Science Museum 'Mind Maps'; national honours and more
Science Museum ‘Mind Maps’ exhibition opens
The Science Museum in London has launched a dedicated psychology exhibition called Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology. Supported by the British Psychological Society and curated by BPS Curator of Psychology Philip Loring, the exhibition charts changes in the ways we've studied the mind and treated mental illness from 1780 to the present day.
The exhibition is free to the general public, and our readers are encouraged to visit. ‘I hope psychologists and psychology students will experience the pleasure of encountering historical figures they may have heard of in textbooks in a new and surprising context,’ says Phil Loring. ‘They’ll also be able to appreciate the continuing significance of some of the “historical” technologies on show, like brain scanning, EEG, and behavioural therapy.’
Mind Maps, which opened in December and runs until the summer, begins with a zone called Picturing Brain Activity (1980s to present). Here visitors are introduced to modern methods for visualising the brain and they can see one of the earliest PET brain scanners used for research. The remainder of the exhibition is then divided into four main time periods and themes: From Spirits to Nerves (1780 to 1810); Nervous Exhaustion (1880 to 1920); Brain Waves and Wonder Drugs (1945 to 1985); and Into the Future (2013 to…).
From Ancient Greece to the Middle Ages and beyond, physicians and scientists believed that nerves were filled with ‘animal spirits’ – a kind of mystical substance supposedly created in the brain’s cavities. The first main section of Mind Maps explores how this idea was displaced thanks to advances in the understanding of electricity and magnetism.
In Italy in the 1780s Luigi Galvani discovered that sparks of electricity caused frogs’ legs to twitch, leading him to propose that nerves work via ‘animal electricity’. Visitors can see some of Galvani’s original tools he used to make this discovery – items that haven’t been displayed in public for over a hundred years. Early in the 19th century, individuals like cleric John Wesley began to champion the use of electric shocks to treat ailments supposedly caused by nervous disorders. Some of the earliest shock generators used for this purpose are also on display.
The second part of the exhibition coincides with the dawn of experimental psychology. Here visitors can see instruments used by Hermann von Helmholtz to study the speed of a nerve impulse – ‘the speed of thought’. This section also contains Wilhelm Wundt’s control hammer (for calibrating reaction time apparatus), Gustav Fechner’s sound pendulum for studying the ‘just noticeable difference’ in time intervals between clicks, and much more. ‘The closer [these early psychophysicists] looked the less clear the distinction between the physical body and the mind became,’ reads the exhibition display. After the Second World War, technological advances that had been applied to radar and radio were now directed towards study of the brain, giving rise to such innovations as EEG (electroencephalography, used to record the surface electrical activity of the brain). The third part of the exhibition explores these techniques: visitors can hear what a recording of nerve cells sounds like, and they can see one of the first commercially available EEG recorders.
The same era also witnessed the rise of several controversial treatments, including electro-convulsive therapy (where electricity is used to induce a brain seizure – this remains a radical form of treatment for depression today), lobotomy and drug therapies. Other exhibits here include apparatus used by the EEG pioneer Greg Walter, and modern and retro packaging for psychotropic drugs.
The final part of the exhibition takes us up to the present day and beyond, with the recent announcement on both sides of the Atlantic to invest in bold new initiatives to map the structure and function of the brain. Here you can see a coil used for transcranial magnetic stimulation (a technique that allows researchers to temporarily interrupt function in specific parts of the brain), dramatic images of the brain’s white matter pathways, and a modern EEG sensory net used for sleep research. There are also displays related to cognitive behavioural therapy and the recently launched self-help book prescription scheme.
‘With a few notable exceptions borrowed from other London museums, such as the Renaissance dissection of the human nervous system and Freud’s original sketches of nerve cells, we sourced almost all of the over 150 objects from the Science Museum’s extraordinary storage vaults,’ says Loring. ‘The BPS curatorship began in 2009, which allowed me a couple years to get to know the breadth and depth of these vast collections. Once I had that background, developing the exhibition took about two years of intensive work in collaboration with a team of experienced exhibition developers and designers.’
Walking through this wonderful exhibition I was struck by how many modern controversies have echoed through the ages – the desire and struggle to explain the mind in terms of the physical matter of the brain, and the ongoing tension between biological and psychological perspectives on mental illness. ‘Do you think the exhibition tells a story of progress,’ I asked Phil Loring, ‘or are we just as far as ever from reconciling the worlds of mind and brain?’
‘I don't think it is an either-or situation,’ he told me. ‘Psychological knowledge and techniques have undeniably progressed, and at the same time the terrain we now call “mental health” has changed so profoundly that a single overarching progress narrative would be misleading. We chose to organise the exhibition as a series of episodes which could be explored backward or forward in time in order to reflect this complexity.’ cj
Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology is at the Science Museum in London until 12 August. Photographs of some of the exhibits are available online together with further information about the exhibition: tinyurl.com/m9jqp4r
Human Mind Project
The first half of last year saw the initial announcements of the EU’s Human Brain Project and, in the USA, the BRAIN initiative. Now we have the Human Mind Project, launched by The School of Advanced Study in London in December. ‘The ambitious project represents a coordinated, international effort to define the major intellectual challenges in understanding the nature and significance of the human mind,’ says the Project’s website. ‘It will highlight the contribution of the arts and humanities to the study of human nature, and the importance of a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to the study of the mind, integrating science and the humanities.’
The Human Mind Project is led by neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore and guided by a multidisciplinary steering group that includes several psychologists, among them the BPS Fellows Professors Nicola Clayton, Uta Frith, Chris Frith, and BPS Associate Fellow Professor Charles Fernyhough. The Human Mind Project held its inaugural event in December entitled ‘What’s So Special About the Human Mind?’
Fernyhough said: ‘The arts and humanities don’t just give us compelling depictions of mental processes; they give us intellectual systems for making sense of how people understand their experience. At the moment, a group of enthusiastically interdisciplinary researchers are sketching out the main challenges facing the science of the mind, with a view to initiating a large-scale conversation about how different disciplines can work together in pushing back the scientific boundaries.’ cj
More information at http://humanmind.ac.uk
National honours in psychology
The sterling work of members of the British Psychological Society has been recognised once again in this year’s round of New Year’s Honours. Among them is Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow Professor Shirley Pearce, who has been made a dame for services to higher education.
Professor Dame Shirley Pearce has had a distinguished and varied career, including: working as a clinical psychologist at St Mary’s Hospital; establishing a postdoctoral programme in clinical psychology at UCL; establishing the School of Health Policy and Practice at the University of East Anglia; working as Vice Chancellor at Loughborough University; and holding the position of Non-executive Director of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority.
In 2005 these roles and others led Professor Pearce to receive the honour of CBE for services to education in the NHS. On receipt of her latest and even higher honour, Dame Shirley told us she feels privileged and indebted to the excellent colleagues she’s worked with.‘Everything' I have done has been as part of a team,’ she said. We asked her what achievement she is most proud of to date. ‘I am proud to have been part of the team leading Loughborough University to its research and teaching successes of the last few years. Especially winning the “Best Student Experience” award for six consecutive years,’ she said.
Today Professor Dame Shirley Pearce has what she describes as a ‘portfolio role’, including being the independent Chair of the College of Policing, which was established in 2012. ‘The world of policing is new to me, which is exciting and gives me the opportunity to bring my experiences of working in higher education and health to the challenge
of establishing a professional body for the police.’ Her other roles include sitting on the boards of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and Health Education England, and being a member of Council at Cambridge University.
Another honouree this year was Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow Dr Jackie Craissati, who has been appointed MBE for services to mental health. Dr Craissati is a Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist and Clinical Director of the Forensic and Prisons Directorate at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust in Dartford, Kent. Dr Craissati told us she was ‘absolutely delighted’ to receive this honour and ‘touched by people’s generous responses.’ She also acknowledged the support of her ‘wonderful workplace and peer group’.
She added: ‘The award is for services to “mental health” but the truth is that I have worked with individuals who are doubly stigmatised – on account of their diagnosis of personality disorder, and on account of their high-risk offending behaviour. The work is endlessly stimulating but often challenging and sometimes anxiety-provoking.’
Meanwhile, Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow Professor Sonia Livingstone has been appointed OBE for services to children and child internet safety. Professor Livingstone holds a chair in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. The author or editor of 18 books, she is a past President of the International Communication Association, and currently directs the 33-country network EU Kids Online. Her many other roles include sitting on the Executive Board of the UK’s Council for Child Internet Safety. ‘It’s been a fascinating experience over the past 15 years to take my research into often-contested policy and public debates on how to empower and safeguard children online, at a time when internet access was becoming ever more important,’ she said.
Finally, congratulations are also due to BPS member Dr Eva Lloyd, Reader in Early Childhood at the Cass School of Education and Communities, who was appointed honorary OBE for services to education in the Honorary British Awards to Foreign Nationals late last year. Dr Lloyd’s appointment was made following a nomination from the Department of Education; it is honorary by virtue of her Dutch citizenship.
‘I am surprised and delighted to have been awarded this honour, which does reflect the hard work of the many early childhood sector and DfE colleagues who were involved in the early childhood policy co-production process during the first half of the Coalition Government,’ Dr Lloyd said. ‘Naturally I am immensely grateful to them. I look forward to making further contributions to the public understanding of developmental psychology and to research-informed early childhood policy development and implementation.’ cj
Trevor James (a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London) reports from the BPS Psychology4Students event, held in London in December at Kensington Town Hall
The psychology of attraction
Do opposites really attract? Is it all about how good looking we are? Dr Viren Swami (University of Westminster) debunked these myths and gave us three lessons about the laws of attraction.
Lesson #1: It’s all about how close you are. Research has shown that we are far more likely to develop relationships, romantic or otherwise, with people who are geographically closer to us. Students are more likely to feel Cupid’s arrow for peers they share halls of residence with; and even more so for those on the same floor, or even better – next door. Lesson #2: Take your date somewhere scary or exciting. We know from the halo effect that attractive people often have positive qualities transferred to them. But transference can also happen in romance. Physiological arousal, like the heart racing due to a fairground ride, can be mistaken for signs of romantic arousal. And if someone thinks you’re nice, then there’s a chance they’ll think you’re a bit more attractive as well. The good news – love is blind.
Lesson #3: Opposites don’t attract. Stable relationships are often formed around having similarities. The good news is that similarity can take many different forms, from physical similarity, to having similar personalities.
So what happens if you live alone, hate scary movies, and find opposites attractive? Don’t be disheartened. These are all general predictors that don’t apply to everyone. Swami says that humans are complex and difficult to predict, it’s one of the most interesting things about us.
How perception guides action
Professor Cathy Craig (Queen’s University Belfast) showed that we rely on our perception not only to make sense of our environment, but also to anticipate the movement of objects and guide our own actions. This is evident in sport – for example, goalkeepers anticipate the flight of the ball to make a last-ditch save. So why are some individuals better than others when it comes to motion perception?
Using virtual reality, it’s possible to study motion from an egocentric view – allowing us to look through the eyes of the participant directly. We can see what a goalkeeper sees, as a free kick curls towards them. We can also represent hand and head movements in real time, and create realistic avatars in a virtual environment. This, and the ability to take accurate timings, allows us to understand precisely what happens under quick, high pressure situations. For example, we can predict how goalkeepers will react to footballs that have a particular pattern on them, based on how the ball appears to the goalkeeper while travelling at high speeds.
These techniques have obvious benefits for rehabilitation and training, but not only for sport. By modelling how a person walks in virtual reality (e.g. by recording their stride pattern and the sounds of their feet) it’s possible to help patients who have difficulty walking. One striking example of this is paradoxical kinesia. Here, a patient with Parkinson’s disease can move from a shuffling walk to a full stride, simply by switching their perception from their feet, to a ball swinging in front of them.
Think that 90 per cent of human communication is non-verbal? Or that
crossing your arms is a defensive posture? Not necessarily, says Dr Daniel Gurney (University of Hertfordshire). Looking away doesn’t mean that a person is lying either. However there are some things that we can say about non-verbal communication, and these things can have very important applications.
Facial expressions, such as smiling, don’t only occur when we’re happy – smiling can actually make us feel happy ourselves; and the effect can be contagious. Posture can also affect how positive we feel, as well as how depressed we feel. And research has shown that posture can affect internal levels of hormones, such as testosterone and cortisol. Gestures don’t only help others understand what we’re trying to say; they also help us think and choose what we want to say ourselves. One example is when we give directions. It’s much easier if we use hand movements, even when the person we’re directing is on the phone and can’t see us.
Unfortunately, non-verbal communication isn’t always positive. Studies have shown that gesturing can create false memories, as well as over-confidence in memory recall – findings that have clear implications for eyewitness testimony.
BPS Fellow Professor Uta Frith DBE added to her collection of honours in December when she was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to British Neuroscience Award by the British Neuroscience Association. Professor Frith sits on the international panel of The Psychologist, and currently splits her academic time between UCL and the University of Aarhus.
No shooting spree ‘type’
‘[T]here is no consistent psychological profile or set of warning signs that can be used reliably’ to predict who will go on a mass shooting spree. That’s the conclusion of a new American Psychological Association report, Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy, published in December.
Many more labs
The researchers behind the Many Labs replication project (that attempted to replicate 13 classic and contemporary effects in psychology – see January News) are planning a sequel, to examine more effects and probe earlier findings more deeply. Researchers across the world are invited to contribute by running parallel replications of at least 80 participants.
More information at tinyurl.com/q4tnuzz
Seven psychologists are on a list of the UK’s 100 leading practising scientists, published by the Science Council. The list acknowledges the contribution to society of all scientists, not just those ‘investigators’
in academia. Professor Marie Johnston, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Professor Andy Young are recognised as ‘developers/translators’; Professor William Yule as a ‘monitor/regulator’; Professor Charles Abraham and Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell as ‘teachers’; and Professor Uta Frith as an investigator. See tinyurl.com/pwj7zwf
UK Minister of State for Crime Prevention Norman Baker MP has announced a review into how to deal with ‘legal highs’, psychoactive substances that mimic the effects of illicit drugs. In January he announced further that the UK is to opt out of plans for the EU to take over their regulation. In 2012, psychologist Vaughan Bell argued that legal highs are making the drug war obsolete (tinyurl.com/c3n8edd). cj
Mental health cuts hit the young
Local authorities in England are failing to prioritise children and young people’s mental health, according to a report by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition. Overlooked and Forgotten was published in December and is available to download from tinyurl.com/ofuqlbl.
The authors Laurie Oliva and Paula Lavis researched the 145 local authority mental and physical health needs assessments and strategies that were publicly available in 2013. They discovered that two thirds of the needs assessments failed to specifically address the mental health of children and young people, and one third of the strategies failed to prioritise the mental health needs of this group. The authors also found that the majority of the needs assessments for children and young people were based on data from 10 years ago.
The report was welcomed by Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health, and she renewed her call for an updated review into the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people. Barbara Rayment, Chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, added: ‘Local authorities have difficult decisions to make about how to allocate dwindling health budgets. While it is very welcome that two thirds of [local authority health strategies] are prioritising children and young people’s mental health, too many are not giving this the priority it needs.’
In related news, the BBC reported in December that the budgets of mental health trusts in England were cut by an average of 2.36 per cent in real terms for 2013/2014, compared with the previous 12 months. Given that the government has guaranteed the overall NHS budget to rise modestly in real terms, this suggests that local commissioners are diverting funds away from mental health. The data came from a freedom of information request by the BBC. cj
Neuroscience in education
Psychologists and neuroscientists are invited to bid for grants from a new £6 million education and neuroscience fund announced by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation. The money is available for collaborative projects between researchers and educators, to investigate ways that neuroscience can benefit the learning of children aged 5 to 16, especially those with learning difficulties.
The new fund has been launched in the wake of survey data suggesting that many teachers are interested in neuroscience, and keen to use neuroscience insights in their work, and yet many have difficulties distinguishing genuine neuroscience from pseudoscience and brain myths. A study published in 2012 (tinyurl.com/8wsjczw), for instance, found that the more interest British and Dutch teachers expressed in neuroscience, the more likely they were to endorse a range of educational neuromyths, such as the idea of left- and right-brain learners or children having distinct ‘learning styles’ (visual, kinaesthetic, etc.). Overall the teachers endorsed one in two of the myths.
The Wellcome Trust also conducted its own survey of over a thousand teachers last year. Again there was great interest in neuroscience but also widespread use of scientifically unfounded ideas. Seventy-six per cent of teachers said they used learning styles; 39 per cent used Brain Gym (an empirically unsupported commercial exercise programme); and 18 per cent used the distinction between left- and right-brain learners. ‘Neuroscience is an exciting field that holds a great deal of promise both for understanding how our brains work and, through application, for improving how we learn and perform,’ says Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust. ‘Neuroscientists and educators both recognise and wish to explore this potential. By bringing together our expertise and approaches, the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation hope to make this possible.’ cj
Looking ahead to ‘…isms in fashion’
As part of London College of Fashion’s initiative to use the discipline of fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live, the 2014 Better Lives seminar series will focus on ‘Looking Ahead ...isms in Fashion’.
Dr Carolyn Mair, a Chartered Psychologist and Reader in Psychology at the London College of Fashion (LCF), featured in our ‘Big picture’ in the September 2013 issue. She told us: ‘Psychology and fashion are inherently intertwined, yet until recently, the two have not been seriously considered by psychologists as worthy of study. This year, as last, the seminar series aims to investigate the relationships between psychology, fashion and well-being.’
The first seminar, on 10 February, is on ageism in fashion, with talks from Professor Paul Matts, Research Fellow, Procter & Gamble, and Dr Ros Jennings, Reader in Cultural studies and Director of the Centre
for Women, Ageing and Media, University of Gloucestershire. On 24 February the focus is racism, presented by Jody Furlong, Director of The Eye Casting Company and The Eye Models. Then on 10 March, paralympian Stef Reid, model Kelly Knox and actor Michael Shamash discuss ablism in fashion.
At each seminar, following the talks, Dr Mair will lead an audience discussion to increase awareness and understanding of the important reciprocal roles of psychology and fashion.
On 24 March the evening will be chaired by Dr Phil Sams, Honorary Doctor at LCF and Visiting Professor at Northumbria University. Panellists including Caryn Franklin (former fashion editor, BBC broadcaster and co-founder of the award-winning All Walks Beyond the Catwalk: www.allwalks.org) and James Partridge OBE (Founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the leading UK charity supporting and representing people with disfigurements) will discuss psychological aspects of …isms in fashion and how these impact well-being.
The events take place at 6pm–8pm at the London College of Fashion’s Oxford Circus site, 20 John Princes Street, WG1 0BJ. All events are open to the public and are free. js
European Horizon 2020
The first European Horizon 2020 calls have been made. The European Commission web page below under the ‘Find your Area’ button provides quick links to funding calls under different topics; for example, health, funding researchers, social sciences and humanities. Links can be followed to drill down to a specific research topic. The pages also provide information on Information Days
and future calls.
The following is an example of a specific European Horizon 2020 topic call of interest to psychologists, in the Health/Personalising Health and Care funding stream. Topic: Promoting mental wellbeing in the ageing population PHC-22-2015 Call for proposals for multidisciplinary research to improve understanding, prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of, mental conditions and disorder of older people. This may include a dimension of research into physical, psychological, environmental and social determinants of healthy ageing. Deadline 14 October 2014
Funding for researchers is available via Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions, the European Research Council and Future and Emerging Technologies.
Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) support the career development and training of researchers. Current calls include Research Networks for Innovative Training Networks (ITN) deadline 9 April 2014 and International and inter-sectoral cooperation through the Research and Innovation Staff Exchanges (RISE) deadline 24 April 2014.
The European Research Council provides funding for individual researchers to work with a single host institution on a research project. The ERC currently has calls for Starting Grants (for Principle Investigators 2–7 years post-PhD) deadline 25 March 2014 and Consolidator Grants (for Principle Investigators 7–12 years post-PhD) deadline 20 May 2014.
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