 2003 from his post as Director of Psychological Services & Head of Clinical Psychology (Physical Disability/ Neuropsychology) for the Devon Partnership NHS Trust, a post he’d held since 1983. He continued working as a consultant and running a medico-legal practice as an expert witness, whilst developing his specialism and interests in neuroscience and brain injury, working right up to the time of his death.

He published papers and book chapters on varied topics, such as: stress management; sexuality and disability; trauma debriefing for railway suicides; PTSD in children, and ‘Deaf not Daft’, an assessment programme for people who were profoundly deaf and had been misdiagnosed as mentally handicapped, and institutionalised. He was an acknowledged expert on autism and Asperger’s syndrome and worked with many people awaiting gender reassignment.

He was passionate about developing new services and recognised the complementary role that voluntary organisations and charities can play. He was a founder member of Devon Headway, a charity for people with brain injuries, and Chairfor many years of the Stallcombe House Trust (www.stallcombehouse.co.uk) a therapeutic community for adults with learning disabilities.

Outside his work life, Chris had a huge range of interests. He was a skilled sailor, musician, artist and supporter of many community organisations. He was always busy, loved entertaining and had new projects and ideas planned to the last. His spirit of conviviality, equality and fun will be missed by many.

Chris leaves behind his wife Pippa, daughters Kate and Charly, sons Sam and Edward, son-in-law Charlie and granddaughters Monica and Ayesha.
Kate Williams
Beswick, Manchester


Malcolm Adams (1950–2013)

Malcolm Adams who died unexpectedly on 2 January this year was co-director of the clinical psychology training programme at the University of East Anglia and Fellow of the Society. Over the last 30 years he was a major contributor to British clinical psychology and in particular to the national development of clinical psychology training programmes.

After qualifying as a clinician, Malcolm worked in a learning difficulties service in Cambridge and he retained his allegiance to LD throughout his working life. In the 1980s he was involved in developing the East Anglia training programme that is now at UEA. His administrative and diplomatic skills were legendary. He was an excellent listener and conveyed respect to the speaker even when exposed to opinions and viewpoints with which he disagreed.

Over the years the Society greatly benefited from his generosity in many roles: Deputy Chair of the Membership and Qualifications Board, member of the Professional Affairs Board, Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology, Chair of the Board of Examiners in Clinical Psychology, Chair of the BPS National Occupational Standards in Psychology Steering Committee, Chair and of the Group of Trainers.He was an associate editor of the British Journal of Clinical Psychology where his statistical advice was invaluable.

Malcolm was one of those rare people who can see both the wood and the trees and take the necessary action. When the regulation of clinical psychology training switched from BPS accreditation to HPC approval, it was he, along with Sue Llewellyn, who grasped the nettle and drafted the necessary QAA benchmark statements and established the Standards of Proficiency for Clinical Psychology. In addition to these activities he found time to be Co-Director and then Dean of the School of Health Policy and Practice at UEA, and Director of Learning and Teaching within Norwich Medical School.

As a schoolboy, Malcolm was a promising mathematician and only switched to psychology after attaining a first in parts 1A and 1B of the Cambridge tripos. He maintained his interest in maths and statistics and many students and colleagues benefited from his willingness and patience in helping them to digest what for Malcolm was the most elementary knowledge. Malcolm was extremely bright, but his intelligence was never intimidatory; he was unfailingly generous with his time and gifts and his approach to others was truly egalitarian, treating trainees and colleagues alike with respect and kindness.

Malcolm’s many interests included literature, especially poetry, good food and wine, and cricket. He was to retire later this year and was planning to tour opera houses around Europe to indulge his passion for opera. Sadly it was not to be. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him. Clinical psychology has been enriched by his presence and is correspondingly poorer for his absence. He was a wonderful friend.
Malcolm was married twice, first to Judy with whom he had two children, Ben and Rachel, and then to Sylvia. He is survived by all them all.
Stephen Morley
University of Leeds


I am looking to get in contact with a health/clinical psychologist who is working in the field of urology. I am trying to get some information on how health psychology is employed in this area of health. I currently work as a research assistant in Urology in Bristol looking a quality-of-life measures. Sophie [email protected]

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