Other news…

Our journalist Ella Rhodes brings you a round-up of other news, including open access concerns, researching body image, Samaritans app, drinking during pregnancy, dance and more.

Open-access concerns

A new survey has uncovered a barrier to the further growth of ‘open-access’ publishing in academia: a majority of academic authors would not opt to have their work in an open-access journal due to concerns over article processing charges and the perceived quality of such journals.

Of the 30,466 academic authors surveyed, by Nature Publishing Group, 18.7 per cent worked in humanities and social sciences (HSS), and the remainder were science academic authors. The humanities group were asked about how they make their publishing decisions. They rated the relevance of the journal’s content, its reputation and the quality of peer review as the most important factors. The option to publish immediately via an open-access platform was seen as one of the least important factors. Very similar results were found among the majority of academic science authors.

Within the humanities group 38 per cent had published one or more articles in an open-access journal with 62 per cent of science authors publishing in this way. The main reasons for publishing in an open-access journal, in both groups, were the beliefs that research should be feely available to all and such journals were read more widely. However the main reason among HSS authors for not publishing open access – 54 per cent – was concern about the perceptions of quality of open-access publications. More than half of the HSS group also said they were not willing to pay an article processing charge to publish an article. er

See the full survey results at tinyurl.com/l9krqxj

Researching body image

A researcher from the University of the West of England is looking to expand on her work assessing the impact of social media use on body image. Dr Amy Slater recently published two studies in collaboration with Professor Marika Tiggemann from the School of Psychology at Flinders University in Australia that showed time spent on the internet is correlated with increased body-image concerns in both adolescent and pre-adolescent girls.

Dr Slater, from UWE’s Centre for Appearance Research, said: ‘Our findings indicated that 40 per cent of the 1096 12- and 16-year-old girls who took part in the study were dissatisfied with their bodies, and one in two were terrified of gaining weight. The more girls use the internet and social media, the more likely they are to experience body shame, dissatisfaction with their weight and lower self-esteem.’ Now Slater is seeking to recruit 1000 adolescents aged 13 to 16 years who regularly use social media, including Facebook to take part in an in-depth study. Entitled ‘Appearance Matters on Facebook: Adolescents, Body Image and the Internet’, the study will investigate how young people are using social media and how this relates to how they feel about themselves and their bodies.

Dr Slater said: ‘This is the first study of its kind to investigate the impact of social media use on body-image concerns. We especially encourage boys to take part as there are an increasing number of boys experiencing body dissatisfaction. All participants will remain anonymous, and the findings will contribute to promoting safe and healthy use of technology, which is crucial for enhancing adolescent well-being.

‘We know that adolescents are avid users of social networking sites, with over 80 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds using at least one social networking site, of which Facebook is by far the most popular. While research on Facebook is growing, as yet there has been very little consideration of any implications for body image. Body image is a significant concern for young people in Western societies, being consistently identified as a major issue of concern for both female and male young people. We want to understand the factors that contribute to body dissatisfaction, given the known links between body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, depression and lowered self-esteem.’

If you would like to know more about this project, or know someone who would like to take part, please contact: [email protected] or phone 0117 328 3975; [email protected] or phone 0117 328 3967

Controversial Samaritans app pulled

Suicide prevention charity Samaritans launched and subsequently suspended a free web app, Samaritans Radar, which monitored individuals’ social media presence and alerted users of the site if it spotted anyone who might have been struggling to cope. The app gave users a second chance to see potentially worrying messages, but concerns were raised over opening up already emotionally distressed people to further abuse from online bullies.  

The app was created by digital agency Jam using Twitter’s API and used a specially designed algorithm that looked for specific keywords and phrases within a Tweet. It then sent an e-mail alert to the user with a link to the Tweet it had detected, and offered guidance on the best way of providing support. However some users expressed concern over invasion of privacy, and more than 1000 people signed a petition to shut it down. The petition stated: ‘While this could be used legitimately by a friend to offer help, it also gives stalkers and bullies an opportunity to increase their levels of abuse at a time when their targets are especially down. Just as bad, not everyone apparently wanting to help may be able to do so effectively or has the person’s best interests at heart.’

In a statement the charity said: ‘Following the broad range of feedback and advice Samaritans has received since the launch of the Samaritans Radar app… including the serious concerns raised by some people with mental health conditions using Twitter, we have made the decision to suspend the application at this time for further consideration. Our primary concern is for anyone who may be struggling to cope, including those with mental health conditions.

‘We are very aware that the range of information and opinion, which is circulating about Samaritans Radar, has created concern and worry for some people and would like to apologise to anyone who has inadvertently been caused any distress.’ The charity said it would now speak to a range of partners and test a number of potential changes
to the app.

The development of Samaritans Radar followed research that showed that Twitter is used for keeping in touch with friends and colleagues, sharing interesting information within one’s network, seeking help and opinions, and releasing emotional stress. It was also based on a 2013 study that found that there was an association between rates of Tweets per users determined to be at risk for suicide, and actual suicide rates. er

Going backwards on drugs?

The government’s response to a Home Office report that looked into drugs policies in 12 other countries has been criticised. The report concluded that harsher penalties do not dissuade people from using drugs – currently in the UK a person can be jailed for seven years for possession of Class A drugs or jailed for life for production or supply of drugs.

Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Norman Baker resigned shortly after the report was published, in early November, telling The Independent there was little support for ‘rational, evidence-based policy’ in the government. He said working under Home Secretary Theresa May had been comparable to ‘walking through mud’.

David Nutt (Imperial College London) said: ‘That the man responsible for the report has resigned from government says it all. If the Minister can’t effect change in his own department, that highlights the problems we have. There’s no desire in the Home Office to learn anything, they want to pursue their own political pathway and don’t care about the costs to society. We need organisations and groups like pharmacists to say “we are not putting up with this”. Patients who would benefit from medical cannabis are being cruelly denied.’

He said evidence should be used to formulate policy rather than being used to support existing policy. ‘Over the last 15 years the Home Office has become more and more reactionary, conservative and entrenched in its views. In the last 10 years we are the only Western country to have gone backwards in terms of our drug laws, which is absurd. The big problem in this country is that dealing with drugs is the province of the Home Office where in most countries it’s in the province of Health.’ ej

Drinking dilemmas during pregnancy

A landmark case in which a woman’s excessive drinking during pregnancy could be deemed to be a violent crime, allegedly causing her now seven-year-old daughter to develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), has caused debate over drinking during pregnancy. The case was brought by a council in northwest England, which cannot be named for legal reasons.

The child, known as CP, could receive compensation from the government-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. Her mother reportedly drank half a bottle of vodka and up to eight cans of strong lager a day and continued to do so throughout her pregnancy despite warnings from doctors and social workers – as reported in The Independent.

At the time of publication the Court of Appeal had reserved its judgment in the case and was considering its decision. Since this case was brought to media attention there has been wide-ranging debate over whether it is ever acceptable to drink during pregnancy with some groups, including the Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network, suggesting the safest route is never to drink. However some women have said they felt victimised while drinking even small amounts during their pregnancies.

Dr Richard Cooke, a health psychologist (Aston University) said mixed messages have come to light as a result of this case; on one hand FASD charities have suggested pregnant women do not drink at all while the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists previously said in an official statement: ‘Current scientific opinion points to there being no hard evidence that very small amounts of alcohol consumption during pregnancy are harmful to the mother and baby.’ Dr Cooke said: ‘We’re left with two choices, either a non evidence-based message where we tell pregnant women not to drink alcohol at all, which is a safe message as not drinking means the child definitely won’t develop FASD, or an evidence-based message where we say you can drink but only a very small amount. What worries me about the latter message is what is meant by a very small amount, and I think this is why pregnant women are told not to drink at all. Nevertheless, this non-drinking message is not evidence-based; given that FASD is typically caused by consuming large amounts of alcohol, as noted in the court proceedings, this means there must be a wide range of consumption rates that are not linked to FASD.’ er

Report highlights CAMHS shortcomings

A report released by the House of Commons Health Select Committee has warned that there are ‘serious and deeply ingrained’ problems with the commissioning and provision of children’s and adolescents’ mental health services (CAMHS) in England. The report, Children’s and Adolescents’ Mental Health and CAMHS, said these problems run throughout the entire system, from prevention and early intervention, through to inpatient services for particularly vulnerable young people.

It outlined problems with access to inpatient mental health services, cuts to early-intervention services and the ‘wholly unacceptable’ practice of taking children and young people detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to police cells. Concerns were also raised about the quality of education that children and young people receive while being treated in inpatient units, the Committee recommended that Ofsted, the Department for Education and NHS England conduct a full audit of educational provision within inpatient units ‘as a matter of urgency’.

The report also pointed to problems in commissioning CAMHS despite a move to national commissioning of inpatient services more than a year ago, the Committee said it intended to review NHS England’s progress in this area early next year.  

The BPS submitted written evidence to the committee, which has been referenced three times in the report. The report also takes up a point made by the Society referring to the lack of comprehensive, reliable and up-to-date national information about children’s and adolescents’ mental health and CAMHS. This, says the report, means ‘those planning and running CAMHS services have been operating in a fog’. Indeed, the Committee urged the Department of Health and NHS England to treat as a priority the need for full access to up-to-date information about all parts of CAMHS services – from early-intervention up to inpatient services.

The Health Committee’s report also highlighted the concerns raised by the Society over the increasing rates of more complex and severe referrals being seen by those working across CAMHS. The report noted this might be a consequence of poor provision of lower-tier services and recommended this too be assessed by the Department of Health and NHS England as a matter of urgency. 



The European Association of Social Psychology is inviting applications from its members for its Regional Activity Grants. The grants offer support to members from regions where access to scientific information, facilities or funding is scarce compared to European standards and will not exceed €3500. Initiatives may involve visits from single researchers or groups. Applicants must be full members of the EASP. The closing date for this round of applications is 30 December 2014.

The Leverhulme Trust is inviting applications for its Study Abroad Studentships. These provide a basic annual maintenance allowance of £18,000 and allow applicants to spend between one and two years on advanced study or research at centre of learning overseas, excluding the USA. Applicants must have been a UK resident for at least five years and either be a student at the time of application or within the last eight years. The closing date for applications is 12 January 2015.

The Feminist Review Trust invites applications for its Research Grants. The purpose of the grants is to support feminist scholars in a range of activities, including hard-to-fund projects, pump-priming activities, interventionist projects, training and development, one-off events, dissemination of relevant material, raising core funding and other relevant projects. The maximum value of any individual award is £15,000. The closing date for applications is 31 January 2015.

Shift work and cognitive decline

A new longitudinal study of more than 3000 workers hit the headlines recently after it found a link between shift work and ‘premature ageing’ of the brain, as well as a decline in cognitive function. The research, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, used measurements of processing speed and memory at the start of the study then five and 10 years later. Marquié et al. found impaired cognition was associated with shift work, particularly if shifts had been worked for more than 10 years. The researchers also found that recovery from this cognitive decline took around five years after leaving such a working pattern.

But Emeritus Professor Zander Wedderburn (Heriot-Watt University) warned that it was too easy to ‘sell’ alarmist ideas about shift work. He told us: ‘It would take a prospective cohort, randomly allocated to shift work and day work, and a convincing measure of brain ageing to get me to change my mind.’

The authors concede that they were unable to isolate which aspects of work schedules were driving the effects on cognition. They also suggest that ‘those who quit shift work a long time ago may have had higher cognitive abilities and were thus better able to move into non-shift working jobs at an earlier stage in their career.’

Dr Almuth McDowall (City University London and Birkbeck University of London) an expert in work–life balance, said there is plenty that can be done by workers to counteract the effects of shift work, for example having ‘core sleep hours’, sensible and planned nutrition and using weekends to catch up on sleep. She added: ‘Where many employers fall down is that they don’t give the right guidance, or support. The NHS is a good example – have you ever seen the food that nurses have access to in the middle of the night? Vending machine with chocolate bars, that’s it. No one can stay alert on fast release carbs an entire night! We know as psychologists that behaviour change is tricky – so when people are recruited into shift working roles, support needs to start right there, and ideally also be part of preparatory education or training.’

Dr McDowall added that shift work is especially hard for nuclear families, where there is not much of a support network in terms of relatives who can take over. ‘But opting out, and wanting to work core hours, can have implications for career progression. ‘So, shift work is complex. It’s good about the research that it demonstrates the physical effects, as it may make employers listen up. Shift working is not a walk in the park, so requires targeted support. On the other hand, it can also be a positive lifestyle choice, as it can enable more time with children during the day, for instance. As long as people get their weekend nap!’ 

Bookshop at bedtime

Psychologist Richard Wiseman was involved with a mass sleepover at the Waterstones bookshop in London, which came about after a tourist became locked in one of its stores and documented his plight on social media.

American David Willis was trapped in Trafalgar Square Waterstones after entering at around 9pm without realising it was about to close. His bid to escape, which he documented on Twitter and Instagram, sparked public interest in spending a night in a bookshop, with many people suggesting that a sleepover in a book shop would be an interesting experience.

Waterstones offered 10 people and their partners the chance to sleep over at the London Piccadilly store in October. Professor Wiseman gave the lucky group some psychological sleep tips before they nodded off in the children and history section.

Wiseman said that when it came to public engagement with science, it was not always the case that unusual approaches were better. He added: ‘I still think that the more usual routes, talks, YouTube, and so on, when done well, are the best. However, I think it is important to always explore new avenues, and the sleepover was a fun, immersive, way of getting ideas about sleep and dreaming out there.’ 

Dancing to the top
What does it take for contemporary dancers to express themselves creatively? Researchers have been awarded almost £250,000 to try to answer this question using in-depth analysis of the mental imagery used by dancers. The three-year project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will see academics at Plymouth University working alongside two of the UK’s leading centres for dance training, Coventry University and the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, to examine what enables dancers to become confident enough to let their emotions guide their movements.

Professor of Psychology Jon May, who will lead the study at Plymouth University, said: ‘There is always much debate about what it means – and what it takes – to be creative. In essence, being able to shift between different forms of mental imagery and evoking visual, auditory and emotional sources of inspiration can create the ideal circumstances for novel ideas to be generated. Many people find such skills difficult, but reaching a position where you are able to instantly think outside the box could be the key to helping contemporary dancers and others in the creative sector reach the pinnacle of their professions.’

Working in collaboration with Wayne McGregor at the Random Dance company, Professor May has previously focused on uncovering information about the choreographic thinking involved in contemporary dance and developing a series of thinking tools and lesson plans based on it. The current study will see trainee dancers in Coventry and London following those plans, with researchers then analysing the results. 

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

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