Book Award winners

The two winners of the 2014 BPS Book Award have been announced as Psychology, Mental Health and Distress by John Cromby, David Harper and Paula Reavey in the Textbook category and The Optimism Bias – Why We’re Wired to Look on the Bright Side by Tali Sharot in the Popular Science category.

Dr John Cromby, a Reader in Psychology (Loughborough University) co-wrote Psychology, Mental Health and Distress with David Harper, a reader in Clinical Psychology and Programme Director on the Professional Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of East London and Paula Reavey, Professor of Psychology at London South Bank University.

Dr Cromby said their book was quite different to others in the same field; he explained: ‘We rejected the concept of “abnormal psychology”, included the voices of mental health service users, and found a way of discussing mental health psychologically without depending on psychiatric diagnosis. Rather than present distress as illness we presented it as a kind of experience – a consistently psychological perspective that fits neatly with clinical training in formulation. Essentially, our book is a call to teach about mental health in a way more consistent with psychological theory and practice, and in accord with what many service users say they find helpful. We were extremely pleased that the Society recognises the value of this, and hope it will encourage others to reconsider how they teach this important topic.’

Dr Cromby said they benefited from four strands of academic and clinical work in writing the book: ‘First, UK clinical psychological research, which is currently leading the world in producing credible, evidence-based psychological alternatives to psychiatric models of distress. Second, the mental health service-user movement in the UK, who have been working to develop and promote innovative ways of understanding and working with people with mental health difficulties. Third, the Critical Psychiatry Network, whose members have provided more sophisticated understandings of medication and psychiatric work. Fourth, recent psychological research working with concepts of experience (rather than with its components such as memory, emotion, etc.).

‘Finally, but of no less importance, over the years we have had the privilege of teaching diverse groups of students from varying social and cultural backgrounds. Many have been vocal in challenging traditional psychiatric approaches, either because they have different cultural beliefs about distress, or because of their own experiences of mental health services. Their perspectives have both helped us develop our understanding and enhanced how we communicate our ideas.’

David Harper is now editing a book called Beyond ‘Delusion’, which offers insights into the psychology of unusual beliefs amongst both clinical and non-clinical samples; while Paula Reavey has a co-authored book in press on memory and affect, and John Cromby has just finished writing a book on feeling and embodiment in psychology.

Neuroscientist Dr Tali Sharot, a Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Department of Experimental Psychology, (University College London), directs the Affective Brain Lab and is currently a Wellcome Trust Fellow and previously a British Academy postdoctoral fellow. Her book gives an in-depth look at how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails, how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ and how our optimistic illusions affect our financial, professional and emotional decisions. Dr Sharot said she was thrilled to find she had received the award.

She explained her work on The Optimism Bias had come around as something of a happy accident: ‘The first experiment we did on the optimism bias was back in 2007 but it was, in fact, a mistake. I was looking at something else altogether and the optimism bias just crept in. My aim was to look at how people imagined negative events in their future. But people kept changing them in a positive way.

‘So people who were asked to imagine the breakdown of a romantic relationship would then imagine finding someone better, or someone imagining losing their house keys would then imagine contacting their landlady to be let in and it all turning out okay. I started to think this was quite interesting and learned about this whole literature in social psychology on the optimism bias. But pretty much nothing was known about the neural mechanisms of the bias, and our first study on this led me to write the book.’

Dr Sharot said her findings on the optimism bias and its neural components has interested both health professionals and the general public and has implications in a variety of different domains, including in finance and health. She added: ‘Most people have been surprised by the findings because we aren’t aware of our own biases.’ Professor Sharot is continuing her research into the optimism bias as well as looking in to emotion and learning in groups rather than just individuals.

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