Typhoon Haiyan; event reports; and more

Typhoon Haiyan; event reports from the Psychology4Students and Psychology4Graduates days; and much more

Finding a way torespond to Typhoon Haiyan

Over five thousand people died and several millions were adversely affected in November when Typhoon Haiyan blasted the Philippines with wind speeds of up to 200 mph. One of the most powerful storms on record, many towns and cities were left devastated.

Professor William Yule of the Institute of Psychiatry is chair of the Society’s recently inaugurated Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology Section. He told us that although the first priority in mass disasters of this kind is always clean water, sanitation, food and shelter, ‘preparing the ground for psychological help starts immediately.  There is support and advice for first responders. Helping them pace themselves and not burn out.  What to say, especially to children about deaths of loved ones, ensuring accurate lists of survivors, etc.  Helping rudimentary schoolsto get back a rhythm of daily living. Psychological intervention should be available at the outset, but formal therapy in groups
or for individuals comes a bit later.’

Aid organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responded rapidly to Haiyan, including sending psychologists to the scene. Writing on the organisation’s website, MSF psychologist Ana Maria Tijerino explained that many people were not able to evacuate in time so they saw the destruction unfold before them. ‘After living through such a severe experience, it is almost impossible to come out mentally unscathed,’ she said.

‘Arguably, depression can be as much of a disability as blindness,’ she added. ‘Anxiety disorders and panic attacks prevent people from performing their daily routine. These are the kinds of long-term consequences that we are trying to prevent.’

The Red Cross also sent psychological support to the area. Writing for the Canadian RedCrossTalks blog, volunteer Sandra Damota explained that her role was to provide psychological first aid (see box): ‘When a disaster happens, it’s easy to see the physical destruction and the physical wounds and injuries,’

she wrote. ‘But what we don’t see is the hurt people feel inside. There has been incredible loss for the people affected by Typhoon Haiyan, in terms of losing family and friends, but also losing their homes, and everything they owned.’

Local psychologists have also played a vital part in the disaster aftermath. Importantly, they have the local knowledge to help understand victim reactions. For example, in her column for the Philippine paper MindaNews Gail Tan Ilagan, Director of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University, explained that for many people Haiyan (known locally as Typhoon Yolanda) would have stirred up memories of the deadly Typhoon Pablo that struck in December 2012. ‘Don’t forget the Pablo survivors,’ Ilagan wrote. ‘Yolanda awakened for some their dread and unspoken terror of a world gone mad. Like terrified children waking from a blood-curdling nightmare, they too need soothing at this time.’

Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the Society Dr Debbie Hawker specialises in supporting humanitarian workers. She echoed the importance of sensitivity to local ways of coping. To ignore this can leave people feeling devalued and less confident about coping in the future. ‘As long as the practices are not harmful, it may be beneficial to encourage people to use the resources which are already available to them,’ she said, ‘offering any additional resources to supplement these rather than replace them.’

Another issue psychologists on the ground need to be aware of, according to Dr Hawker, is the increased risk of rape, domestic violence and even child abuse in the wake of a mass disaster. David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, also pressed home this point in an interview with BBC’s Newsnight programme. ‘To neglect [the risk of violence], to turn our minds away from that would be dangerous and wrong,’ he said.

Dr Hawker explained there are various reasons for the increased violence, from the lack of protective services, abuse of alcohol, to people’s desire to re-establish feelings of their own power. ‘It is important to find out about such problems and not to assume that the only “trauma” is the obvious one,’ she said. ‘The key is to spend time with local people, respect their views and listen carefully to their portrayal of what the major needs are.’ cj


Psychological first aid
According to guidelines published by the World Health Organization (WHO; e.g. see tinyurl.com/nx9kuh5), humanitarian aid workers should consider offering ‘psychological first aid’ as a matter of routine to adults and children showing signs of acute traumatic stress symptoms after a traumatic event. Psychological first aid is defined as ‘basic, non-intrusive pragmatic care with a focus on listening but not forcing talk, assessing needs and concerns, ensuring that basic needs are met, encouraging social support from significant others and protecting from further harm’.

Psychological first aid has largely replaced ‘debriefing’ as the recommended intervention for people affected by disaster. Critical incident stress debriefing (CISD), to use its formal name, refers to a single session of therapy in which the traumatised person is encouraged to vent their feelings. The WHO, NICE and the Cochrane Collaboration have all published guidelines and analyses suggesting the routine practice of debriefing may do more harm than good.

However in 2011, a team of therapists and trauma consultants – Debbie Hawker, John Durkin and David Hawker – published a paper arguing that properly executed debriefing by trained personnel with a peer debriefer can be helpful for aid workers and emergency responders (Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy: tinyurl.com/q9jqx3y).
Dr Debbie Hawker told us new research supports their case, such
as a meta-analysis published this year showing lower alcohol use and better quality of life in emergency workers who had the benefit of CISD (Anxiety, Stress, and Coping: tinyurl.com/q7z3yk9). ‘Many aid workers want to receive psychological debriefing, and it appears to be beneficial, as long as correct procedures are followed,’ she said. 


Many labs make enlightened work

A team of over 50 international researchers has published an ambitious attempt to replicate 13 existing findings in psychology (see tinyurl.com/kx3clvt). Several questionnaires and tests were bundled into a single computer package that was completed by 6344 participants across the USA, Europe, South America and Malaysia – 27 of the samples were tested in a lab, nine online. The ‘Many Labs Replication Project’ comes during what some have described as a ‘replication crisis’ in psychology, with high-profile failures to reproduce published results, especially in the field  of social priming. Indeed, it is just over a year since Nobel-winner Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter to the social priming community urging them
to take bold action to address the doubts raised about their field (see tinyurl.com/8e72a5n and News, November 2012).

The 13 effects under investigation were selected from a wide time period. The earliest ‘quote attribution’ effect (people are more likely to endorse quotes attributed to people they like) was first published in 1936. The most recently published ‘currency priming’ effect (after exposure to money, people are more likely to justify the current social system) was published in 2013.Other effects tested included ‘anchoring’ (people’s judgements are swayed by initial irrelevant numbers),  first documented by Daniel Kahneman and Karen Jacowitz; ‘gain versus loss framing’ (people’s tendency to take greater risks to avoid outcomes framed as a loss, also studied by Kahneman with Amos Tversky); ‘retrospective gambler’s fallacy’ (e.g. rarer outcomes on a dice throw, such as three sixes, are assumed to have been preceded by more throws of the dice); ‘flag priming’ (seeing the US flag increased agreement with conservative policies); and ‘imagined contact’ (imagining contact with religious outgroup members reduced prejudice towards them).The results, submitted for publication in Social Psychology, provide some comfort for psychology as a whole, but not for the social priming field. Ten of the effects were replicated convincingly with similar or greater effect sizes than in the original research. It’s reassuring that Kahneman’s seminal work came out stronger in the replications. The imagined contact study replicated but with a weaker effect than found originally. The two priming studies, involving the effects of flags and currency, failed to replicate.

Chartered psychologist Dr Sharon Coen (University of Salford) is Secretary of the BPS Social Psychology Section. She said: ‘The transparency with which  the data, their origin and their analysis are shared with the public is commendable and should set the standard for future work.’ However, she also argued there is room for improvement – the effects under investigation were mostly very basic, and she noted that ‘of the 36 samples, only three were non-Western (Turkey, Malaysia and Brazil) and three from Eastern Europe (two in the Czech Republic and one in Poland), thus there are still issues to be addressed regarding the applicability of findings outside the Western world’.  The project was co-led by University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek of the Open Science Framework. He and his many collaborators said that the ‘primary contribution of this investigation is to establish a paradigm for testing replicability across samples and settings’. Their hope is that others will emulate their ‘crowdsourcing approach’ to explore other findings in psychology.An interesting pattern to emerge from the new results is that the geographic location of the sample and
the context of testing (lab or online) made little difference to the size of
effects. The main determinant of effect size was the nature of the effect under investigation. Also intriguing was the fact that more robust experimental effects showed more variability in their size than weaker effects.

BPS Fellow Professor Richard Crisp (University of Sheffield), co-author of the original imagined contact research, described the project as ‘an exciting initiative for psychological science’, and he noted that the revised effect-size estimate for imagined contact with religious outgroups converges with the findings from a meta-analysis he’s co-authored looking at results from over 70 imagined contact studies (currently in press: see tinyurl.com/o5eqr4g).

However, Crisp added a note of caution. ‘There is an important distinction between replication of experiments, and replication of effects,’ he said. ‘Single-study replications provide important information about the replicability of experimental findings carried out under very specific study conditions, but not about the conceptual replicability of the effect manifest using different task variants, different dependent measures, or focusing on different groups or issues. To be truly confident about how robust a particular phenomenon is, we need both replications of specific studies, and replications of effects. In other words, we need both depth of replication (specific studies) and breadth of replication (meta-analyses).’ cj

See our special issue on replication (May 2012): tinyurl.com/a6u8khw


APA criticised in detainee abuse report

New details have emerged about the involvement of psychologists in the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US military sites. The revelations appear in a task force report Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror – which documents the results of a two-year long investigation supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations (tinyurl.com/loy9y57).

Based on a comprehensive review of military and other records in the public domain, the report describes how psychologists helped design and implement interrogation practices that included torture techniques such as waterboarding and sensory deprivation. Psychologists also advised interrogators on ways to exploit suspects’ psychological vulnerabilities. The US Department of Defense and the CIA recruited psychologists for this purpose into so-called Behavioral Science Consultation Teams. Psychologists and medical professionals fulfilling these roles were described as ‘safety officers’, yet at the same time they were categorised as combatants, supposedly abrogating their usual professional ethical responsibilities.

The 20-strong task force, comprising medical, military and ethics experts, criticises the American Psychological Association (APA) for failing to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogation practices. ‘In the Task Force’s view, the APA incorrectly permits psychologists to balance professional obligations against national security interests and embraces the idea that psychologists can simultaneously and without conflict play the roles of aiding in intelligence gathering and safeguarding the well-being of detainees in interrogation.’

The APA has published various position statements and passed referendums outlining the practices it considers to be torture, and prohibiting psychologists from working where people are detained against international or US law. However, unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the APA still permits its members to be involved in interrogation practices. cj


Starting young
The Swiss publishers Frontiers have launched an online neuroscience journal for, and reviewed by, children: http://kids.frontiersin.org. Editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Neuroscience  for Young Minds is

Robert Knight, a professor in the psychology department at the University of California Berkeley. Among the articles already published is one on why we sleep, reviewed by Eleanor, aged eight.Sex designation Germany has become the first country in Europe to allow newborn children of indeterminate sex to be recognised officially as being neither male nor female. This is in contrast to the continuing situation in the UK and other countries where parents must immediately choose a sex designation for their child. It is widely accepted that this can have profound psychological implications for the developing intersex infant, who must adapt to the sex imposed on them.I    See our intersex special issue from August 2004: tinyurl.com/nevz5px

Neuroscience video channel
A postdoc and research assistant at Duke University in the USA
have launched http://Neuro.TV, a neuroscience and psychology online video channel. Co-founder Diana L. Xie told us: ‘Our mission is to remove the barrier between academia and the general public, by communicating fascinating aspects of science through the show.’ Pilot episodes feature psychologist Leanne Boucher, neurobiologist Nicholas C. Spitzer and others.

Morning morality
People are more likely to cheat or engage in other immoral behaviour
in the afternoon, compared with the morning. That’s according to researchers at Harvard University and the University of Utah who say the ‘morning morality effect’ is caused by the ‘gradual depletion of self-regulatory resources as a result of unremarkable daily activities’ (Psychological Science: tinyurl.com/p6rhj9t).

From magic tricks to blue hair

Christian Jarrett reports from the Psychology4Students day held in Sheffield in November

Attention is the number one thing,’  said Jim McKenna (Leeds Metropolitan University) during his lecture on the psychology and neuroscience of behaviour change. He practised what he preached, using magic tricks and dramatic YouTube clips to grab his audience’s attention, bringing to life his point that we need to jolt our inherently lazy, habitual brains into action with the power of rewards. ‘Dopamine lollipops is what we need,’ he said, to prompt our prefrontal cortex – the ‘Churchillian brain’ – into taking on new healthier ways of doing things.

This is an exciting time to go into health psychology, Professor McKenna also told us. For one thing, mobile phone health apps are an ‘astonishingly powerful’ public health intervention. ‘You could be the psychologist to help design these,’ he told the student audience.

‘Walking alone,’ began the next speaker Helen Fisher (Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London) ‘have you ever felt you were being followed, only to look behind and see that no one  is there?’ This was the first of several questions Dr Fisher asked us, her purpose to illustrate there is a continuum of psychosis, from these kinds of everyday paranoid thoughts (nearly everyone raised their hand to that first question) to more outlandish beliefs, such as the feeling that one has turned into a tree. Other psychosis symptoms include catatonic behaviour, disorganised thought and hallucinations.

Longitudinal research has found that psychosis in childhood is usually transient, Fisher explained, but that children who show psychosis symptoms at age 11 are seven times more likely than other children to have them in adulthood, as well as being at heightened risk for other mental health problems. ‘It’s not fate,’ said Fisher ‘but it may be useful
to screen children early on.’ She added that this is a new field of research, ‘with lots of opportunities you could get involved with’.
The next speaker, Stephen Kellett from nearby Sheffield University is a clinical psychologist who embodies the scientist/practitioner model of the profession, combining client work with related research. In particular he told us about his use of ‘single-case experimental design’ to investigate the benefits of using cognitive behavioural therapy with a client who has hoarding disorder.

Kellett assessed a 63-year-old woman (who began hoarding as a teenager) at baseline based on photographs of her home, then again during outpatient therapy, during outpatient therapy combined with home visits, and finally at follow-up after therapy had ended. Encouragingly, her rates of throwing out her unneeded belongings increased seven-fold during therapy, whether that was outpatient only, or outpatient plus home visits. Unfortunately, this dropped to 3.8 per cent at follow-up.

We probably can’t generalise from this one case, Dr Kellett said, but ‘[insight into] the shape of change is completely new’. He also highlighted the research opportunities in this area – we need more lab research into hoarding disorder, he said, and more openness to other explanatory models for what drives the condition.

Next up was Dr Almuth McDowall (University of Surrey), Chair of the Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology, who spoke on the issue of work–life balance in the England and Wales police forces. ‘I’m a tart,’ she exclaimed, in reference to her use of both quantitative and qualitative research into the skills that are needed for police officers to achieve work–life balance.

She’s found they need a whole range of competencies including the ability to negotiate, to look after themselves, and to keep things in perspective. This research approach could be applied to other professions, she said, although getting her work published on this topic wasn’t easy because there is such a tradition in the field of focusing only on work–life conflict, not on the competencies needed for success.

The day ended on a cute note as blue-haired Caspar Addyman (Birkbeck Babylab) shared videos of babies with the giggles. Addyman studies babies’ laughter because it is an important form of early communication and gives us insight into their social understanding.


All in the Mind awards

BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind psychology and mental health programme recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a trio of programmes looking at the past and future of these topics.
To mark the occasion the presenter psychologist Claudia Hammond has also announced the All in the Mind 25th Anniversary Awards for people who’ve had mental health problems to thank those who have helped them. ‘

Is there a person, project or group that has gone above and beyond the call of duty to offer the support or advice that made a real difference to your life?’ the programme asks. ‘If so, this is your chance to enter them for the new All in the Mind 25th Anniversary Awards.’ Winners will be picked in each of three categories (person, project, group) by Claudia Hammond and her fellow judges Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, Chartered Psychologist Guy Holmes, Marion Janner (founder of Star Wards), and MP Charles Walker.

To make a nomination visit the programme website at tinyurl.com/p566uko. The deadline is the end of January and the winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Wellcome Collection in June. ‘We want to recognise those who really go the extra mile to help others,’ said Claudia Hammond on her blog. cj

From an online survey of over 2000 parents, Addyman has discovered the game that is most likely to elicit baby laughter the world over is peekaboo, with chasing, funny noises, funny faces, tickling and (pretending to) eat the baby, also very popular. Notably all these games have in common that they involve social interaction.

Addyman and his colleagues plan to study whether laughter helps babies learn and whether it’s associated with faster vocabulary acquisition. As the afternoon drew to a close, someone in the audience asked the question that was on all our lips: ‘Why is your hair blue?’ It’s an experiment that’s lasted for over five years, explained Addyman:  ‘no child so far has ever reacted. The world is strange enough for them as it is.’


Be passionate, make a difference

Alana James (Royal Holloway, University of London) reports from the first ever BPS Psychology4Graduates event, held in November at Regent’s College, London

The inaugural Psychology4Graduates event aimed to equip current graduates, or those soon to finish their degree, with knowledge about the different chartership routes available to them.

In his welcome address, current BPS President Richard Mallows spoke of how much he would have appreciated such advice. Once a chemistry teacher, his psychology career appeared to have come about largely from the chance opportunity to sit in on an evening class led by an engaging lecturer (who would also go on to become a BPS President). By contrast, the graduates or final-year students present had reached a point where they knew they wanted a career within psychology. The big questions were which route to choose and how to get there.

A straw poll in the first session indicated that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority were considering clinical psychology. Several of the day’s speakers spoke to this route. Estelle Moore, Lead Clinical and Forensic Psychologist at Broadmoor Hospital, receives many requests for work experience from those interested in clinical and forensic work. Her top tip was to be persistent; chase up your enquiry and make your name stand out. David Dean, Clinical and Admissions Tutor at Oxford University/Amersham Hospital, told of his personal experience of being told by his tutors that it wasn’t worth applying as the competition was too great. His response had been to raise his game in his final year to get a top degree, get relevant experience, and then get even more and different experience.

Keynote speaker Abigael San, a private clinical psychologist, advised delegates that both paid and voluntary experience is worthwhile, and that they should actively request opportunities by sending out CVs. San also said that current students should pick third-year options with a clinical focus and try to do a project with a clinical psychologist as supervisor to gain an ideal referee for doctorate applications. Following her own degree, San completed a master’s degree and would recommend picking one with a clear clinical focus. She subsequently worked in three short-term assistant psychologist posts, and ultimately applied for the ClinPsych doctorate four times. The key messages for aspiring clinical psychologists were therefore to gain as much and as wide experience as possible, to make undergraduate and master’s study as relevant as possible, and to be doggedly persistent in achieving their dream.

The event also provided insight into the other routes available, and in particular delegates seemed to also be considering educational, forensic and occupational psychology. Philip Wilson, Chief Psychologist at the Cabinet Office, gave a keynote talk showing how diverse the work of an occupational psychologist can be. It encompasses not only psychometric testing but also understanding interpersonal dynamics within interviews, as well as stress management. Key attributes needed to succeed are general intelligence and emotional intelligence, technical knowledge, drive, and personal values. Wilson recommended that graduates make use of social media as organisations share a lot of opportunities through sites such as LinkedIn, get a mentor, do a work placement and thoroughly research the assessment process.

Other speakers included Dilanthi Weerasinghe, Assistant Principal Educational Psychologist at Haringey Council, who again emphasised the need for relevant experience as educational psychology too can be highly competitive. Barbara Douglas, a counselling psychologist in Edinburgh, showed how counselling psychology also involves varied experiences and shares many aspects with clinical psychology. Juliette Lloyd, a freelance sport psychologist and coach, gave an inspiring talk about how her personal experience as a rower and national coach fed into her pursuit of a career in sport psychology. It still took time and perseverance to become accredited, but Lloyd’s passion for her work shone through.

Speaking to the delegates, it was clear that they valued hearing from speakers within a range of fields. The most eye-opening talk had perhaps come from Carolyn Mair, Reader in Psychology at the London College of Fashion. Mair initially studied applied psychology and computing and later completed a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. She is now working to promote an ethical fashion industry and is creating the first master’s courses in the psychology of fashion. This talk was the one that reminded graduates that a career in psychology is more than just the chartership routes. It is also about being passionate and trying to make a difference whatever field you choose to go into.


The Royal Society Research Professorship scheme is open for applications. The Professorships provide long-term support for world-class scientists to focus on research. Applications can be made by researches from any of the natural and applied sciences, including medical science. Applicants can be of any nationality and applications are particularly welcome from scientists currently residing outside of the UK. Closing date for applications is 13 March 2014.

The European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) offers three schemes  to support postgraduate and full members of the Association. The Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Travel Grants provide support of €800 for short visits to conduct new research, complete ongoing projects or undergo training elsewhere in the world. The Postdoctoral ‘Seed Corn’ Research Grants provide support to assist researchers in developing new research projects during the immediate postdoctoral period, which may facilitate the holder to subsequently obtain larger-scale funding from other sources. Regional Activity Grants provide funding for any initiative that serves EASP members from regions where access to facilities and funding is scarce. The focus of the activity should be teaching, training and development. Applicants for all schemes must be members of the EASP. Full details of how to apply are available on the website. The next closing date is 31 March 2014. There are four application deadlines a year.

The BA/Leverhulme Trust offers Small Research Grants to support primary research in the humanities and social sciences by UK-based postdoctoral scholars. Applications can be made by international groups of scholars, provided there is a UK-based scholar as lead applicant. Further details about international collaborations are available. Funding can be used for initial project planning; to support the direct costs of research; and to advance research through workshops, conferences or visits by partner scholars. The level of funding available is £500 to £10,000 over two years. The next closing date is 15 April 2014.

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