News: psychologists get busy at The Hub

psychologists get busy at The Hub; combating ‘isms’ in fashion; Brain Prize; a ‘play revolution; teachers and neuroscience; and more

Psychologists get busy at The Hub

The first residents of The Hub at Wellcome Collection, a flagship new space for interdisciplinary projects around health and well-being, will investigate the busyness of modern life. Bringing together a rich network of scientists, artists, humanists, clinicians, public health experts, broadcasters and public engagement professionals, the group will explore states of rest and noise, tumult and stillness, and the health implications for lives increasingly lived in a hubbub of activity. They have been awarded £1 million to develop the project over two years.

The group is led by social scientist Felicity Callard (Durham University) with core contributing members comprising psychologist and writer Charles Fernyhough (Durham University), psychologist and broadcaster Claudia Hammond (BBC’s All in the Mind and Health Check), neuroscientist Daniel Margulies (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences) and poet James Wilkes (University of East Anglia). The group will start their occupancy at Wellcome Collection in October 2014, as the venue opens new spaces and galleries after a £17.5m development.

The ambitious project will be nourished by the research resources of Wellcome Collection, the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Trust and will embrace the noisy city beyond and the people who live in it. The group, selected from 55 applications, will have freedom to develop ideas and outputs over their residency. The Hub will gather international experts investigating hubbub and rest at different scales, to breathe new life into the questions we ask about rest and busyness. Should we slow down, or should we embrace intense activity? What effects do each of these states have on the health of our bodies and minds? The space at Wellcome Collection will provide a base for the group to perform rigorous, creative research and to stage scientific and artistic experiments, data-gathering and public events. While neuroscientists study the ‘resting’ brain and mind, artists will explore the borders between signal, sound and noise, psychologists will track people’s bodily activity, and social scientists will map the city’s noise and silences.

Felicity Callard said: ‘Our team is enormously excited to take up the first residency of The Hub, and to work with this extraordinary physical and conceptual space to showcase what can be achieved through experimental interdisciplinary endeavours. Our collaborative work on rest and noise will have members of the public at its heart and will create new possibilities for people from all backgrounds to find their own kinds of rest in the busy city. Through our research activities and creative adventures we want to transform how rest and its opposites are understood - and give us all an urgently needed intimacy with a hidden but vital part of our lives.’

Charles Fernyhough said: ‘We’re thrilled to be the first team to occupy this extraordinary research space in the heart of the busy city. Psychologically speaking, “rest” is a puzzle, with debates about whether the mind is ever actually still or silent. Our project will see neuroscientists working with psychologists on new ways of assessing subjective experience during rest, integrating it with what we know about the resting brain, and feeding into broader interdisciplinary experiments that draw on insights from the humanities, arts and social sciences to explore how people mentally and physically negotiate the boundaries between rest and busyness.’

For Claudia Hammond, the exciting thing about the project is ‘the number of different ways that members of the public will be able to get involved, from watching poetry performances in the Restmobile (a specially-adapted campervan) to lying on a couch in Wellcome Collection telling us their daydream’s.

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘In a field of exceptional applications, Felicity Callard and her team inspired us with a topic of rich potential and pressing concern. The pressures and health implications of unrelenting activity are an inescapable but underexplored part of the environment of modern life. We look forward to the process and outputs of their collaborative curiosity and anticipate their work leaving rich a legacy for academic and creative inquiry, clinical practice and public policy and for The Hub’s future as a crucible for innovative interdisciplinary research.’ 

- Jon Sutton 

Combating ‘…isms’ in fashion

Natalie Fernandes and Carolyn Mair report from Better Lives 2014, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London 

This year, as last, London College of Fashion’s (LCF) Better Lives series has focused on the relationship between fashion and psychology as part of LCF’s initiative to use the discipline of fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live. The 2014 series, concerned with ‘…isms in fashion’, was curated by Dr Carolyn Mair (LCF), Reader in Psychology and Course Leader of the MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion and MA Psychology for Fashion Professionals.

The first seminar brought together Dr Ros Jennings (Gloucester University) and Professor Paul Matts, a Research Scientist from P&G. Dr Jennings presented thought-provoking case studies from a sociocultural perspective of two women in popular culture, Dame Shirley Bassey and Petula Clarke, demonstrating different approaches to ageing. Professor Matts presented data from studies demonstrating the importance of skin appearance on perceived attractiveness. He argued that skin is an indicator of both health and youth. Therefore, taking an evolutionary psychology perspective, Professor Matts claimed that men are attracted to younger-looking women because they signal fertility and the potential to increase their chances of reproduction and survival. He argued that what is perceived as attractive is also perceived as healthy. The talks were followed by an audience discussion whereby the main conclusions were that although evolutionary processes are difficult to overcome, cultural influences can affect behaviour.

Given the increasing population of people aged over 50, the fashion industry needs to address this population’s needs as well as those of the very narrow demographic currently catered for.

The second seminar looked at racism in fashion. Jody Furlong, director of The Eye Casting Company and The Eye Models, demonstrated how stereotyping develops in childhood using a YouTube video replication of Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s 1940s experiment ( Furlong criticised the lack of black models in Vogue and on the catwalk in New York, Paris, Milan and London. However, his optimism that change could happen was supported by the second speaker, James Lyon, a photographer and spokesperson for Models of Diversity. James claimed that consumers could influence change by supporting designers who embraced diversity and boycotting those who didn’t. Audience members agreed with this and were passionate about the importance of education. Dr Mair stressed that education is a continuous process and encouraged those present to take forward the seminar’s message to others.

Three speakers presented at the third seminar, Ablism in Fashion. Listening to paralympian and model Stef Reid describing how she had successfully adapted to becoming disabled, following a boating accident aged 16, was inspirational. Stef articulated the problems of striving to conform to the narrow stereotype of ‘normal’ and encouraged the audience to challenge the current paradigm. She emphasised the need for the fashion industry to celebrate difference rather than view it as a reason for exclusion. Michael Shamash, Chairman of the Restricted Growth Association, writer, researcher and self-described disabled person pointed out that disabled people consume fashion with as strong a sense of style as anyone else; however, they are typically ignored in the industry. He suggested that for change to happen, disabled people needed to occupy positions of power within fashion and that education needs to embrace diversity. Finally, Kelly Knox, winner of 2010’s Britain’s Top Missing Model, actress and ambassador for REACH, The Association for Children with Upper Limb Deficiency, spoke about how reaching out to others who were struggling with confidence issues had made her aware of her ‘disability’. ‘I am disabled by the attitudes in the fashion industry, not by my missing arm.’ The audience discussion covered the lack of diversity behind as well as in front of the cameras. Again, the consensus was for a more inclusive attitude from the fashion industry. Dr Mair concluded by referring to Donald Norman’s work on inclusive design: design for all people. 

The final seminar was a panel session chaired by Dr Phil Sams (LCF, and Visiting Professor at Northumbria University). The panel comprised Caryn Franklin MBE, James Partridge OBE, Zowie Broach, Dr Chris Pawson (University of East London) and Dr Carolyn Mair. Each speaker was given a few minutes to make a point before the audience discussion. Caryn Franklin is a Visiting Fellow at LCF, broadcaster, fashion editor, co-editor of i-D magazine, and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk which challenges the fashion industry’s dependence on unachievable body ideals by promoting diversity and inclusivity. She spoke about the importance of educating designers, stylists and journalists. James Partridge OBE, Founder and CEO of Changing Faces, the leading UK charity supporting and representing people with disfigurements, presented the audience with statistics demonstrating the large demographic on people with disfigurements in the UK. He argued that children are exposed to stereotyping through games in which the ‘baddie’ is scarred. He also showed how ‘disfigurements’ can be considered beautiful. He stressed the importance of fashion in developing social norms and argued for an industry that represented and respected individuals regardless of their appearance. Zowie Broach (LCF) is a partner in Boudicca, a design house respected for its integrity, depth of design and attention to detail. Zowie spoke about the beauty of images that were created to be different. Next was Chris Pawson, who spoke about the importance of clothing not only for other people’s perceptions of us, but for our own cognitions and mood. Giving examples from his own work, he emphasised the importance of fashion in well-being. Finally, Dr Carolyn Mair summed up the other speakers’ comments and reiterated the recurring theme of the narrow focus of ‘beauty’ and ‘normality’ currently promoted by the fashion industry. The concluding remarks emphasised the uniquely important role held by the fashion industry and the mission of LCF which is to use fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve quality of life.  

Teachers to be trained in neuroscience 

Teachers look set to receive training in neuroscience, after members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) voted for a motion calling for materials and policies on applying neuroscience to education. 

Perhaps prompted by the announcement earlier this year of a government-backed Education Endowment Foundation and the Wellcome Trust’s launch of a £6 million scheme that will fund neuroscientific research into learning, members at the union’s annual conference narrowly supported the motion. However, the news brought a mixed reaction.

Dr Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist at the University of Westminster, told us: ‘I am delighted about the recent financial support for educational neuroscience research, and I very much welcome initiatives to integrate robust and relevant neuroscience into educational practice. However, I think we have to be careful about how this is done. There is a real tendency for neuroscience to be taken out of context, misunderstood and misapplied. Julia Neal, member of ATL and supporter of the motion, is quoted as saying that an understanding of neuroscience could help teachers support creative “right brain thinkers”, a concept that would fill most neuroscientists with horror [see]. Applying good, up-to-date empirical knowledge of the brain and mind to educational processes is an utterly vital step forward, but any training must be done carefully, appropriately and by the right people.’  

We also spoke to Helen Knowler, a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol, who said: ‘I am not a neuroscientist, but I have been a teacher who has attended countless hours of “training” over the years. Some of it was excellent and some of it was very poor! It is not uncommon to read in research literature or mainstream media that teachers need more “training”. My feeling is that this has become something of trope which obscures what we know about the complex and multifarious ways that teachers learn to do their work. There is plenty of evidence that neuroscientific insights can be useful for teachers. There is also, however, plenty of evidence that teachers have been exposed to a range of “neuromyths” whereby spurious and even bizarre approaches to teaching and learning have been adopted in classrooms in the name of “brain science”! More “training” sounds like a good thing, but research tells us that in order for teachers to participate in high-quality professional development that has the capacity to transform experiences for learners, this needs to be more than a superficial round-up of everything we know about, in this case, the brain. Professional development for teachers, when done well, is a powerful and important tool for school improvement. Poorly designed courses, that do not attend to the cognitive, affective and ethical dimensions of teaching are likely to be a waste of time in the long run, and will not endear teachers investing time to learning more about the ways that neuroscientific insights can promote pedagogical innovation. I wholeheartedly support the idea of carefully evaluated professional development in the field of neuroscience for teachers, but would argue that it needs to be in-depth, long-term and offer some robust practical examples of the ways that this understanding translates into practice.’ js

Share your views by e-mailing [email protected] 

Film award

Devil in the Room, the sleep paralysis film that featured in our November 2013 ‘Big picture’, has won the Best Documentary Prize at the Cineglobe International Film Festival at CERN, Geneva. The biennial festival is based in the Globe of Science and Innovation, in the heart of CERN, which is home to the Large Hadron Collider, birthplace of the World Wide Web and one of the seats of modern science. The festival accepts films that are ‘inspired by science’, and the 2014 theme was ‘Beyond the Frontier’. Filmmaker Carla MacKinnon said:?‘It was a great honour to receive the award and have the film played in such a beautiful and meaningful location.’ 

Memories on cue 

A new €2 million collaboration has launched, partnering the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex and computer scientists at Lancaster, Stuttgart and Lugano. The 'RECALL' project aims to use wearable technology to improve and augment human memory.

Professor Geoff Ward told The Psychologist: 'Technology has always had a direct impact on how and what humans remember. This impact is both inevitable and fundamental – technology radically changes the nature and scale of the cues that we can preserve outside our own memory in order to trigger recall. Such change is not new – we have seen the transition from story-telling to written books, from paintings to photographs to digital images and from individual diaries to collective social networks. However, in recent years technology has opened up entirely new ways of augmenting human memory – near-continuous collection of memory cues has become possible through the use of technologies such as Microsoft’s SenseCam, social networks and interaction logs; advances in data storage and processing now enables widespread mining of stored cues for proactive presentation; and the presence of ubiquitous displays (both in the environment and via personal devices such as Google Glasses) provides many new opportunities for displaying memory cues to trigger recall.’

The project aims at a targeted breakthrough to create a memory augmentation technology that provides the user with the experience of an extended and enhanced memory, but is based on improvements in the collection, mining, and presentation of appropriate information to facilitate cued memory recall.

Professor Ward says: ‘One of our proposed activities, to be undertaken in the next six months, includes booking out a very large country holiday cottage, and inviting volunteer participants to wear all kinds of wearable sensors, cameras, et cetera., and then to see how the data captured can be used to test, supplement and modify memory. He adds that 'the project is high risk – numerous technical and societal challenges need to be addressed before augmented memory systems are possible; and potentially high pay- off – if successful, the project will contribute to our fundamental understanding of human memory and have a transformational impact on all spheres of life – the workplace, family life, education, and psychological well-being.’ js 

‘Play’ is not a four-letter word 

Jon Sutton reports from the Idea Conference in Billund, Denmark

There is a serious issue with the way our learning environments are fostering empathy, creativity and social cognition. We need to redefine play and reimagine learning: ‘play’ has a stigma that is robbing our children of an opportunity, to experience, to experiment, to explore.

That was the message from Randa Grob-Zakhary, Chief Executive Officer of the LEGO Foundation, launching this two-day event. The Foundation, endowed by LEGO’s founding family, is committed to ‘inspire the world to recognise, appreciate and take action to support the transformative role of play in learning’. They do this through philanthropic activity and through the funding and dissemination of academic research in the field.

After a pop science quiz on how the mind learns, I enjoyed a breakout session with Professor Peter Gray (Department of Psychology, Boston College) on ‘freeing the play instinct’. Gray referred to evidence suggesting that children’s sense of control over their lives has continuously decreased over the past 35 years, before going on to attempt a causal link between this and declining opportunities to play. The first half of the 20th century, Gray said, was the golden age of play, as child labour laws freed the young from the workplace. Beyond 1955 or so, adults began to take over children’s non-labour activities and hobbies were replaced by classes. ‘When I talk about what my childhood was like,’ said Gray, ‘young parents are shocked. When I was five, as long as I had a responsible six-year-old with me I was free to roam.’ Play is how children learn to solve their own problems, take control of their lives, regulate their emotions and get along with peers, and Gray argues that we need to create the ‘optimal context for self-education’ – learning how to learn rather than a formal education based on storing facts and assessment. He points to a number of curriculum-free, ‘democratic schools’ across Europe and suggests that these produce more rounded individuals, rather than the increasing levels of narcissism found in numerous academic studies. ‘Playmates can’t tolerate someone thinking they’re the centre of the universe’, Gray concluded. 

A second session led by Professor David Whitebread, a developmental cognitive psychologist at the University of Cambridge, asked how children become ‘self-regulating’ and why it is important. Self-regulated learners know what to do when they have a problem; enjoy solving problems; and know how their brain works. Achieving this ‘mind mastery’ – which Whitebread describes as a combination of skill, will and thrill – appears to predict a whole range of lifespan outcomes (such as high school grades, earnings, arrest history), better than measures of early literacy. Yet education policy retains its focus on the ends rather than the means. ‘The thing is’, says Whitebread, ‘it’s not difficult – I can train a group of teachers to support playful education in five or six weeks. It’s about making metacognitive and learning strategies explicit, and encouraging children to reflect upon and talk about their learning.’

After lunch, ‘Expert in Residence’ at the Harvard University Innovation Lab, Tony Wagner, delivered a clear and passionate call to educate young people to be ‘creators, not consumers’. ‘The world no longer cares how much our students know’, he said, ‘it’s about what you can do’. ‘Just dig in and go figure it out’ is the only job description you need, yet schools and workplaces are not set up to encouraged ‘disciplined play’ of their personnel. ‘Just imagine if our schools followed the Google rule – 20 per cent of your time given over to exploration, to be the architect of your own learning.’ Instead, Wagner argued, we penalise mistakes, leading to a fear of failure and subsequent risk aversion. ‘Fail early and fail often’, Wagner advises. ‘It’s about iteration – reflect on what you have done, and set new learning goals.’

These themes continued on the second day, with a conversation between psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University) and Mitch Resnick (Director of the Lifelong Kindergarden Group, MIT). We can’t just open up the head of a child and pour in facts, in a world that is constantly changing: instead, the emphasis should be on projects, peers, passion and play. In his later talk, Jack Shonkoff (Director of the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University) agreed: Colleges need to consider what their ‘value added’ is, in an era of the Massive Open Online Course. It’s about coaching, not teaching.   

Putting their money where their mouth is, the LEGO Foundation launched the #play2learn Re-imagine Learning Challenge. This is open to individuals, organisations, and partnerships who are using play or playful approaches to enrich learning. The deadline is later this month – see for more details. 


Domestic violence case change

Since the introduction of the new legal aid scheme in April 2013, certain forms of specified evidence of domestic violence, or the risk of domestic violence, are now required in order to access funding for legal aid in private family law matters. The Ministry of Justice has reviewed the evidence requirements over the first year of operation, and the definition of ‘health professional’ has now been expanded to include practitioner psychologists. The Ministry of Justice is currently updating the template letters and guidance at for victims of domestic violence and organisations responding to requests for evidence.

Pain Garden

People who endure regular pain are finding some relief after using an innovative map that helps them to create a ‘garden’ of their suffering. Created by Professor of Rehabilitation at Teesside University Denis Martin and Animmersion, a Teesside DigitalCity company, the Pain Garden is supported by Arthritis Research UK and allows people to link up the multidimensional aspects of the impact of pain on their lives. By answering questions relating to emotion, sensory experience and well-being a digital garden, accessed via a website, is grown that thrives or wilts as a patient’s health and well-being alters.

Professor Martin said: ‘Pain can be confusing for people as it runs alongside different emotions. They find it difficult to get this across. Getting people to understand what chronic pain impacts is important to help them deal with it. The idea of a garden came about as pain has different dimensions – sensory, emotional and general well-being that can sit as well-defined items themselves, but they all link together. When you use the metaphor of a garden you have the garden as a whole but also within it distinct elements like plants, trees and water features. When you put it altogether you create the garden.’ 


Brixton reading group growing 

In psychology bestseller The Social Animal, American journalist David Brooks describes how regularly attending a reading group can contribute to people’s subjective well-being. So if you are in London, consider getting yourself down to the London Psychology Reading Group, founded 18 months ago by Brunel University PhD student Morgan Ereku (pictured above).

The reading group is supported by Lambeth Library who, keen to encourage community initiatives, provide the groups books and a room in Brixton Library where the group convenes on the last Sunday of each month. Each reading group session features a book falling into psychology, popular science or general well-being categories (e.g. recent best sellers such as Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, as well as popular classics like Helen Fisher’s Anatomy of Love). Occasionally the group features biographies and multicultural fiction, to explore how a psychological reading of these texts can deliver additional cognisance of the contemporary lived experience.

Morgan describes two aspects that contribute to the reading group’s success. ‘Firstly, the public penchant to draw on psychology to understand everyday concerns and desires that has flourished with the growing prominence of popular science books by trailblazing psychologists. And secondly, people’s desire for a forum to meet and discuss the insights garnered from the solitary act of reading such books. In the case of the London Psychology Reading Group, doing so provides the opportunity to learn, share and discuss the daily stream of new psychological findings with other enthusiasts.’

The group has been advertised through local blogs, social networking platforms, and Lambeth Library channels, leading to a diverse range of members from north and south of the river. ‘We’re looking to attract a younger audience to reading groups,’ Morgan explains. ‘Members are mainly in their twenties and thirties, and include psychologists, sociologists, health professionals, undergraduates, as well as a fair proportion of members with no specific psychology qualifications besides a keen hobbyist interest in the science of the mind.’

Given this, perhaps we will see a growth of similar reading groups? ‘I hope so,’ Morgan says. ‘Meeting in a relaxed environment to discuss the latest research on psychology, and reflect on what it reveals about ourselves and others, is a wonderfully rewarding way to while away a Sunday afternoon.’ js

- If you are interested in joining the London Psychology Reading Group, contact Morgan Ereku ([email protected]) or Brixton Library on 020 7926 1067 or follow @LDNPsychology

Mind Media Awards 2014

The Mind Media Awards, which celebrates the best examples of reporting and portrayals of mental health in print, broadcast and digital media, are open for entries with a deadline of 27 June.

The event, organised by the mental health charity Mind, invites journalists, broadcasters and production teams to submit work that has helped to raise awareness of mental health problems and tackle outdated stereotypes.

Last year’s winners included Newsnight’s feature on postpartum psychosis, BBC One drama series The Village and comedian Jon Richardson’s Channel 4 documentary A Little Bit OCD.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: ‘This year we are looking for programmes, blogs and news reports which challenge myths, misinformation and clichés about mental health, encourage positive debate and tackle stigma and discrimination. It’s important that audiences are able to see people with mental health problems as they are as a whole ­ rather than just in relation to their diagnosis ­ and we’re keen to see work that includes the voices of people who have experienced mental health problems.’ js

For more information about the categories, criteria and how to enter, visit 

Brain Prize 

The winners of this year's annual Brain Prize have been announced at a ceremony in Denmark. Giacomo Rizzolatti, Stanislas Dehaene and Trevor W. Robbins CBE – from Italy, France and the UK respectively – shared the accolade for their outstanding contribution to European neuroscience.

Each year's prize recognises highly original and influential advances in any area of neuroscience, and these three scientists distinguished themselves in studies on higher brain mechanisms, motivated behaviour, social interaction and cognitive and behavioural disorders.

Professor Robbins is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society. You can read about his work in cognitive neuroscience, behavioural neuroscience and psychopharmacology in an interview in our May 2012 issue.

Chairman of the Foundation's board Professor Povl Krogsgaard-Larsen said the three winners complement each other in spanning a wide spectrum of challenging issues of higher brain function. ‘We are pleased to award this year’s prize to scientists who are providing us with a better understanding and better treatment of cognitive and behavioural diseases that are huge burdens to society,’ he added. 



People diagnosed with diabetes are three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than people without it, and this can have a serious impact on their ability to self-manage their condition. 

PsychologyOnline has secured Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare funding to see how its approach to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be used to treat 'diabetes distress', a term used to describe the sense of frustration, anger and disillusionment that can lead to neglecting the condition over time. 

The collaborative project aims to improve glycaemic control and psychological well-being through integrated care. It is led by Ann Hayes, chair of PsychologyOnline, who says: 'PsychologyOnline provides one-to-one CBT via instant messaging and we use highly experienced psychotherapists. We will be working with King’s College Hospital to train diabetes specialists nurses to provide CBT integrated with structured diabetes education and will pilot this approach in a small focused patient study.


Funding News

The International Federation of University Women

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